After Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu declared a curfew on Oct. 20, 2020, in Lagos, Nigeria, the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) asked all staff to go home immediately.
To reach home, however, Theophilus who was a truck driver at the corporation would have to pass through the Lekki tollgate, where hundreds of Nigerian youths were gathered on the floor, singing the national anthem and waving the Nigerian flag as part of the #EndSARS protests that had been going on for nearly two weeks.
Before the Oct. 2020 protests, many youths had in the past demanded an end to years of harassment and rights violations by operatives of the police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). From extrajudicial killings to illegal roadblocks, unwarranted checks and searches, and extortion of young citizens driving exotic vehicles and using laptops and iPhones, the deadly police squad was a threat to young Nigerians.
While the #EndSARS hashtag drew little or no attention from the necessary authorities, two incidents triggered nationwide protests that later escalated into what is now known as the Lekki Massacre. First was the viral video of Oct. 3, 2020, showing a SARS operative shooting a young Nigerian in front of Wetland Hotel in Delta State. Two days later, there was outrage again on social media following the killing of a 20-year-old musician, Daniel Chibuike in Rivers State.
When Theophilus Ivwrogbo got to the Lekki tollgate, he found that soldiers had arrived there and had begun to shoot sporadically at unarmed youths. As he tried to run for safety, a stray bullet hit him on the leg. By his own account, he woke up the next day at Reddington Hospital alongside many victims of gunshots.
It is exactly three years since the unfortunate incident at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, southwestern Nigeria, the epicentre of the #EndSARS protests.
It was a “black Tuesday” for youths demanding an end to police brutality and calling for reforms of the police force. Though Nigerian authorities initially denied any fatalities during the shooting, investigative reports from different newsrooms proved it to be false.
The #EndSARS protests
By Oct. 8, 2020, nationwide protests bigger than any Nigeria has ever seen had begun, forcing the government to disband the SARS unit. The action did however not assuage the protesters who at the time were demanding the release of all arrested protesters, compensation for relatives of deceased victims of police brutality, setting up of an independent panel to investigate and prosecute all reports of police misconduct, psychological evaluation of all disbanded SARS officers, and increase of police salaries for adequate protection of citizens’ lives.
While the youths were not ready to back out until their demands were met, the government was desperate to quell the demonstrations, hence, the reason for the deployment of soldiers to Lekki tollgate on the night of Oct. 20. A year after the incident, a panel of inquiry set up to investigate the military action confirmed that there were at least 48 casualties. While 11 people were confirmed killed, four people missing, during what was described as a “massacre”.
Theophilus’ case did not end at the Reddington hospital.
“I was later transferred to Granville Medical Centre at Victoria Garden City where they helped join my broken bones with iron. Though told to return after weeks for a major operation on the leg, I didn’t have the ₦2 million they requested for surgery,” he told HumAngle.
Since then, Theophilus has been struggling to raise his two children, as they only survive with stipends from her wife’s snack business.
Edwin Augustine is yet another victim. Three years after he was shot, he is still struggling to walk perfectly. The 27-year-old student had come to Lagos from a federal polytechnic in Ebonyi State in the southeastern region of the country for a one-year compulsory out-of-school internship programme known as Industrial Training (IT) when the #EndSARS protest started.
“Though we were having our protest at Berger, my friends encouraged me to join the protests at Lekki tollgate and it did not end well. I was shot in my left thigh while the person I went with was shot dead. I was at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital for two weeks. My parents had to take me to Ebonyi after the hospital said they were going to amputate the leg.
“Though the bullet had long been removed, I can’t stand or walk on my feet for long, as I currently live on painkillers and calcium. I feel more pain during the rainy season because my leg is always cold. The shattered bone was not replaced and it needs to grow itself. I think I will have to deal with the pain throughout my life,” said Augustine.
15 protesters still in prison – Amnesty
According to Amnesty International, an international non-governmental human rights organisation, there are still at least 15 protesters being detained without trial in Kirikiri Medium Correctional Centre and Ikoyi Medium Security Correctional Centre since 2020.
Isa Sanusi, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said while seven #EndSARS protesters are in Kirikiri, eight others are left to suffer in Ikoyi prison.
The names of the detained protesters are Daniel Joy-Igbo, Sodiq Adigun, Sunday Okoro, Olumide Fatai, Oluwole Isa, Shehu Anas, Akiniran Oyetakin, Segun Adeniyi, Onuorah Odih, Jeremiah Lucky, Gideon Ikwujomah, Irinyemi Olorunwanbe, Quadri Azeez, Olamide Lekan, and Sadiq Riliwan.
“Nigerian authorities must take concrete and effective measures to end police impunity, including by giving clear directives to the police not to violate human rights. Those suspected of violating human rights should be brought to justice in fair trials and without recourse to the death penalty. Genuine reforms must be initiated to end widespread human rights violations by the police. Nigeria has an obligation to ensure that torture and other ill-treatment are not carried out under any circumstances,” the NGO said.
Three years later, the same issues
Even after the government claimed that the notorious SARS unit was dead, many Nigerians arrested arbitrarily are left to suffer in detention. A victim, Rasheed Balogun, arrested in 2021, recently regained his freedom after HumAngle’s report on how he was tortured and forced to confess to being a cultist and armed robber.
Rasheed explained that the inhumane treatments he was subjected to were carried out at the office of the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Ikeja.
“The inspector in charge of my case placed a locally-made gun in my front and forced me to say I was using the gun for robbery. He used an Android phone to do the video recording a day before my arraignment,” he recalled.
“My days in detention made me realise that there are many people in detention suffering for an offence they never committed. It was a bitter experience for me.”
While Rasheed has been granted bail, Idris Oluwole is still in detention. He has been arrested since Aug. 2021. In his case, the investigating officer overseeing his case brought him an already written confessional statement and forced him to sign it. After the officer in charge of the matter came to the court on the first trial date, he refused to show up and the case continues to suffer adjournment.
“I have collected several loans to ensure that my son returns home safely, but all have been futile,” Kafilat Oduwole, the victim’s mother had said.
In a recent interview, Hamza al-Mustapha, a retired Nigerian Army major, explained that “Nigerians should know that there are sons of the poor who are in prison with names not their own. People are caught for marauding but the sons of the rich who found themselves there will be removed and there will be this one (the poor son) beaten to a coma and will be compelled to answer the name of that person they removed from prison. There are many.”
Meanwhile, Muyiwa Adejobi, spokesperson of the Nigeria Police Force did not respond to enquiries on why police officers continue to carry out illegal activities despite everyday public outcry.
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