On Tuesday afternoon, when the news first circulated that they were removing surveillance cameras from the Lekki toll gate and that the government could be up to some mischief, my first instinct was to dismiss the alarm. This was no longer 1983, and the state could not be so reckless they would unleash violence on protesters at an open place like that. I have followed the #EndSARS protests at the Lekki toll gate, and it was one of the most peaceful and well-organised. What in the world would be the justification to attack them?
The old dictator, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), might not be the converted democrat he once claimed to be, but he would not be foolhardy enough to exacerbate issues. I wanted to have faith that the heat of the moment would force the government to stay their hands until there was a resolution to the series of ongoing social breakdowns. Nigeria is not the only country dealing with citizen protests. Hong Kong had its turn last year, and it ran for six months. In some states in the USA, they had three months of demonstrations this year. The people of Belarus have been protesting for months now. Thailand is on its fifth day. Protests are not peculiar to Nigeria, so why would it turn into a bloodbath? Besides, was it not just three days earlier that Buhari’s deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, apologised to Nigerians for their failings on the SARS issue? Did he not promise they would do better? It turned out that the expectation that this government would ever do right by the people was just a waste of optimism. The truth is, Buhari and his goons are still as beastly as they were between 1983 and 1985, and their innate capacity for cruelty can never be incommoded by the courtesies of the rules of engagement.
By Tuesday evening, under cover of darkness, their men went on a sporadic shooting spree. That they could shoot live arms at the scene of protests means they were working based on orders from above. Who does not know that a boy sent by his father to steal does not go stealthily but breaks the door with his feet? Soldiers work based on orders from their commander; no group of soldiers would have ever carried out that level of atrocity without an official sanction. By the time it was over, they had left their trademark, sorrow, tears, and blood behind. As it was in the first coming of Buhari, so it is all over again. This old leopard did not change its spots; its claws got sharper.
They planned and executed the cold-blooded murder of Nigerians. There is no other tenable explanation for what happened in Lekki. Without the CCTVs at Lekki, without power supply, and without the light of the day, they would have simply have blamed “hoodlums” for everything. Thank God for citizen-journalists who captured gruesome moments of killings with their phone cameras. We saw multiple instances of people being directly shot at by soldiers. We saw soldiers shooting at unarmed civilians at the Lekki toll gate. We saw bodies drop. We saw injured people. We saw thugs riding in official police vehicles, and when they engaged the protesters, we understood why they had the temerity. The dictator in agbada has unravelled.
Just like the days of the “unknown soldier,” these people are still trying to gaslight the country with willful denials. The Nigerian Army headquarters claimed that no soldiers were at the Lekki toll gate on Tuesday night. Is that supposed to be a lie or a cowardly retreat? If their men were not at the Lekki toll gate, where did those killers come from and how come they had deadly weapons? Even the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, described the killers as “forces beyond our direct control.” What does that mean? If an army of armed men in military fatigues could turn the gun on unarmed civilians for an extended amount of time and kill so many Nigerians, and there was no intervention whatsoever from any of the nation’s security forces throughout, there might as well be a coup already. It means that Nigeria’s entire security apparatus is incompetent and poorly-coordinated, and any force — external or internal — can override the country.
Claiming no soldiers were at the Lekki toll gate is incompetent lying. From “unknown soldiers” to “forces beyond our direct control,” the story never changes. They are always blaming a faceless and abstract evil when the perpetrators are right there in their midst. Were they not the same set of people who massacred the Shiites in Kaduna in 2015? They did not even kill them on the streets. Maniac soldiers went into their living quarters and rained bullets on them. Buhari had a live TV interview shortly after, and they asked him about the killings. He shrugged it off with the same soulless indifference he has exhibited to Nigerians his entire life. Then came the slaughters of the Indigenous People of Biafra protesters. You had to wonder what crime the IPOB people committed by publicly demonstrating their disillusionment with Nigeria and wanting out of it. In 2018, when Amnesty International confronted these soldiers with their crimes, they used the words of the US President Donald Trump to justify their lethal shooting of Nigerians. They are not forces beyond anyone’s control. These agents of death do all that they do precisely because they are controlled.
At the time of writing this, up till 49 deaths had been reported so far throughout the country over #EndSARS, and those are Tuesday casualties alone. When we know their identities, we owe it to ourselves to memorialise them. The deaths of these innocent protesters — and the date, 20.10.20 — should be preserved in the forefront of national discussion. We will not forget, and we will not let them forget either. In the next few weeks, watch the careerist politicians in Lagos and Abuja now worried about how Tuesday’s killings will affect their 2023 ambitions make empty speeches and meaningless promises about justice. Watch them try to talk away the killings without making any actual reforms to the terms of our social and political configuration that allows the state agents to kill innocent civilians. On Wednesday morning during a press conference, Sanwo-Olu already claimed there were no fatalities. Either his speechwriter does not know the meaning of “fatality,” or his paymasters are pulling his strings. No matter what, we should neither forgive nor forget the murders. The people killed were not just our compatriots, they were us. They killed us! We are all dead until we are dead.
No matter how hard they try, they cannot make this go away. Those soldiers might have seized the protesters’ corpses to hide their crimes, but they cannot have our memories. The ultimate sacrifice that our compatriots made on our collective behalf will witness against them. From Buhari, the Commander-in-Chief whose soldiers have freely massacred Nigerians, to his various enablers who have always facilitated the mechanisms of power abuse, everyone who works with this regime has blood on their hands. We should not stop reminding them they are murderers.
The symbolism of a massacre that took place at nightfall with halogen lights switched off, and a mere hours after they had pulled off the onsite cameras, is too glaring to miss. For democracy to die in darkness, somebody has to wilfully turn off all the lights. Some people have to take down the institutional cameras that surveil the actions of those in authority. Here is the thing: once the lights are shut off, it is not as simple as turning it back on. Some things never go back to the same. When unleashed, some types of evil cannot be placated. If Buhari’s regime sees the #EndSARS protests as an affront to his authority and an opportunity to systematically denigrate political competition ahead of the 2023 elections, you can be sure that their cruelty is going to get even worse from now onwards. The animal in human skin has finally taken off their decoy. God help Nigeria as they turn on the darkness.