In October 2020, Nigeria had one of the largest youth-led rallies in its history, known as the #EndSARS movement.
Years of frustration and fury over police violence, particularly by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), prompted young Nigerians to take to the streets, demanding an end to police harassment, extrajudicial murders, and the ultimate disbandment of the notorious force.
What began as peaceful protests quickly gained traction, spreading to cities across Nigeria and garnering international attention and support.
Protesters, mostly young Nigerians, marched through the streets with banners and placards demanding swift action from the government.
However, the events of October 20, 2020, represented a watershed moment in the #EndSARS movement.
On that tragic day, a group of nonviolent demonstrators had assembled outside the Lekki toll gate in Lagos, which had become a symbolic focal point for the protests.
As darkness fell, security forces allegedly opened fire on protesters, killing and injuring numerous people. The episode, now commonly known as the “Lekki Massacre,” shocked Nigeria and the world, attracting widespread condemnation.
Following the terrible events, the Nigerian government declared the disbandment of SARS, which was met with skepticism by demonstrators who sought greater police reforms and responsibility for alleged abuses committed by SARS officers.
Fast forward to the present, and the scars sustained during those tumultuous days are far from healed. The Lagos State Government’s recent decision regarding a mass burial for the 103 victims of the #EndSARS protests has revived the pain and emotions of the tragic events of 2020.
While the administration has stated that these victims were not victims of the Lekki toll gate shooting, it serves as a somber reminder of the high toll the protests took on human lives and the importance of resolving the causes that sparked the movement in the first place.
Numerous reports of arbitrary arrests, extortion, torture, and extrajudicial killings by SARS officers had inundated social media, drawing the attention of the Nigerian public. These occurrences, which were frequently accompanied by viral videos and graphic photographs, caused outrage among the tech-savvy youth, who felt an urgent need to confront the issue.
Thousands of Nigerians around the country will take to the streets in October 2020 to protest police brutality. They sought radical reforms, particularly of the police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS.
The weeks-long protest drew international attention, culminating in the controversial killing of protestors at the popular Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, one of the rallying grounds for those who took part in the demonstrations.
SARS can be traced back to the early 1990s when the Nigerian government founded the Special Anti-Robbery Squad with the primary goal of countering violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping, and carjacking.
Initially, SARS was successful in reducing violent crime cases, but the unit was accused of “turning into banditry.”
SARS evolved into a feared and vicious squad, often accused of grave human rights breaches and abuses of authority.
Initially, it was successful in reducing violent crime cases, but the unit was accused of “turning into a cash cow and agent of human rights abuse.”
Amnesty International released a report in June 2020 detailing at least 82 incidences of torture, ill-treatment, and extrajudicial execution by SARS between January 2017 and May 2020.
During the protest, the then-Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, announced the disbandment of the Squad in the country.
The Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS-related Abuses and Other Matters delivered its report on November 15, 2021, prompting Sanwo-Olu to form a White Paper committee.
The Justice Doris Okuwobi-led panel determined in a 309-page report titled “Report of Lekki Incident Investigation of October 20, 2020” that there were “killings” at the Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020.
The panel also claimed that at least 48 demonstrators were killed, injured, or assaulted by military and police.
However, the State Government’s White Paper on the EndSARS panel’s report criticized the panel’s report that nine people were killed at the toll gate.
The government rejected the panel’s claim that nine people were killed as “assumptions and speculations” in the White Paper.
Burial of 103 Victims
Three years later, a leaked memo on the proposed burial of some victims has reopened the EndSARS wounds.
According to the leaked email addressed to the Lagos State Ministry of Health, the State Government sanctioned N61,285,000 for the mass burial of 103 people identified as 2020 EndSARS victims.
The paper, which went viral online, appeared nearly three years after the government disputed the gruesome massacre of unarmed protestors waving the Nigerian flag and screaming the national song when the military allegedly opened fire on them at the Lekki toll gate.
The five-paragraph leaked letter detailed the methods for processing funds after approval by the Governor, as well as the Ministerial Tenders’ Board Meeting to discuss the Procurement Planning Committee’s recommendations.
In response to the development, a former lawmaker, Shehu Sani, declared that the ghosts of the killed EndSARS protestors and members of the Islamic Movement in 2015 would continue to stalk the nation and hang over its skies until justice was served.
On Monday, Sani alleged that killing 103 EndSARS protesters in Lagos was one of the “hidden atrocities” of former President Muhammadu Buhari’s regime.
In her statement, former Education Minister Obiageli Ezekwesili urged an immediate answer from Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
In a series of tweets on Sunday via her verified Twitter handle, the former Minister questioned whether the Governor was aware that the state had a record of 103 dead bodies from the EndSARS shootings.
Ezekwesili also said that the nation’s public officials have degraded the dignity of human life to zero, calling it the “worst thing they have done to the citizens.”
At work, miscreants
However, in its response, the Lagos State Government insisted that the fatalities to be buried were not from the Lekki Tollgate incident, claiming that the specifics had been misinterpreted.
According to Dr. Olusegun Ogboye, Permanent Secretary of the State Ministry of Health, the victims were victims of violence in the aftermath of the EndSARS protests.
Ogboye stated that the Lagos State Environmental Health Unit (SEHMU) collected up bodies following #EndSARS violence and community conflicts.
He named localities in Lagos State where dead bodies were found, including Ajegunle, Abule-Egba, Fagba, Ketu, Ikorodu, Isolo, Ajah, Orile, Ikeja, Ojota, Ekoro, and Ogba, and said there was also a jailbreak at Ikoyi Prison.
“It is public knowledge that the year 2020 #EndSARS crisis that snowballed into violence in many parts of Lagos recorded casualties in different areas of the State and NOT from the Lekki Toll Gate as mischievous publications inferred.”
