Throughout history, military involvement in civil protests has often turned out disastrous. Though the nature of the intervention of the Nigerian Army in the recent Lekki tollgate killings is still hazy, the prevarications by some major actors in the tragic drama call for serious interrogation.
Like the infamous raid by soldiers on the legendary Fela Kuti’s Kalakuta Republic, which gave birth to his hit song, ‘Unknown Soldier’, some yet to be identified soldiers allegedly opened fire on peaceful protesters at Lekki tollgate area of Lagos on Tuesday, October 20, 2020. It was under the cover of darkness as the floodlights and display boards at the toll plaza had been switched off. The victims were young people who were waving the national flag and singing the National Anthem. Global rights group, Amnesty International, estimates that about 12 people died that night at Lekki tollgate and Alausa areas of Lagos. There were series of video evidence to show that the military did it.
But the army, at first, denied even being at the scene of the shooting. The spokesperson, Defence Headquarters, Major-General John Enenche, said the viral videos of the shooting could have been photo-shopped. In a contradictory statement, the Acting Deputy Director, 81 Division, Army Public Relations, Major Osoba Olaniyi, said soldiers intervened on the request of the Lagos State Government after a 24-hour curfew was imposed. The curfew followed violence, which led to several police stations being burnt, policemen killed, suspects in police custody released and weapons carted away. The intervention of the military, Olaniyi noted, followed all laid down procedures for internal security operations and that its personnel never opened fire on the protesters.
On his part, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State blamed the shooting of protesters on forces beyond his control. He said he called President Muhammadu Buhari two times, but got no response. He has since reported the Lekki incident to the highest command in the military. Though he admitted that soldiers carried out the shooting, Sanwo-Olu initially said no death was recorded. He later noted that only two people died.
The questions are: who ordered soldiers to move to Lekki? Who ordered them to shoot, because they couldn’t have fired at the protesters without an order from a superior officer? How many people actually died in this incident? Did the soldiers take away the bodies of the people killed in Lekki to cover their tracks as has been alleged?
We may never get concrete answers as ours is a country where impunity reigns supreme. Last Friday, the Lagos State judicial panel of enquiry into the shooting went in search of answers to some questions. They paid an unscheduled visit to the military hospital in Ikoyi, Lagos, to inspect the morgue. They were initially denied access. Later, the military welcomed them into a hospital that is still under renovation. The morgue is reportedly not functioning also. A unit of the Nigerian Army, 65 Battalion, which was alleged to have sent soldiers to Lekki tollgate on the fateful day, controls the hospital. Will the judicial panel unravel the seeming mysteries behind this unfortunate shooting? Let’s wait and see.
Nevertheless, it is true that Sanwo-Olu has no control over the army. But by inviting them to intervene in Lekki, as the military claimed, he failed to differentiate between the hoodlums burning police stations in some parts of the state and unarmed, peaceful demonstrators at Lekki. He failed to reckon with the fact that, in a democracy, you don’t rush to invite the military to quell peaceful protests. It usually backfires because soldiers are mainly trained for warfare.
In Egypt, for instance, there was an attempt by the military to quash the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. Protesters, among other demands, asked for an end to police brutality, corruption, high unemployment, lack of political freedom and the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. The military killed over 800 demonstrators. Over 6,000 others were injured. Eventually, the people won as Mubarak resigned on February 11, 2011.
In Chile, a similar thing happened. When the people started their protest in October 2019 against the hike in transit fares, President Sebastian Piñera declared a state of emergency and deployed the military. This angered the protesters the more. Like the #EndSARS protest, the Chilean demonstration moved from anger against hike in transit fares to other issues, especially inequality and injustice. Soldiers killed scores of the people, injured some and arrested many others. It did not deter the protesters. Today, the military has mellowed down. And in a popular referendum on October 25, 2020, the people of that Latin American country decided to abolish the country’s constitution forced on them some 40 years ago during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. A new democratic constitution written by the people is in the offing.
In the late 1980s, people trooped to the streets of Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, to protest austerity measures imposed by the government. The then President Carlos Andrés Pérez declared martial law and invited the military. Characteristically, the soldiers were brutal. They reportedly killed at least 400 civilians. At a point, division crept into the army as some junior officers refused to obey orders to suppress their fellow citizens. Hugo Chàvez, who was one of the junior officers, was to later become the country’s president. He derailed though and plunged the country into dictatorship which the incumbent president, Nicolàs Maduro, has sustained. There are many other examples.
