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#EndSARS: Tension in Lagos over one year memorial

By Gbenga Salau, Kehinde Olatunji and Jesutomi Akomolafe
20 October 2021   |   4:30 am
Expectations are heightened today, October 20, for the memorial of #EndSARS, the one single event that reverberated across the world last year, besides COVID-19 and #BlackLivesMatter in protest of George Floyd’s police killing ...

#EndSARS: This destruction among others took place on October 20, 2020. PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI

• Police: Only indoor, virtual events will be allowed • Police lack powers to ban protests, Falana insists
• Protesters to storm Lekki tollgate in car procession • No right-thinking Nigerian will join #EndSARS protest, says DHQ
• Security operatives take over tollgate ahead of memorial protest • Sanwo-Olu maintains Nigerian youth have reasons
to demand better future • Utomi, Falana, activists demand justice, insist on police reform

Expectations are heightened today, October 20, for the memorial of #EndSARS, the one single event that reverberated across the world last year, besides COVID-19 and #BlackLivesMatter in protest of George Floyd’s police killing in the United States.

At 11:49 a.m., on this day, the Lagos State government had announced the imposition of a 24-hour curfew in all parts of the state, with effect from 4:00p.m. of same day. This was due to hijack of #EndSARS protests across the state, where hoodlums attacked citizens and destroyed properties, including police stations.

At 6:45 p.m., the Lekki tollgate shooting occurred when protesters were allegedly shot at by security operatives deployed to enforce the 24-hour curfew. Around the time the curfew should have commenced, the Lagos State government had issued a directive to extend the enforcement of its 24-hour curfew from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. to enable residents stuck in traffic get to their destinations.

However, the events that occurred on the evening of October 20 cascaded terribly into an orgy of violence the next day, necessitating the state government to declare a 72 hours lockdown in view of growing violence in Lagos.

For its first commemoration of that incident, the Lagos State Police Command, yesterday, said it would only allow indoor and virtual events in commemoration of the #EndSARS protests. Police Public Relations Officer, CSP Adekunle Ajisebutu, in a statement, said the police are willing to provide adequate security at the venue of such events.

This is despite the insistence of activists to stage #EndSARS memorial protests in the state, a thing the police command fears may lead to a repeat of the destruction witnessed last year.

Ajisebutu, in the statement titled, ‘#EndSARS Anniversary: No Street Protests In Lagos,’ said no protest, whether in favour or against #EndSARS, will be allowed in the state starting from now and beyond.

“Intelligence at our disposal has revealed plans by some faceless groups or individuals to stage an anti-EndSARS anniversary protest in the state same day. In view of the conflicting interests between the pro and anti-EndSARS anniversary groups and threat to cause mayhem, the command warns both groups against any form of street protest between October 20 and beyond.

“Parents, guardians are admonished to warn their children against participating in the protests. Similarly, youths and other individuals or groups planning to take part in the protests are further warned in their own interest to shelve the plan.”

The command had earlier gone on a show of force with its personnel, patrolling the streets in armoured tanks and other vehicles yesterday.

The activists have instead of its planned protests stated that they will be having a car procession in honour of those believed to have lost their lives during the #EndSARS protests. The car procession will drive through the Lekki tollgate, which was the epicentre of the protests last year.

The organisers urged those who will participate in the memorial protest to come with their cars. In one of the fliers, the organisers urged the protesters to come en-mass as there would be a car procession around the Lekki tollgate and environs. They advised protesters to stay in groups and also stay in their various vehicles for safety reasons.

One of the artistes, who identified with the protesters, Folarin Falana, popularly known as Falz, in a post said: “We must never forget. We’re rolling up in cars tomorrow to drive through the tollgate. We know their way, so a procession of cars is the safest option to minimise police harassment. We have rides for people that need.”

A frontline member of the Feminist Coalition, which coordinated the protests last year, Ms Feyikemi Abudu, said: “#EndSARSMemorial People were shot, injured and killed as they waved flags and sang. To memorialise them, we’re driving through the toll.”

As activists mark the one year memorial of #EndSARS, the Defence Headquarters has said Nigerians are better informed and won’t be taken for a ride a second time. Director, Defence Information, Major General Benjamin Sawyerr, in a terse response to newsmen, stated that no one in his right sense will heed the call to gather again, considering the wanton destruction that attended the #EndSARS protest one year ago.

According to him: “Do you think that with what the citizens went through during the unfortunate saga, which saw wanton looting, destruction of public infrastructure, burning of private buildings, killing of police officers and men as well as allowing hoodlums to have a free day molesting innocent citizens, anyone in his right mind would contemplate heeding to the voice of sponsored agents for gathering again? I think even the citizens are now better informed that some people took them for a ride.”

MEANWHILE, Lagos State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, yesterday, said Nigerian youths have many reasons to demand for better life and future, maintaining that the demands are heightened by their inability to live and prosper due to the existing socio-economic and political conditions among other factors the country is grappling.

