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The #EndSARS protest, which called for the SARS unit to be disbanded and the police force to be reformed, may have been fueled by the Nigerian government’s rejection of many accusations of the unit’s abuses. The hashtag #EndSARS has been around since at least 2017 when it was first used to communicate stories of assault and violence perpetrated by personnel from the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a special police squad. See our previous article – Nigerian protest police brutality is far more than SARS.
#EndSARS protesters, Shot and Killed. Who is responsible?
What seemed like a mere social media hashtag took a new turn in 2020, only a few days after Nigeria’s independence day. Following the release of a video showing police officers suspected to be members of the infamous Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) reportedly shooting and killing a young man in Ughelli, Delta State, nationwide protests against police brutality erupted on the streets. Amongst the protesters were Nigerian public university students who had been stranded at home for almost eight months owing to the Academic Staff Union of Universities’ constant strike action. Things, however, quickly soured for #EndSARS protesters.
Black Tuesday for #EndSARS protesters
Unfortunately, the 20th of October 2020 was dubbed “Black Tuesday” by many Nigerian youths. Men dressed in Nigerian Army uniforms opened fire on these unarmed peaceful #EndSARS demonstrators at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, Nigeria, as captured in a live Instagram video by prominent Nigerian entertainer DJ Switch. Several human rights groups, including Amnesty International, acknowledged that the Nigerian Army and Police were responsible for this atrocity and that at least 12 nonviolent protesters were killed in Lagos on the same day. Further inquiry into the incident revealed that street lights were turned off, CCTV cameras were turned off before the terrible deed, and some lifeless bodies were transported by officers to hide evidence.
Nigerians’ Lives in the Crosshairs of Politics
Recall the demonstration was sparked by the inability of appropriate governmental institutions to investigate and prosecute officers who commit acts of violence against civilians. The absence of high-level political will to overhaul the Nigerian Police Force in particular. Not to mention the government’s failure to carry out administrative measures made to address the issue of police violence. However, a schism emerged as a result of several controversies surrounding the #EndSARS Lekki incident. While some claimed that the state government had issued a curfew order that limited movement. As a result, the demonstrators had no right to remain outdoors.
#EndSARS: The Debate, Who ordered the shooting?
The order side of the debate claims that the curfew’s start time is unreasonable since protesters had no method of travelling to their respective locations before the curfew begins, hence they choose to camp at the toll gate. Others feel it was simply the typical nasty activities of power-wielding politicians and authorities to undermine the morale of #EndSARS campaigners fighting for the right path. Is death, in addition, the penalty for such? To put a stop to the finger-pointing at the federal government and the Lagos State government for premeditated murder, a commission of investigation was set up to examine Police Brutality and the Lekki Killings.
Who is to blame for this occurrence, yet again? The young and unarmed Nigerians who peacefully exercised their right to protest against police brutality and were greeted with countless challenges by government mercenaries who attempted to penetrate their camp and inflict damage? It’s difficult to forget easily, those filmed in SUVs transporting goons to inflict damage on #EndSARS protesters in various parts of the nation. Who is to blame once more? Can we blame the government for placing a restriction on movement? The debate continues…
#EndSARS Panel Report
If the panel of inquiry’s report is anything to go by, it won’t be long before one believes that a lot was attempted to be pushed under the rug. According to the report “the atrocious maiming and killing of unarmed, helpless and unresisting protesters, while sitting on the floor and waving their Nigerian flag, while singing the National Anthem can be equated to a ‘massacre’ in context.” Meanwhile, the report also found that the police were involved in the crime. “The evidence before the panel shows that after the Nigerian Army left, the Nigeria Police followed up with the killing of the protesters, shooting directly at protesters fleeing into the shanties and the Lagoon at the Lekki Phase…”
Despite the fact pointing that the Nigerian Army and Nigerian Police Officers slaughtered nonviolent protesters, the report does not expressly state who gave the order. Who, once again, ordered the shooting? Leaving it to the court of public opinion, and the government to answer this question.
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