By Carl Umegboro
The ‘ENDSARS’ nationwide protest warranted by the ruthless and extrajudicial killings of security agencies particularly the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit in the Nigerian Police then, which is endemic in Nigeria has continued to take different dimensions. During the protest, monumental losses were recorded by the governments, public and private sectors. Several policemen were killed. Police stations, government vehicles including eighty (80) newly acquired BRT buses provided for mass transit by Lagos state government valued at a whopping N3.9 billion were asininely set ablaze. Two major Correctional centres were attacked and inmates freed. Acts of sexual violence were also reported. NPA headquarters in Lagos, banks, courts and others also got their share from hoodlums’ attacks.
In the private sector, part of the Oriental Hotels at Lekki which was then rumoured to belong to the APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and his Television Continental (TVC) were openly, irrationally damaged which changed the narrative as settling political scores. Invasion of the palace of Oba of Lagos, others’ houses and looting of many shopping malls were also encountered in the mobs’ actions. What remains baffling is the connection between these individuals being ‘bloody-civilians’ like the protesters and the police brutality. These incidents suggest the protest was hijacked to settle scores.
At the initial stage, President Muhammadu Buhari backed the protesters to freely express their grievances albeit in a peaceful manner as a conventional best practice over incessant police excesses, and in solidarity, instantly scrapped SARS. That done, but rather than the protest subsided as expected, it advanced and rapidly transformed to ‘End-Buhari’ revolution with politicians funding and reinforcing the mobs which attracted the security operatives to arrest the situation. Conversely, scrapping the SARS was ill-advised. Disciplining the bad eggs in SARS should have practically achieved a better result instead of complete scrapping of the unit as insecurity in the country has overtly worsened following the action.
Then, following claims and counter-claims of massacres at Lekki tollgate in Lagos during the protest particularly by the Cable News Network (CNN), Buhari through the National Economic Council directed state governments to set up independent panels to investigate, report findings alongside make recommendations. Consequently, the ‘Lagos State Panel of Inquiry on Restitution of Victims of SARS Related Abuses and Other Related Matters’ was birthed to independently handle the tasks efficiently. On November 15, 2021, the panel submitted its report, but by mission or omission, it was leaked. Next, an alleged death threat of a member of the panel spread intensely all over the media space. Many believe the leakage was shadily planned to overshadow the anticipated White Paper.
From the panel’s report, it submitted that at least 46 unarmed protesters were either shot dead, injured with bullets or assaulted by security forces at Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020 and penciled names of nine dead persons but without details including circumstances that led to their deaths. Logically, the term ‘either’ in the panel’s report after a one-year intensive investigation makes it neither here nor there. On account of the inconsistencies, the White Paper released by the LASG endorsed only 11 out of the 32 recommendations and separated those statutorily under federal government’s control. It also rejected the list of nine dead persons purportedly killed at Lekki tollgate except one which was witnessed during the uproar as no details supported others. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Lagos governor however leaves the door open for proof to contenders, and plans a peace walk. Though a good idea, however, the rally should be critically reconsidered against further civil disorder particularly in December.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed had earlier described the report as ‘fake and tales by moonlight’. It was also rumoured that one of the deceased among the purported murdered persons in the report died a year prior to the ENDSARS protest. Now, looking at the intention of the government for considering an investigative panel, perceptively, it was targeted to a redress where necessary provided it reflects the true positions of what transpired during the protest. However, the government argues that no family showed up when corpses could be traced, identified, examined or autopsy conducted and those allegedly injured with gunshots be verified at the hospitals. It further argues that death certificates of the alleged slain protesters are necessary to ascertain the date, location and cause of death. These are strong arguments any day.
Suffice to say that the panel failed to credibly determine the claims of alleged massacres and police brutality during the protest at Lekki tollgate. Possibly, the panel enthroned emotions above objectivity leading it to rest on speculations and assumptions. The panel’s conclusions without proof are debatably prejudiced. The first task should have been to visit the alleged bereaved families and injured persons in the hospitals for verification as everybody living or dead is traceable to a family. Essentially, the panel ought to adduce death certificates and medical reports from hospitals that treated injured persons as it is a standard practice that hospitals do not treat persons with gunshots without a police report prior to or while undergoing treatment.
The way forward is; as Babajide Sanwo-Olu astutely leaves the door open demonstrating his neutrality, the allegations of extrajudicial killing of nine persons and brutality of the unarmed protesters will rest on nothing, lacking strong argument to challenge the White Paper if without proof. And sensibly, no accountable government will do otherwise. The alleged massacres and brutality must be substantiated by the victims’ families as well as those treated in hospitals of injuries linkable to the military and police brutality during the protests in October 2020. Thus, the onus rests squarely on CNN and those that adduced the panel with claims of massacres and brutality during the Lekki tollgate protests to substantiate them. If there are no proofs, on a serious note, CNN owes the country unreserved apologies for misrepresentation. The truth matters more than propaganda.
Umegboro is a public affairs analyst and social advocate.