Speaking at the Lagos youth symposium organised by the Ministry of Youth and Social Development themed, ‘Rebuilding For Greatness, Peaceful Conflict Resolution’, Sanwo-Olu stated that the symposium was organised to engage over 1,500 youths drawn from various voluntary organisations, uniformed organisations, non-governmental organisations, National Youth Council of Nigeria, Lagos State Chapter, among others

According to him, the primary objective is to use the platform to network and learn new ways of contributing their quota to rebuilding Lagos and achieving the greater Lagos dream.

The governor, who reminisced that this time last year the state and indeed the whole country witnessed a mass protests against police brutality, noted that the movement saw a majority of Nigeria’s youth population participating in one of the largest movements since the country’s democratic transition.

“This incident sparked global outrage and hoodlums took advantage of the situation and went on rampage looting and burning down, and destroying government properties and facilities. In what seemed like a calculated attack, the hoodlums ravaged the city of Lagos leaving many parts of the state with burnt buildings, looted shops and destroyed properties worth billions of Naira. The economy of the country that was already in decline due to some many factors suffered a huge setback

‘’Nigerian youth have many reasons to demand for a better life and future especially in a country where their ability to live and prosper is challenged by existing socioeconomic and political conditions amongst other factors. The proportion of people living in poverty continues to grow especially as COVD-19 rampage continues.”

HOWEVER, activists and scholars have insisted on the acceleration of the demands of #EndSARS protesters in 2020, saying that the request of the youths must not be lost in the narrative, if the government was serious about ending extrajudicial killings.

 
The Guardian reports that parts of the demand of the protesters include: salary increment for the police and adequate compensation for protecting lives and properties; Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reported police misconduct within a period of 10 days.
  
Others are: Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensations for their families; immediate release of all arrested protesters and carrying out psychological evaluation of all disbanded SARS operatives before they can be deployed (this should be verified by an independent body).

This was disclosed yesterday at an event to mark ‘One year after #EndSARS, 35 years after Dele Giwa and the Quest to Remake Nigeria,’ held at Ikeja.
  
Director, International Press Centre (IPC), Lanre Arogundade, stated that a reform of the police force was the core in the demand of the youths during the EndSARS protest and must not be swept under the carpet.
    
He said: “the youths were not just protesting against SARS but were also demanding better working conditions for policemen. They were demanding better welfare for them. At a stage during the protest, the youths were considering contributing money so that the welfare of our policemen can be taken care of.”

On his part, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and human rights activist, Femi Falana, argued that the threats against peaceful rallies oozing out of the Police Headquarters and State Commands are illegal.
 
He argued that they constitute a gross infringement on the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. These are guaranteed by sections 38 and 40 of the Nigerian Constitution as well as articles 9 and 10 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act.
 
According to him, in the case of the All Nigeria People’s Party vs Inspector-General of Police (2006), the Honourable Justice Anwuri Chiyere declared that a police permit as a precondition for holding rallies in Nigeria was illegal and unconstitutional.
 
“Consequently, her ladyship granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Inspector-General of Police and other police officers from preventing Nigerian citizens from convening and participating in rallies.”

  
When the Police dragged the matter to the Appeal Court, it was dismissed in December 2007. In the unanimous decision of the Court, Falana said their Lordships described police permits as “a relic of colonialism” which is anomalous in a democratic society.
  
Falana urged the youths to organise politically and demand for their rights and contest for power and challenge the ruling class that has run the country down.
 
Political economist, Pat Utomi said, “We need a democracy because we don’t have one. We need the voice of the people to be respected; we need political parties that can crystalise the desires of the people today and in the long term.
 
He added that there was a need to socialise groups of young people into being able to sacrificially offer themselves in service to bring about desired goals. “Right now, political parties are just machines for grabbing power. Last weekend, see the mess that the so-called congresses went through and this is because what is at stake is not how to move the country forward.”

THE proceedings at the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry came to an end on Monday, with the panel awarding N148.2 million as compensation to 23 victims of police brutality. The panel had previously awarded a total of N262 million as compensation to 47 petitioners. With the new compensations, a total of (N410.2 million) had been given to 70 petitioners as compensation.

According to Doris Okuwobi, the chair, the panel heard 186 petitions from 252 petitioners. She said cases not opened and unconcluded would be sent to the Lagos State Ministry of Justice for consideration on the future body that would handle human rights violations in the state.

Okuwobi advised the police to further investigate two officers, identified as Bawa and Salisu, attached to the Ojo police station. She did not give details of what the policemen committed.

Concerning Pelumi Onifade’s petition vs state environmental task force, Mrs Okuwobi said “petition adjourned sine die to await recommendations of panel on the unheard petition.”

On Lekki shooting, the panel said it would submit its findings, which include individual petitions on the incident to the state government and recommend compensation to the petitioners.

Okuwobi said the Lekki shooting report would be made public by the state government. The judicial panel was set up by the Lagos State government in the wake of the #EndSARS protest against police brutality in October 2020 to investigate the excesses of the dissolved Federal Special Anti-robbery Squad and to the Lekki shootings.