The government of Lagos State denied it, as did the federal: that in the #EndSARS incident of October 20, 2020 at the Lekki tollgate, people were shot and killed. They denied that corpses had been hurriedly evacuated. No government or official was guilty of anything, they insisted.
But protesters and other witnesses at the toll gate claimed that several people were injured and killed in the shooting, Premium Times reported. The newspaper was also told by the artiste, DJ Switch, who streamed the incident live on social media, that the soldiers took away their dead victims, and that a team of police officers mopped up after them.
CNN, in this report, undertook a detailed investigation of what happened on that night at the tollgates. Among its resources were videos obtained from people present, by which it “pieced together a timeline that shows that shooting by the army lasted from 6:43pm. until at least 8:24pm.”
“The videos capturing some of those 101 minutes tell a story of terror and chaos,” it said. “They show graphic injuries and people bleeding on the ground.”
One of those killed was Victor Ibanga, whose sister, Elisha Sunday Ibanga, received a phone call from his older brother’s number on that night, the stranger announcing that Victor had been shot dead at the protest.
“The person told me that the police took his body away,” she recounted.
“CNN has obtained and geolocated a photograph of Victor’s body lying in a pool of blood and wrapped in the white and green of the Nigerian standard – one of the same flags gripped by fellow protesters earlier in the evening as they sang the country’s national anthem,” said the news network. “Ibanga confirmed the photograph is of his brother.”
People present at the scene described what they saw as a massacre and were reported as such.
But officials vigorously denied it. Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, “admitted to CNN that footage showed uniformed soldiers firing on peaceful protesters but claimed only two demonstrators were killed. But, he then said there was “not a scratch of blood” at the toll gate when he visited. The governor said no families had approached authorities saying they were missing relatives.”
The Federal Government came out swinging, Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed, denouncing the CNN account as “fake news” and “misinformation,” and calling for the organisation to be sanctioned.
“Like everyone else, I watched the CNN report,” he said at a press conference. “I must tell you that it reinforces the disinformation that is going around, and it is blatantly irresponsible and a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organisation.”
But Lai lied. In its report of October 10, 2021, the Doris Okuwobi judicial panel, which Governor Sanwo-Olu had set up, affirmed that there had indeed been a massacre. It said that soldiers deployed by the military hierarchy to the scene on October 20, 2020, “shot, injured and killed unarmed helpless and defenceless protesters, without provocation or justification, while they were waving the Nigerian Flag and singing the National Anthem.
“The panel also found that officers of the Nigeria Police Force who were deployed to the tollgate on the night of the incident “shot at, assaulted and battered unarmed protesters, which led to injuries and deaths,” thereby aiding the army in the commission of a massacre.
Testifying at the enquiry, Prof John Obafunwa, the Chief Pathologist of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, had told the panel that although he believed that only three bodies had come from the tollgate, at least 99 people were killed in Lagos during the #EndSARS protest and their corpses brought to the morgues between October 19 and 24, 2020 for autopsy.
These stories, contrary to the spirited disinformation of the federal and state governments were one and the same: a historic mass murder was inflicted on Nigeria’s youth in Lagos on that fateful day in 2020. In 2021, Obianuju Catherine Udeh, our DJ Switch, told it as a first-person experience to the Oslo Freedom Forum.
This month, Lagos State itself mistakenly provided irrefutable proof of that sad event, a leaked memo showing that the government plans a N61.2m mass burial for 103 bodies “recovered” during #EndSARS.
That government has since attempted to explain away the memo, claiming that the corpses came from all over the state and not just the Lekki tollgate, but while there had been repeated, almost abusive denials of the events of 20/10/2020, not once had it made any mention of such a specific demographic of corpses, let alone such a massive database of them.
In its response to the memo, it continued its obfuscation, “The 103 casualties mentioned in the document were from these incidents and NOT from Lekki Tollgate as being alleged. For the avoidance of doubt, no body was retrieved from the Lekki Toll Gate incident,” it said.
Lagos is a very rich state. So rich that it is widely known as Nigeria’s biggest kleptocracy, next to the federal authorities. In this case, however, it is attempting to spend a currency that it lacks: credibility.
What to do? I am highly reluctant, in a culture in which public officials neither read nor are genuinely interested in ideas or solutions, to make suggestions. In this case, however, the federal and state governments colluded if not in the mass murder, then certainly in covering it up. Their officials repeatedly snatched the microphone to scream ‘fake news’ and cite lack of bodies when they were all the time hiding those bodies and scheming to get rid of them.
Sadly, one cannot ask the current crop in charge in Abuja to do the right thing, which is to institute a comprehensive, independent investigation into the murders, including coroner inquests and autopsies. Each of the corpses must be identified and returned to their families, and each family compensated.
All those behind the massacre, including those who sent troops with live bullets to a peaceful protest, contrary to the law, must be identified and prosecuted.
Governor Sanwo-Olu should resign. And wherever they are, such persons as Muhammadu Buhari, who was President for eight years, and Mohammed, his warped megaphone, should apologise to the families of those who they denied ever existed, the public, and the mass media.
We know that the right thing will not be done, or justice delivered. Nigeria is in a time warp in which we travel in circles and our worst find a way to control our best and our hopes. And because when things are going well for us, we forget that there might come one day when we need justice.
That is why, in terms of the present, those who are afraid of a military coup harbour the wrong fear. Now that the youth is on notice that they can be wiped out and their bodies hidden for years and then burned or buried in mass graves at heavy public expense, they have regained new clarity.
Is it simply coincidence that last week, the government was making new pledges to them? Or that, following the coup in next-door Niger, politicians there were being attacked in the streets?