There will be no justice for the Lekki dead
For me, it was not the fact that young Nigerians were massacred at the Lekki toll gate on October 20 last year. Nigerians die daily in the hands of murderous security agencies and they don’t even make the news. It was the chilling deliberateness and planning of the massacre that bothered me.
The government took great care to plan for the massacre of its own people. First, it ensured that the otherwise visible cameras at the tollgate were disabled, internet access to the area cut off, lights switched off and a curfew imposed to boot. Then came the massacres, the mopping up of the dead and wounded and the cleaning up of the crime scene to erase the evidence. Were it not for the brave DJ Switch and others who captured and transmitted the killings live, it would have been a matter of rumours with absolutely no evidence to prove that the state deliberately and cold-bloodedly massacred innocent, peaceful and young citizens only demanding an end to police brutality, abuse and murder.
Despite the surfeit of evidence, the government and the army foolishly stuck to their original game-plan, which was to keep denying that anyone was killed on the night, making a mockery of the country before the world that saw the killings happen in real time. But they didn’t end at denying the killings. They were also hounding journalists, protesters and eyewitnesses who had any knowledge of the killings in 2020. Many of them are either now in secret detention, dead or in exile.
These could only be done by an evil regime, one with absolutely no respect for life, rights and dignity of its citizens and whose only concern is power and the attendant spoils that come with it.
These could only be done by an evil regime, one with absolutely no respect for life, rights and dignity of its citizens and whose only concern is power and the attendant spoils that come with it
However, last week, the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS – Related Abuses and Other Matters – the panels set up by state governments at the wake of the EndSARS protests to mollify protesters but which, in reality, was meant to achieve nothing – shocked the Lagos and federal governments when it asserted that there was indeed killings at the Lekki Toll gate and those killings amounted to “massacre”.
The “atrocious maiming and killing of unarmed, helpless and unresisting protesters, while sitting on the floor and waving their Nigerian flags, while singing the national anthem can be equated to a ‘massacre’ in context,” the panel said.
As against the claim by the army that its men only fired blanks to disperse protesters, the panel found that troops “actually shot blank and live bullets directly and pointedly into the midst of protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate, with the deliberate intention to assault, maim, and kill”. What is more, it found that just as eyewitnesses narrated, soldiers and later policemen turned back ambulances that arrived to help wounded protesters.
But we do not need the report of a panel to convince us that there were shootings or massacres at Lekki in October 2020. All the evidence needed was out there. All that was at play was the government’s propaganda machine, which no one, including those peddling the lies, believed themselves. It was all for the money or blind loyalty.
But let us not be carried away, nothing will come out of this report. The government will hold no one accountable for the killings because not only has it ordered and planned it, but it has also followed a consistent pattern.
On December 12, 2015, the Nigerian army took the law into its hands and massacred over a thousand members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) who allegedly blocked the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai. Although the military used several lies to justify the killings, a panel set up by the Kaduna state government to investigate the killings indicted the Nigerian army for the Zaria massacre but said it could only confirm the killing of only 347 members of the sect.
Specifically, the panel indicted Maj. General Adeniyi Oyebade, then, General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army’s 1st Division in Kaduna for authorising the operation. The Panel only stopped short of indicting the Chief of Army Staff General Burutai who also bears responsibility for, and has defended, the killings on several occasions.
What happened to those indicted for the killings? Absolutely nothing. Burutai not only continued to serve as Chief of Army Staff for the next five years, well past his retirement due date, upon his disengagement, he was rewarded with an ambassadorial posting to the Republic of Benin. Oyebade went on to become the Commandant of the Nigerian Defence Academy and retired with full honours from the military some years later. Rather, it was the victims that were prosecuted. For close to five years, the leader of the sect, Sheik ElZakzaky, his wife and other members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria were clamped into detention unlawfully until a judge dismissed the case against them a few months back.
The same thing happened in Odi, Bayelsa state in 1999. Coincidentally, in 2001, it became the turn of the Army Chief who was in charge during the Odi massacre. His village in Zaki Biam was the target. In 2016 it was the Gbaramatu people in Delta state; in 2017 it was the people of Aba and Onitsha; in 2020 it was peaceful protesters in Lekki and many others that are too numerous to mention. No one has ever been held accountable for the deliberate killing of civilians in this country.
In each of these instances, Nigerians supported these massacres out of blind ethnic or political loyalty to those in power or for pure love of power and sucre. But like I always argue, the massacres will eventually go round. Whoever rides on the back of the tiger is likely to end up in the belly of the tiger.