Apprehension has enveloped Lagos island, Southwest Nigeria, following heightened security measures deployed at Lekki tollgate ahead of the planned #OccupyLekki protest on Saturday.
Earlier this week, Some Nigerians on social media expressed readiness to stage a demonstration against Lekki tollgate’s reopeningLekki tollgate’s reopening, the scene of the Oct. 20, 2020 shooting of #ENDSARS protesters.
Officers of the Nigerian Army had allegedly on that night shot at demonstrators protesting against the high-handedness of the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) at the Lekki tollgate after Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Governor of Lagos State, had imposed a curfew the same day to contain the violence which had broken out in some parts of the state.
The shooting at the tollgate plaza led to its closure for about four months.
But last Saturday, the Lagos State Judicial Panel set up to look into the events of police brutality and the Lekki shooting, ordered the Lekki Concession Company (LCC), the firm operating the tollgate to reopen it, following a plea application by the company to allow it repair all the damages done to the facilities during the protest.
As Justice Doris Okuwobi ruled that the LCC be allowed to repossess the tollgate, four aggrieved members of the nine-man panel bickered over the ruling, arguing that it was “premature” to open the tollgate.
The dissenters added that the forensic examination report on the incident was yet to be released.
This led to the launch of the #OccupyLekkiTollgate protest after many young Nigerians raged over what they considered as a breach of trust by the panel set up to deliver justice to the victims of police brutality before and after the EndSARS protests.
A counter-protest #DefendLagos, however, surfaced on social media with some youths denouncing the earlier demonstrators as they planned to ‘defend’ Lagos State.
Both rallies are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, by 7 a.m.
The supporters of the counter-protest urged Lagosians to “protect what the destroyers left behind”.
They alluded to the destruction that was witnessed in state in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protest.
Public and private properties were destroyed during the Oct. 2020 protest.
A month after, Babajide Sanwolu, Governor of Lagos State, signed an Executive Order tagged the “Lagos State Rebuild Trust Fund” toward rebuilding the state.
Nigerians have expressed concerns about the clash of interests against the motive of the youthfully engaged #EndSARS protests, a movement with equal rage spewed against a system that permits police violence.
They feared possible violent confrontations from the two groups of demonstrators.
On Thursday, the Nigerian government said it would not allow any protest that may result in violence ahead of planned demonstrations.
“At this time, the chances that any peaceful protest will be hijacked are very high,” Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture said.
He said an intel report at the government’s disposal had suggested a possible subversion of the planned protests by some persons with foreign backup to cause destabilisation.
“Never again will the Federal Government allow the kind of violence that was perpetrated across the country under the guise of the EndSars last October,” he said.
“Never again will anyone or group be allowed to destroy cities or to kill and maim innocent citizens, including security agents, under any guise.’’
Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, one of the aggrieved members of the judicial panel, urged those planning the protest to shelve the demonstrations, while Rinu Oduala, another aggrieved panel member announced her resignation.
While police had warned they would confront any attempt to destabilise the state with full force, their heavy presence had been registered at the toll plaza Friday evening, stirring fear.
The Lagos State Police Command II in a tweet Friday said it had deployed operatives to the tollgate, Ikoyi, Jakande Roundabout, and Eti Osa areas of the state, led by the head of the Rapid Response Squad, Yinka Egbeyemi.
The RRS shared pictures from the exercise on Twitter, stating that the show of force was done to deter crime and boost the morale of the officers in the areas.
The footage showed military vehicles moving down the street with phalanxes of officers, dressed in full riot gear.
Clashes between protesters and security agents are likely to happen.
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