By Ikechukwu Amaechi
Something is seemingly romantic about the date. It is so seducing that you can hardly forget it – 20-10-2020 – a Tuesday. Yet, it was a black Tuesday. A day of death! That was the day Nigeria finally descended into the cesspit of chaos and infamy.
That was the day Nigerian soldiers shot and killed scores of fellow countrymen whose only crime was the audacity to demand for the “change” their leaders promised them more than five years ago when they were on the hustings seeking their votes. They were massacred because they had the temerity to ask for good governance.
They were unarmed, massed at the Lekki toll gate that had been their sanctuary in the last 13 days since the #EndSARS protest erupted like wildfire all over the country. They were seated, some holding the Nigerian flag and chorusing the National Anthem when the soldiers came like the proverbial thief in the night.
The attack was premeditated, which makes it not only worse but unconscionable. Before the soldiers released volleys of bullets that sent the youths who begged for their lives, raising the Nigerian flag as a white handkerchief of surrender, a dovish overture for peace, to their early graves, the Close Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras at the toll gate were disabled and the lights switched off.
When the shootings quietened and the army disappeared leaving in their wake blood, sorrow and tears, the most tell-tale evidence of the tragedy was the bloodstained Nigerian flag, pictures of which adorned the front pages of some newspapers on Wednesday.
Had the shootings taken place in Mushin, Iganmu and such other hotspots where rioters held sway, it wouldn’t still have made it right but it could be explained. But the fact that these killings took place at the very place where Nigerian youths have admirably demonstrated their capacity for civilized conduct raises more poignantly the question of motive. What was the goal? To strike fear into the people? If it is, that strategy has backfired spectacularly.
Now, Lagos is on fire, literally, just because of the moronic use of overwhelming force and live ammunition on unarmed civilians by soldiers. The youths may have left the toll gate but they are now everywhere. The situation has become more fluid and dangerous. Buildings are going up in flames and the godfathers have gone into hiding.
That is what happens when a country has rulers that have more brawn than brain.
The chaos took long in coming, though, but if there is any surprise at all, it is the fact that some people seem to be surprised at the tragic turn of events in Nigeria. Any discerning person would have known yesterday that a day like today will come. It was only a matter of time. Now, the chickens have come home to roost.
Whatever happens after the Lekki toll gate massacre, Nigeria will not be the same again. The Lagos mayhem is impunity taken too far. But that is what happens when those in power convince themselves that they have completely conquered and dominated their environment.
Last week, I wrote about President Muhammadu Buhari’s “in-your-face attitude” when he nominated his Special Assistant on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, an unapologetic card-carrying member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), overtly partisan, as a member of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) against all extant laws of the land.
Not even the national outcry has convinced the president to withdraw the nomination. Instead, his political party, the APC, that has enabled him in all his impunity tried to wheedle politically unwary Nigerians by resorting to false moral equivalency. They accused the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of doing the same when they were in power.
They claimed that the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State, Mike Igini, and Festus Okoye, INEC National Commissioner, were supporters of PDP when they became INEC staff.
Assuming, without conceding that they were PDP partisans, there is no evidence, unlike in Ms. Onochie’s case that they were registered and card-carrying members of the opposition party. If anything, both Igini and Okoye were human rights activists who were more anti-PDP before their appointments. In any case, didn’t the APC government promise Nigerians “change” in 2015?
But for a leader who has convinced himself that he has conquered his country, turning it into his personal fiefdom, such considerations are beneath him. It is for lesser mortals.
That is the same mentality that led to the Lagos tragedy. To any sane person, the decision to send soldiers to confront unarmed protesters with lethal weapons with the intention to kill is idiotic.
But why wouldn’t the government dare Nigerians one more time? On Saturday, December 12, 2015, at least 348 Shiite Moslems, mostly members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, were brutally murdered by Nigerian soldiers in Zaria, Kaduna State, on trumped up allegation that they were plotting to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai.
They were buried in mass graves and till date, the leader of the group, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, and his wife, who were arrested on December 14, 2015, are still in prison answering to charges of criminal conspiracy and culpable homicide punishable with death.
Scores of members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) have been extra-judicially murdered. Nothing happened. So, why would they not try their luck with the Lagos protesters if only to make the point that the domination of the country is total and no section is exempted?
The question is: Who sent the military to the Lekki toll gate on black Tuesday? As usual, Buhari is not talking. But as Teflon as he may be, he cannot wriggle out of this. He is the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Issues of security are in the Exclusive List and the Service Chiefs are answerable to him. He must tell Nigerians what happened to their young ones on Tuesday night.
I have heard some question the rationale behind the agitation of Nigerian youths. Why will they not go home having made their point, some have queried. Were they not inviting the calamity that befell them when they refused to scamper to safety when Buratai threatened another “Operation Crocodile Smile?”
Such people pontificate that government is too powerful an institution that nobody can ever win in any tussle.
That is not true. It was never true yesterday. It is not true today. And it will not be true tomorrow. Instead, history teaches us the exact opposite as aptly stated by Frederick Douglass, an American social reformer and statesman.
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress,” wrote Douglass, who after escaping from slavery in Maryland became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York.
“Those who profess to favour freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the roar of its many waters …. Power concedes nothing without a demand.
It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.
The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress,” Douglass, who became famous for his incisive antislavery writings, concluded.
The Lekki toll gate massacre may well be the beginning of the end of impunity in Nigeria. A new Nigeria may well be on the horizon because Buhari cannot be stronger than the collective will of Nigerians.