For regular Nigerians, the 8th of October, 2020 was to be a normal business day. This was not the case for Nigerian youths who have been unsuitably tagged the ‘lazy’, ‘phone pressing generation’ for the longest time. Their ace was revealed when Runtown and Falz ‘the bad guy’ announced on their social media pages that there would be a protest at the Lekki toll gate. Initially, I thought no one would show up, not knowing that Nigerians both home and abroad had had a fill of the gross incompetence and unfettered brutality of the unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
SARS, a branch of the Nigeria Police Force was rebranded in 1992 to perform undercover operations to combat crimes associated with armed robbery, car snatching, kidnapping and crimes associated with firearms. In a strange twist of events, the unit itself turned into a cyber-crime outfit as they terrorised anyone who appeared to be doing well, had a laptop, or a phone or a car. Majority of the youths are profiled based on looks. If you had dreadlocks, tattoos, piercings or you had an Iphone or any flashy gadget, you’re instantly labelled an internet fraudster. The lucky ones- quite ironically- are taken to ATMs to withdraw cash or asked to transfer and the not-so-lucky ones are shot dead or just disappear from society in a puff of suspicious smoke.
The #ENDSARS movement started in 2017, it brought about the “disbandment” of the nefarious unit at least four times. However, the government just enjoyed throwing the word around knowing Nigerians will only rant for a few days and return to their life of adaptation.
Nigerians have often been praised for an almost inhuman endurance of their hardship. This time, there was a shift. Nigerians had had enough. The younger generation had broken the silence and fear of leadership the older generation had. They broke the mantle of silence, not questioning authority and fought with their lives, literally.
The coordination, execution, transparency with which a ‘leaderless’ group conducted the protests was so commendable that even the youths were shocked. No one thought a people with a common goal could come together, put aside differences and banters to create a mini government and a movement called #ENDSARS.
The movement later became much more than a call to end police brutality but a call for accountability, an end to bad governance, corruption and injustice.
However, things took an ill turn on October 20, 2020 when the Lagos State government suddenly announced a curfew, at noon, which was to start 4pm that day, knowing that it would be impossible for Lagocians to clear the state’s crammed roads that fast.
Peaceful protesters who knew they wouldn’t make the curfew time, decided to remain at the Lekki Toll Gate unknown to them that their lives were at great risk. They sat down, raising the national flag and singing the national anthem in the dark, because the toll gate light that never goes off, was abruptly turned off – maybe for an unscheduled maintenance.
Some hours to the curfew, it was reported that some persons had come to remove the CCTV cameras at the toll gate. Like a premeditated script, soldiers arrived in their numbers and shot at peaceful protesters who were sitting, raising the flag and singing the national anthem. Many were left for dead, many injured and maimed while scampering to live. The Nigerian Youths just wanted a chance at life, a chance to live, to not always have to look back every second and the same thing they were trying to fight against, was what was meted out on them. A lot of missing person reports are now rife, families left distraught, breadwinners disappeared/incapacitated by bullets.
How long will the government keep playing detective in the crime they committed?
One week later, the hearts of Nigerians are still heavy, questions are still unanswered; instead they keep coming up with unintelligent lies to feed Nigerians. We are treated like characters in a game, manipulated and used as desired.
The questions still remain – Who ordered the removal of the CCTV at the toll gate? Why did the lights go off? Why was the army sent to the toll? Who ordered them there? Who gave the order to shoot peaceful protesters? Why were ambulances sent to save people turned back? Where are the bodies picked up by the soldiers? What compensation plan is the government looking at?
Until all these questions are answered, the youths will not stop fighting for their rights.
October 20, 2020 will forever be a memorable day in all our lives. Those fallen will forever be remembered. We will continue to clamor for justice as long as we breathe.