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‘Arrest us!’ Defiant young Nigerians insist on right to protest

A notable speculative fiction writer from the 1980s once noted in her ‘Diplomatic Immunity’ work: “The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is the duty of the living to do so for them.”

Eighteen years after Lois McMaster Bujold’s statement, Nigerians have come to recognise the potency of a unified voice collectively demanding for justice for their dead, whose bloods once splattered their country’s flag.

But they do that now with much defiance—unafraid of bullets and unperturbed by the traumatic tales within the walls of a Nigerian police cell.

Following the ENDSARS protest— a movement by young Nigerians aimed at ending government oppression and police brutality, the youths have continued to insist on their rights to protest and demand accountability, despite obvious risks associated with confronting the country’s deadly security forces.

In anticipation of strong presence of riot police officers, protesters who had planned to occupy the Lekki Toll Gate in order to inhibit its reopening marched in smaller clusters on Saturday, 13 February 2021, a strategy to sustain the protest as security forces kept pushing back with numerous reinforcements.

The protesters had witnessed copious killings, oppression and now, no brutality could be brutal enough to make them back down.

“Come and arrest us,” screamed a hijab-wearing young woman who was later identified as Dabiraoluwa Adeyinka.

Leading at the vanguard, Adeyinka’s cluster appeared out of nowhere into a spot glazed with police officers demanding for justice for the dead and that the toll plaza remain closed.

“We want to be arrested,” she added, stretching out her hands for cuffs, while the others in her team, through a song, queried how much blood the government would spill.

Some minutes after the group led by Adeyinka, another group, also led by a lady identified as ‘Light’, matched forward making the same demands.

The presence of the small groups unsettled the police who immediately jumped to action, arresting the unit leaders.

Why the protest?

The planned protest followed the decision of the Lagos State Judicial Panel to allow Lekki Concession Company to reopen the Lekki tollgate.

The tollgate has been shut down since October 20 when armed soldiers shot and killed some peaceful protesters who gathered at the toll plaza.

The panel of enquiry which was set up to look at the Lekki shooting incident approved the reopening of the tollgate following a prayer by LCC counsel that its order will allow the company to repair all damages done.

This came after five members of the nine-man panel led by Doris Okuwobi voted in support of the reopening of the tollgate, while four persons rejected, stating that the report of the forensic examination on the incident that took play is yet to be disclosed.

Heavy security presence and arrests made

When the planned protest was announced in a bid to scuttle the planned resumption of normal activities at the toll gate, the commissioner of Police in Lagos State, Hakeem Odumosu, said the command would vehemently resist any form of EndSARS protest as being planned by some groups of people.

Odumosu’s statement was reported two days prior to the planned protest and signed by the Command’s Public Relations Officer, Olumuyiwa Adejobi.

Then after, security operatives were immediately deployed to the protest ground a day before. A source told our correspondent that some police officers were deployed to major spots across the state and some arrests were also made.

The state task force embarked on a show of force which began from Obalende through Lekki Phase One and then to Phase Two, in order to execute the order of the commissioner of police.

Some security operatives even slept at the toll gate and more were deployed as reinforcements leading to pockets of arrests of protesters.

Data gathered by BusinessDay from the Lekki Toll Gate scene shows about 17 protesters have been arrested by the security forces. The number later rose to 40, including a popular comedian Debo Adebayo, popularly known as Mr Macaroni, Dabiraoluwa Adeyinka, Damilare Adenola, Anjorin Joseph, Paul Terkuma and Anisere Sodiq.

However, while Mr. Macaroni was later released late in the evening after several moves by activists and combined efforts of lawyer, it could not be confirmed how many protesters also regained freedom at the time of filing this report.

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