EndSARS

By Ikechukwu Amaechi

ON Thursday, November 19, 2020, Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, addressed a press conference in Abuja to debunk the damning report of the Cable News Network, CNN, on the Lekki Toll Gate massacre of October 20, 2020.

Nigerian youths who were protesting against the brutality of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, a police unit established to combat armed robbery, but which went rogue and became synonymous with unlawful killings, torture and extortion of innocent citizens, were brutally murdered by security agents.

CNN alleged in the report titled, “They pointed their guns at us and started shooting: How a bloody night of bullets and brutality quashed a young protest movement,” that peaceful protesters were massacred at the tollgate plaza by Nigerian soldiers who were drafted by the government to quell the protest.

Lai Mohammed was in his element. It is not for nothing that he has been dubbed the “Joseph Goebbels” of the Muhammadu Buhari regime. But what people fail to realise is that if Goebbels, the minister of propaganda for the German Third Reich under Adolf Hitler, was alive today, he would have been Lai’s student in the inelegant art of disinformation.

Ostensibly riled by the damning report, the minister made what is, perhaps, his most infamous statement as a propagandist extraordinaire. “We can say that the world has just witnessed a massacre without bodies,” he hollered in selfrighteous indignation. Calling the CNN report “blatantly irresponsible”, Mohammed threatened to sanction the U.S. broadcast behemoth.

The minister was almost getting away with his litany of lies until the Lagos State panel on #EndSARS submitted its 309-page report to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu on Monday. Headed by a retired judge, Doris Okuwobi, the panel confirmed that the Lekki nightmare was indeed a massacre with bodies.

According to the report, nine protesters were killed at the tollgate on the fateful night, 24 sustained gunshot injuries, while 15 others were assaulted, making a total of 48 casualties. “The evidence before the panel shows that after the Nigerian Army left, Nigeria Police Force followed up with the killing of the protesters, shooting directly at fleeing protesters,” the report said.

“Several unidentified bodies were removed by security agencies and Lagos State Environmental Health Monitoring Unit, LASEHMU, and deposited at various hospital mortuaries in Lagos State. Three trucks with brushes underneath were brought to the Lekki Toll Gate in the morning of October 21, 2020 to clean up the scene of bloodstains and other evidence.”

All hell has been let loose ever since. But Nigerians are good in talking but take little or no action. The government knows that, which explains why it treats citizens with contempt. Even with this damning report, I have nothing new to say other than the views I expressed in this column on October 22, 2020, in the article titled: “Lekki Toll Gate massacre and limits of tyranny,” which I hereby reproduce: 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.

ALSO READ: Lagos #EndSARS report should be published in full — Femi Okunnu

They were massacred because they had the temerity to ask for good governance. They were unarmed, massed at the Lekki tollgate 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 singing 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 security cameras at the tollgate 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 telltale 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, Orile-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 civilised conduct raises more poignantly the question of motive.

What was the goal? To strike fear into the people? 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 tollgate 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. 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 tollgate 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 concluded.

A year after this article, I dare say that even with the damning report of the Justice Okuwobi panel, Nigerian rulers will continue to be brutal and animalistic in their dealings with fellow citizens unless the people draw a line in the sand.

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