A Month Since Black Tuesday
About 5 weeks ago, I was filled with the most hope I’ve felt for Nigeria as an adult. Then the unimaginable happened a week later. On the 20th of October, 2020, The Nigerian military opened fire at the Lekki Toll gate on peaceful protesters who were seated on the ground, waving the Nigerian flag and singing the national anthem. It was a gruesome and shocking end to two weeks of peaceful protests against police brutality and the extrajudicial activities of the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS).
What followed were two days of mindless looting and violence within the city of Lagos even though a curfew had been placed by the state governor. “Hoodlums” wreaked havoc on individuals, homes, and businesses; looting, burning, and maiming as they moved in large groups. Interestingly enough security forces who had heavy-handedly meted out violence on peaceful protesters for two weeks prior and had just opened fire the night before were conspicuously absent. In the aftermath, that violence was framed as the work of “End SARS” protesters. The same protesters who had been feeding one another, cleaning up public spaces, providing healthcare, and providing legal aid to arrested protesters. How does that make sense? It doesn’t, that’s how.
Like that was not galling enough, a campaign of lies, obfuscation, and fake news was launched. All of a sudden, it wasn’t the Nigerian army, but “men in military uniform”, implying that it could have been anyone at all, to stories of blank bullets and demanding proof of mountains of dead bodies to back up claims. And it had started working; people began to parrot these vicious claims, questioning what they saw, and what we all know happened. It was galling. Government agencies, that Nigerians pay for, that gain their power and authority wearing uniforms meant to symbolise order and peace, turned weapons on their employers and have been lying about it. There have also been arrests and threats of arrests of people involved in the protests in any capacity. There has been fear, fear of what will happen if we express dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the affairs of the country and demand change, that the government doesn’t know what to do, that the government cannot do what needs to be done and worst of all, that people may have died in vain.
I have learned so very much since the day of that shooting, and continue to learn every day. I now know that I have been terribly naive and wilfully blind about the true state of security within Nigeria. As we mourned, expressed shock, and demanded answers, countless people from other parts of the country narrated incidents similar to Lekki that had happened in towns or cities or villages. It seems like the Nigerian state has a reputation of meting out violence against citizens in response to agitation and denying it in the aftermath. It is now clear that the real role of citizens is far beyond “voting”. There must be constant pressure on leaders to do the right thing; staying abreast of laws being written or amended. Nature abhors a vacuum, and in the absence of accountability. Chaos reigns supreme.
While it is now clear lies are being told, the truth and accountability have still not happened. Those who gave the order, those who carried out the order and those involved in the cover up have not just “shocked” Nigeria and the world, but have also committed major crimes. Someone needs to answer for the deaths of Nigerians. They died asking for a better country for us all. We can’t let their deaths and the sacrifices of many be in vain.
We can’t afford to let this go, or keep quiet and hope that the truth comes out one day. I’m not even super religious like my parents but it feels like there is a battle for the “soul” of this country. The doubling down with violence, the protection of rogue officers, and the refusal to consider any real reform is not the response that leaves me with hope but we must continue to ask questions and insist on answers.
Every single person that died at the Lekki toll gate was a real person, with hopes and dreams and expectations. They were there in the hopes that real change will come, and they deserve the decency of being named and an honest burial. Some of their families are too scared to speak up and have no idea where their loved ones are. Some have no family and no one to miss them, and deserve to have us speak up for them, as we would hope for the same for us.