“The 103 casualties mentioned in the document were from these incidents, not from the alleged Lekki Tollgate.” To dispel any doubt, no one was rescued from the Lekki Toll Gate incident,” according to a portion of the statement.
Orngu bemoaned the fact that no one had been convicted or detained for what happened at the Lekki tollgate, despite the fact that a commission of inquiry had been formed to investigate the matter.
He expressed regret at the claim that the army was unleashed on Nigerians who were legitimately calling on the government to reform the police.
Orngu also urged young and vibrant Nigerians to participate in the political process.
“It is quite unfortunate that October 20 happened, and we are here today after so much denial, even when a commission of inquiry was established,” he remarked. I’m not sure what they did with the conclusions of that commission.
“No one has been prosecuted or arrested for what happened at the Lekki tollgate that fateful night.” It’s unfortunate.
“At this point, I am even dumbfounded to speak on issues concerning our beloved country.” However, it demonstrates that Lekki did occur, and someone should be held accountable for what occurred that day.
“Over a hundred and five people, or thereabouts, are to be buried, and no one has taken responsibility or been arrested?” Someone should be prosecuted for what occurred.
“But here we are as a country.” Is Nigeria becoming a rogue state? Is it true that there are no laws? Where is our humanity? Have we all lost our minds? What are we teaching the future generation? Because these are armless Nigerians protesting police brutality.
“These Nigerians were not only out there for themselves; they were also calling on the Nigerian government to improve police service and the welfare of police officers.” And perhaps, for economic reasons, you unleashed the army on them.
“A lot of conspiracy theories emerged, such as the protesters being paid to overthrow Buhari’s government and so on.” But these were people who didn’t even have a smoke gun with them. You began by unleashing street urchins on them. We saw some of these people’s faces, ‘agberos,’ but they were still circulating freely on the streets of Nigeria, particularly Lagos.
“So, what is the fate of this country for me?” I’m perplexed; head or tail, you don’t even know where to begin. Is it the issue of subsidy removal? Is it the tax issues? Where do you begin? Is it the soaring price of food? Perhaps, in the end, we will turn to God – the divine – to intervene in our country’s cause.
“The youths are not helpless, but we are watching.” My watchword has always been “organize, don’t agonize.” We are watching with bated breath, following the unfolding events in our country. And at the appropriate time, some of us will come out to speak, to act, because our acts have always been to prick the consciences of people, to prick the consciences of our leaders, that Nigerians deserve more. Our countrymen and women deserve better than what they have received.
“As I previously stated, I believe in the power of God.” In our country, there have been various interventions. Nigeria has been through a very terrible period. We saw it as young men; we saw nature take its course; we even witnessed death. So there is hope. And hope is not a plan; no one should tell you that.
“My call is for young Nigerians who truly want to effect change, not those who are shouting and, at the end of the day, when they get into government, they behave and perform worse.” We have some of our fellow activists who, as soon as they could get their hands on some deals and a few naira or dollars could line their pockets or accounts, stopped advocating for the people.
“I am taking this opportunity to encourage young, vibrant Nigerians to participate in the process and run for office.” Kogi, Imo, and Bayelsa all have elections. Go out there, put your foot down, and see how we can reform this system.
“Nigeria is redeemable.” Nobody should tell you that Nigeria is hopeless. There is yet hope for this country. There is yet hope for Nigeria. There is still hope that we can establish a nation that we can be proud of and that works for everyone.”
Honourable Lucky Obiyan, President of the African Emancipation Movement for Good Governance, said in an interview that the leaked paper was “living proof” that a massacre occurred at the EndSARS rally.
Obiyan believes that police brutality has worsened since then. According to him, police brutality persists in various forms.
He remembered some of the difficulties he encountered throughout the protest.
“It’s not far-fetched,” he remarked. It is living proof that a massacre occurred during the EndSARS protest.
“The Lagos government was being hypocritical in their submissions to the Nigerian people.” They had no idea the letter would leak, but it did, and it ended up in the public realm.
“And today, based on that premise, we’re going to talk about reality.” This has gone a long way toward proving that people did die and that there was a massacre at the Lekki Tollgate; the authorities just sought to cover it up.
“We are happy this is coming out, and we believe all those who have been vilified or hunted in one way or another, the likes of DJ Switch, who had to relocate from her country, will all be vindicated, including CNN and the likes of other media organizations who the government under Lai Mohammed’s Information Ministry tried to debunk and assassinate their characters, I believe they will begin to bury their heads in shame at this point in time.”
“The EndSARS represented better things for the police; you could see the government drew out a lot of programs.” Most of the demonstrators’ requests were met, albeit some would be addressed over time while others would be dealt with quickly.
“To be honest, police brutality has worsened from what it was then to what it is now.” The abuse continues in many forms, to the point when policemen accompany victims of their brutality and harassment to ATM machines and withdraw money without their consent under coercion. That has gotten worse. It is still happening today.
“You can see the hardship that has been inflicted on the Nigerian people as we speak.” Is it the fuel price increase or the increase in the power tariff, despite the House of Representatives efforts to halt the increase in the electricity tariff?
“However, the people are already bearing the brunt of the burden. Many families go to bed hungry, waking up the next morning not knowing where their next meal would come from. Nigeria has never experienced such deprivation.”
“We also faced the challenge of the government sponsoring a counter-mob attack in order to discredit the protest.” When you want to hang a dog, you give it a horrible name. They funded and infiltrated the EndSARS protesters.
“Another conclusion is that there was no leadership; it was a faceless struggle.” There is no agitation in the world where you don’t have a representative leadership to negotiate with the people at the top or hierarchy of the government; I believe it was one of the mistakes that the EndSARS organizers did on purpose,” he continued.