Scores of youths gathered at the Lekki tollgate area of Lagos on 20 October 2020, playing music and eating, in continuation of the #EndSARS protests that had lasted about two weeks in the country.
Earlier that day, Lagos governor Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu declared a 24-hour curfew which was to start by 4 pm but later postponed to 9 pm. The governor declared the movement restriction due to reports of violence by hoodlums who had hijacked the peaceful protests. The hoodlums burnt public infrastructure including police stations, court buildings, and mass transportation systems.
But despite the curfew, protesters gathered at the Lekki tollgate, an epicentre of the #EndSARS protests.
Many protesters sat on the ground, and as it got darker, around 6 pm, some said they noticed the lights that were usually turned on at the tollgate were turned off.
Several eyewitnesses said later they saw about a dozen trucks arriving with soldiers.
The protesters started distributing national flags among themselves. Some of them believed that if they sat down and sang the national anthem while waving the flags, no solider would shoot at them.
But they were wrong.
At around 7 pm, while the protesters were singing the national anthem and waving flags, eyewitnesses said the soldiers started shooting at them.
The protesters were reportedly cornered even as the soldiers mounted barricades before the shooting. After several minutes of shooting, the soldiers reportedly left the scene. Several witnesses said they saw many protesters wounded, lying on the ground, with blood all over them. Scores reportedly died.
Obianuju Udeh, professionally known as DJ Switch, has been tagged the heroine of that night – she live-streamed the shooting to the world.
But despite the video showing soldiers fired live bullets into the protesters, the Nigerian Army consistently denied deploying soldiers to the tollgate and described the videos of the killings as “photoshopped.”
Lagos governor, Mr Sanwo-Olu, confessed that soldiers were deployed but said contrary to witnesses’ and Amnesty International’s claims that scores of protesters were killed, only one person died as a result of gunshot injuries.
’11 protesters killed, soldiers turned back ambulances’
However, in a report submitted on Monday by the Lagos judicial panel of inquiry led by Justice Doris Okuwobi (retd), claims by witnesses were substantiated. The panel said “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 found 11 protesters were killed by the security forces while over 40 were injured.
The report reads: “Officers and soldiers of 65 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, led by Lt Col Bello, left their base with blank and live ammunitions to confront and disperse youths holding only their national flags, with live bullets.
“The soldiers actually shot blank and live bullets directly and pointedly into the midst of the protesters at the Lekki Tollgate, with the deliberate intention to assault, maim and kill.
“The soldiers turned back ambulances that were invited to render first aid and assistance to the wounded protesters.”
The judicial panel went on to list eight ways in which the security forces and government agencies attempted to cover up the killings.
• It was alleged and corroborated that the soldiers had their vans parked at the Lekki Toll Gate and removed as many bodies and corpses of the fallen protesters which they took away with their vans. One of the protesters who was shot and taken for dead, Olalekan Sanusi, who eventually escaped to narrate his ordeal and experience stated that 11 corpses were in the van, where he was placed in and presumed dead. Miss Dabira Ayuku [a witness] also corroborated the above by stating that she saw about 7 dead bodies placed in one of the military trucks at the Lekki Toll Gate on the night of 20th October, 2020.
• It was alleged and corroborated that soldiers picked bullet shells on the night of October 20 and policemen followed up in the morning of October 21 to pick bullet shells.
• Several unidentified bodies were removed by security agencies and LASEHMU (Lagos State Environmental Health Monitoring Unit) and deposited at various hospital mortuaries in Lagos State.
• Three (3) trucks with brushes underneath were brought to the Lekki Toll Gate in the morning of October 21st October, 2020 to clean up the scene of bloodstains and other evidence.
• There was abundant evidence before the Panel that the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) indicated in its Twitter handle that it had effectively cleaned up the Lekki Toll Gate scene immediately after the incident of October 20, 2020.
• The denial of ambulances by the soldiers, which could have assisted in the prompt and effective treatment of injured protesters, was cruel and inhuman and it contributed immensely to the large number of deaths and casualties on the part of the protesters, especially those from the Lekki Toll Gate.
• The Panel finds the cases of death or injured protesters as credible and uncontroverted.
• The Panel finds that most EndSARS protesters and victims of the Lekki Toll Gate Incident of October 20, 2020 were largely unwilling to be identified in public for fear of persecution or harassment by the security agencies and the government generally. Immediately after the protest, there was palpable fear that the Army and Police were visiting hospitals to ‘finish up’ the protesters to the extent that some of them could not return home immediately. Some of the protesters received threats and some were being trailed by unknown persons.
Reactions trail judicial panel report
Since the panel’s report was presented on Monday, it has generated reactions from Nigerian citizens, United States government, human rights organisations, as well as activists.
The US Mission in Nigeria said it looked forward to the response of the federal and Lagos state governments, adding that suitable measures should be taken against those found to have committed human rights abuse.
“Those events led to serious allegations against some members of the security forces, and we look forward to the Lagos State and federal governments taking suitable measures to address those alleged abuses as well as the grievances of the victims and their families,” the US said in a statement.
Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) called for the dismissal, arrest and prosecution of officials such as the Minister of Information and Culture Mr Lai Mohammed for “lying to Nigerians over the killing of unarmed EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate.”
Prof Kingsley Moghalu, presidential aspirant and former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), said the perpetrators of the Lekki Massacre must not go scot-free.
“As I said when the news of the killings broke to the world, these are violations of international humanitarian law in addition to national laws. This was mass murder, and attempted mass murder, pure and simple. The perpetrators must not go free, and adequate restitution – which also is within the mandate of the judicial panel – must be made to all the protesters who were murdered in cold blood, injured or assaulted,” Moghalu said in a statement.
“The #LekkiMassacre report is out, confirming my consistent position all along that the Army was desperately struggling to cover up as they did during the #ZariaMassacre. But some are trolling me for drawings by a different Bulama. If you must troll, at least get your facts first,” tweeted Mr Bulama Bukarti, a senior analyst at Tony Blair Institute.
Also, investigative journalist Mr Fisayo Soyombo tweeted, “Now that the panel set up by the government has confirmed #LekkiMassacre, it’s time to demand action against Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Muhammadu Buhari. Those who ordered the attack on #EndSARS protesters, including the governments under which it happened, should be brought to book.”
As of the time of filing this report, there has not been an official response to the Lagos judicial panel’s report by government officials.