Following the announcement of the disbandment of SARS, a new Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team was immediately formed, and its members were to resume training the following week. There was no form of transparency in the selection process of this new unit.
Complaints flooded social media: “How sure are we that the members of the SWAT team are not the same inhumane officials from SARS?”
Meanwhile, thugs hijacked the continuing protests across the country and caused mayhem. Protesters were blamed for the chaos; authorities labeled the demonstrations ‘unpeaceful’ and blamed protesters for the tide of unrest in the country. As a movement without a leader, and demonstrating accountability and effectiveness, it was not surprising that the government would go to any lengths to curb the protests as they seemed to grow stronger.
We were calling for a change and the world was listening, but the Nigerian government had other plans. And it is heartbreaking what follows.
Videos emerged of thugs being mobilised in SUVs, police vehicles and trucks, some holding cutlasses and other domestic weapons. From attacking protesters to burning cars and buildings, these thugs continued to operate freely without the intervention of the police. In Lekki, Lagos, protest groups hired private security to tackle their pernicious activities. In the capital city of Abuja, protesters themselves gave chase. A few of those caught are alleged to have confessed that they’d been paid very small amounts of money to disrupt the protests; this was first revealed by activist Omoyele Sowore. According to him, the thugs were mobilized by the chairman of Jabi Motor Park, acting in concert with operatives of the Nigerian government.
In Ilorin, Kwara State, the protest held at Challenge on Sunday October 17th was also invaded by thugs. The crowd immediately dispersed, leaving a few injured.
Despite the chaos, thugs couldn’t stop the movement. Neither could police, despite their unlawful arrests of peaceful protesters. With donations received through the Feminist Coalition, FK Abudu and Moechievous organised and deployed lawyers across the country to help represent protesters who’d been arrested. Over 80 of those arrested during the protests were bailed out. Medical aid was made available to the injured. Donations were speedily gathered to provide prosthetics for two amputees who’d joined in the protest. It was indeed a movement to be proud of, anyone could see that; anyone but the Nigerian government.
In remembrance of the people killed by the SARS unit before and during the protests, Candle Night was held across different states of the country and even beyond her borders. And in the quiet of the night, lit by candlelight, some victims’ family members shared their stories of the brutality of SARS.
Waking up very early the next day and scrolling through social media to find these shocking tales of terror, I could only weep.
One of these stories concerned Chijioke Iloanya, a 20-year old abducted by SARS on his way from a naming ceremony in 2012. His family was asked to pay a huge sum of money for his release. His father sold land in the hope of having his son back. It is unfortunate that they haven’t seen Chijioke since then. They live with only their memory of him, and the perpetrators are yet to face justice.
“He loves cooking. He loves driving even though he is a terrible driver,” his sister said.
“We never got a chance to bury him.”
At midday on the 20th of October, the governor of Lagos state, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, imposed a 4:00pm curfew in Lagos. Now, this was a ridiculous scenario, especially in a city like Lagos where traffic is a major feature. Obviously it would be impossible for many, many people to get home in four hours’ time.
That evening, at the Lekki tollgate, photos surfaced on social media of unknown men removing the CCTV cameras at the toll (the government would later reveal that they weren’t CCTV cameras but infrared cameras). Suspicions were voiced regarding the removal of the cameras, but protesters remained. They were exercising their rights and were peaceful.
Then the lights at the Lekki toll were shut down, including the light from the billboard. By now the Lagos state government had adjusted the curfew, now to begin at 9:00pm.
At about 6:50pm, protesters online reported that men in military uniform had surfaced. Seated and waving their flags, they sang the Nigerian anthem with broken voices, not believing the military would open fire on a peaceful protest. But as they sang, the men in uniform began sporadic shooting. An Amnesty International investigation reported several fatalities. Many more were wounded. Some of these were documented in an Instagram Live recording by DJ Switch with over 120K views. We watched a man die holding the Nigerian flag. People are still missing, so the exact number of fatalities is not yet known.
Ambulances were quickly dispatched to render aid to the wounded. They were denied access to the wounded by the military men. This delay may have led to the loss of more lives.
Despite the video evidence that appeared all over social media, the Nigerian Army initially denied any involvement; the governor of Lagos state said there were no fatalities recorded, and attributed any loss of innocent lives to “forces beyond our direct control.” Later, the Nigerian Army admitted to having been present at the Toll that night, but claimed they never opened fire. And then, the Lagos state governor confirmed the death of two.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and the chairman of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat, are among those who’ve condemned the military for the massacre.
The hashtags #LekkiMassacre, #LekkiTollGateMassacre, #BlackTuesday appeared immediately as Nigerians documented their rage at the Nigerian government opening fire on peaceful unarmed protesters. Burna Boy, a popular Nigerian musician, released a song “20-10-20” commemorating the lives lost that day.
Two days after the Lekki massacre, Nigerians had yet to hear from the president. The people of Nigeria began to ask, “Where is Buhari?”
In the afternoon of October 22, we learned that Buhari would address the nation by 7:00pm. We waited with patient anticipation to hear from our president.
After watching the 12-minute pre-recorded speech of the President, Nigerians were very disappointed. The president failed to acknowledge the shooting at Lekki and also voiced an undertone of warning to the Nigerian youths. The address drowned the hopes of many that night, resulting in jokes about leaving the country on social media. But for the sake of those who lost their life in the struggle, Nigerians will continue to ‘Soro Soke’ (speak up).
In order to investigate the allegations on the excesses of the now-disbanded police unit, SARS, each state is to establish a 10-man panel and to see that justice is served, and that the families of victims are well compensated.
But this is Nigeria, and so far, no army official has been apprehended despite the avalanche of video evidence all over social media.