Tuesday, October 20, 2020 will forever be remembered as the day that armed soldiers were unleashed on peaceful #EndSARS at the Lekki Toll Plaza, killing and injuring yet-to-be-specified numbers of young men and women.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had announced a 24-hour curfew, starting from 4.00pm that day. The curfew deadline was later shifted to 9.00pm. By around 7.30pm soldiers arrived on the scene and asked the protesters to leave. The CCTV cameras and lights were removed, plunging the plaza into pitch darkness. As the youth were singing the national anthem, gunfire erupted, with the soldiers shooting directly at the protesters.
In Abuja, viral videos of men suspected to be security agents were all over the social media. They were dropping and picking up armed thugs and hoodlums who attacked unarmed protesters at various hotspots of the federal capital.
Just hours before the military was drafted, President Muhammadu Buhari had met with his top security and defence aides, and several governors had imposed curfews in their states. After a number of concessions to the protesters’ demands, the state had finally lost patience with the protesters whose demand to disband the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, FSARS, increasingly took on political coloration.
There is no doubt that the #EndSARS campaign had been the biggest, most peaceful, patriotic, non-partisan and pro-Nigeria protest ever held in Nigeria. In all states where it was held, there was a common display of love, friendship, civility and zero tolerance to unwanted infiltrators such as politicians, thugs and other agents provocateurs. Pro-SARS protesters in the North were warmly treated by governments.
But unfortunately, (as usual with prolonged protests) hoodlums who had nothing to do with the protests seized the moment in several cities. In Benin, Edo State, law and order broke down and there was a jailbreak in a medium-security prison. Some police posts were burnt down. In Orile-Iganmu and a few other suburbs of Lagos, police stations were razed. In Abuja, armed hoodlums were let loose on the protesters and law enforcement agents failed to do their work.
It is so unfortunate that matters came to this juncture. We had repeatedly called for a de-escalation of the protests, more so as the road blockades were already threatening economic activities and the supply chain. The protesters should not have blocked the roads for so long. They should also have limited their demands and subsequently organised themselves as a movement for change. Protest demands should not be elastic.
But the use of soldiers, live firearms and thugs on unarmed and peaceful protesters is reprehensible and condemnable. It is murder and punishable under international law. Why give hoodlums a free rein while killing unarmed protesters? We support all efforts to press charges and secure justice for those killed or maimed.
No one has the right to kill innocent, peaceful and unarmed citizens.