It is imperative to note that militarisation of any political system may diminish the power of the people for some time. Ultimately, the people’s power usually triumphs. Many Nigerians may have been traumatised by the events of the past few weeks. Many personal and public properties may have been vandalised and looted by hoodlums. Some may have paid the supreme price for our sake. But victory is surely certain for lovers of freedom, justice and good governance.
Going forward, the victims of the #EndSARS protests deserve justice and adequate compensation. Sanwo-Olu deserves commendation for promising scholarship to children of the police officers killed during the protest. He merits some kudos for pledging to compensate other victims of the Lagos carnage, and for also showing solidarity with the protesters when he initially addressed them at some point in Lekki.
But for allegedly inviting the military for what the Mobile Police could have effectively done with tear gas and water cannons, he has some questions to answer. The military high command led by Tukur Buratai, who has been talking tough despite the mourning mood of the nation, also has questions to answer. The Commander-in-Chief, who controls everything from Abuja but has shown little or no concern about the tragic events of that Black Tuesday, has questions to answer. All the people connected with the killings directly or remotely must be made to account for their actions. If they escape the Nigerian judicial system, they may not escape the International Criminal Court (ICC). It has happened in places like Chad, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sudan, where such ex-leaders Hissene Habre, Charles Taylor, Laurent Gbagbo and Omar al-Bashir, respectively, were made to answer for their crimes against their people at the ICC. One day, the moment of reckoning will come.
Re: Since OPC now guards police…
Dear Casy, may I be allegorical herein. Where there are six lumps of meat in a plate of soup for you and five siblings each time and you keep taking five, what do you expect them to do? Hail or frown? Where they frown, you apply browbeating, owing to the goons at your beck and call. Naturally, over time, the land you walk on would quake, even ordinary stone would rise in their defence. That is the situation in Nigeria today. Hence, the presumed protected now protects the presumed protector. The presumed protected herein refers to the masses. The presumed protector refers to those in statutory, but now, abused uniform kowtowing the slave- master. As it is now, please note that when injustice attains a crescendo, even egg would strengthen itself and break a stone! Solution? Justice, Equity and Fair play in the affairs of governance in Nigeria. ‘Dogon turanci’ has been a disincentive.
– Steve Okoye, Awka, 08036630731
Dear Casmir, one big lesson for Nigerian youths is that organizers of the #EndSARS protests should have had a small group of volunteer leaders, as “Think Tank”, readily available to do their “mob thinking”. And to guard against infiltration by government agents and “fifth columnists”. That way, they could have thought of, or foreseen the introduction of thugs and hoodlums, by the Establishment, to destabilise them. If not a “Think Tank”, how else did demonstrators in Hong Kong, for example, outstay the onslaught of security and government authorities there, to sustain their protests for several months running? They had many tactics on how to withdraw, or outflank security men who splash them with hot, peppered water. Not live bullets. The above information is necessary to highlight a local proverb which quoted the tortoise as saying that “another corpse will die”.
– Dr. Chuka Nwosu, Port Harcourt, 08085914645.
Dear Casmir, thanks for the outcry. For us to heal this nation, the National Assembly should dissolve all parties, disqualify all unworthy politicians and call for formation of new political parties. Another is for us to remove immunity for leaders; with this we’ll achieve a great nation.
– Cletus Frenchman, +2349095385215
Dear Casy, the current crises that erupted this month in Nigeria had to do with prolonged police brutality against the populace. Since independence, British left the force that has colonial mentality, anti people and instead of the government to reform the institution with its personnel, the political elites used them against the public. Today, about eighty percent of the police personnel work for our rulers in their offices and homes thus abandoning the masses. Now that OPC guards the police stations let’s have our state police commands across the states of Nigeria.
– Eze Chima C. Lagos, +2347036225495
Casmir, it’s said that ‘Conscience is an open wound, only truth can heal it’ .A lot of injustice exists in Nigeria. Nigeria is multi ethnic cum religious country. The attempt by one ethnic group to dominate others can never allow much needed peace to reign. This will continue to generate tension. The solution is to urgently restructure the country into regions which may include West, Niger Delta, East, Middle belt, North and FCT. With this new structure each region will design its own Constitution and security apparatus. FCT can serve as Central government with less control on the regions.
– Pharm. Okwuchukwu Njike, +234 803 885 4922
Also published in the Daily Sun of Monday, November 2, 2020