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#OccupyLekkiTollgate: How Police Rendered Hundreds Homeless To Prevent Protest

"They destroyed our homes because of the protest, left us stranded and hiding."

Some Nigerians planned to stage a protest —#OccupyLekkiTollgate— on Saturday, February 13, at the scene of the Lekki Tollgate shooting of October 20, 2020. The protesters were to demonstrate against the reopening of the tollgate for economic activities before the Lagos state judicial panel —hearing public complaints on police brutality— concluded its investigations.

To avoid a reoccurrence of the 2020 #EndSARS protest, the Nigerian government sent in armed officers drafted across the police force’s tactical units to protect the tollgate. However, before the march on Saturday, the armed officers had gone on a destructive run in the shanties around the tollgate, leaving a trail of sorrow, tears and blood.

“All we saw were trucks and machines razing down our homes and properties without any prior notice. They told us that the shanty had become a major hideout for criminals trying to escape.”

“Some of the residents have sought shelter elsewhere, while some are around packing the leftovers of their properties still looking for where to go,” a resident said.

The resident, who chose anonymity, added that the destruction could be connected to the #Occupylekkitollgate protest as efforts were made by the government and security agencies to clamp down on any form of violence.

“The destruction of our homes was because of the protest since the previous one [#EndSARS] led to the destruction of the tollgate, properties and loss of lives. They said they want to reopen and reconstruct, so they came to destroy our homes.”

“In this difficult economy, where would we go? ” the resident asked.

Life on the shanty, Gede-gede area

The shanty, Gede-gede, located on Lekki Tollgate’s bank, extends into Lekki Estate through Lekki Farm Avenue. The multi-lingual residents are mainly fishermen, artisans and traders.

An estimated population of 400 residents live in wooden houses on the river, abandoned containers that could comfortably house over five people or block-constructed rooms for those who can afford to pay the rents.

According to residents, the shanty has existed for over a decade, with peaceful inhabitants who are fond of themselves.

According to a report, members of the community were eyewitnesses to Oct. 20, 2020, shooting of #EndSARS protesters. Some residents allegedly saw a floating corpse, identified to be the body of one of the killed protesters, at the river bank.

From houses to hideouts

Officials of the Lagos State Environmental Task Force accompanied by police officers allegedly burnt down the community three days to the #OcuppyLekkiTollgate protest.

According to a report, the Lagos state environmental taskforce gave a 24-hour notice to the residents before the demolition.

However, a resident who spoke on condition of anonymity said people were still trying to remove their belongings from the shanty when the officials came to the community to pull down the structures.

When HumAngle visited the area, it found residents still struggling to recover their properties and moving them through the river in wooden crafts to unknown destinations.

“I can’t take you there for safety reasons. You know we don’t have a place to go, so we are just staying there to protect ourselves pending the time we find a place.”

“We don’t shout there, and the bushes serve as protection. That is why you can’t see or go in,” the residents told HumAngle.

After spending hours in the community, a Lekki shuttle drove in to load some properties and move them out of the community, HumAngle observed.

A signpost at the entrance of the shanty read: “The general public is hereby informed that this strip of land is under the control of the National Inland Waterways (N.I.W.A). Trespassers are warned to keep off.”

#OccupyLekkiTollgate protest

Following the announcement to reopen the Lekki tollgate, Nigerian youths involved in the #EndSARS campaign, a movement that forced the toll gate’s closure, planned a fresh protest tagged, #OcuppyLekki protest, to stop the reopening of the facility on Feb.13.

The planned protest attracted mixed reactions from supporters and opponents.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, said, “Any further resort to violence in the name of EndSARS will not be tolerated this time.

“The security agents are ready for any eventuality. A situation in which six soldiers and 37 policemen were murdered in cold blood by hoodlums will not repeat itself.”

“The attack, looting and razing of 269 private and public properties will not happen again. The killing of 57 civilians will not be re-enacted.”

“We therefore strongly warn those who are planning to re-occupy Lekki Tollgate on Saturday to desist. We know that many of those who have been loudest on social media in advertising the plan to reconvene in Lagos on Saturday are not even in Nigeria,” the minister said.

Similarly, the Lagos State Government warned that it would not allow the state to be pushed to the edge of carnage again.

It advised organisers of #OccupyLekkiTollgate and #DefendLagos – a counter-protest group – to desist from their planned actions.

However, the warnings did not deter some #Occupylekkitollgate protesters who prepared for the protest nonetheless.

HumAngle reported the assault at the tollgate as armed police officers laid siege on the area to stop the protest.

The arrest of protesters

In the early hours of Saturday, Feb. 13, #Occupylekkitollgate protesters began to gather at the tollgate. Some identified themselves through placards and singing.

The police beat and arrested the harmless protesters and moved them into a black maria truck. Viral videos trended on social media platforms to confirm and expose police officers torturing protesters.

According to several reports, the police beat and arrested about 40 protesters at the tollgate, including a famous comedian, Macaroni.

Those arrested were arraigned at a Magistrate Court in Yaba, Lagos State, for flouting COVID-19 protocols, even though they were not in contravention until they were arrested, stripped naked, and huddled together in police trucks.

They were arraigned on a three-count charge of “failing to comply with the COVID-19 protocol prohibiting social gathering, breaching public peace, and raising unnecessary alarm to the public.”

The aftermath of shanty dwellers

To ascertain the displaced residents’ conditions, HumAngle visited the shanty on two separate days —before the #OcuppyLekkiTollgate protest and after the demonstration.

HumAngle observed the sudden change in the environment with the fences’ construction to demarcate the river bank from the land formerly inhabited by the shanty dwellers.

Also, vigilantes were still actively ‘protecting’ the land to monitor happenings as ‘security lights’ have been placed around the environment.

This demarcation has equally infringed on the hideouts of some of the residents who had earlier relied on the shelter in bushes to lay their heads.

The population of residents has drastically reduced to a low number of around 30 persons, including children.

However, a few dwellers used abandoned trucks, cars and buses located along the road as their temporary homes.

There has been silence from the Lagos state government on plans for the newly displaced persons from the shanties, nor for what government intends to do with the land. But for now, the people of Gede-gede continue to roam across Lagos in search of a new home.

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