By Olakunle Mohammed
We want to live, we want to be given the chance to dream and realise it, we want to soar high like the eagle in our nation’s coat of arms but we couldn’t because the Nigeria Police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was our Achilles’ heel. They extorted us of our hard-earned money, brutalised us for failing to part away with it, framed us for crimes we did not commit and gunned us down at will when they are blood-thirsty.
That was what motivated us to go out enmasse for the #EndSARS #EndPoliceBrutality protests across Nigeria and in the diaspora. That was what gave us the push to speak up about the oppression we were facing in our so-called fatherland. It was why we made demands of the government after SARS was dissolved and why we rejected the creation of the Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) unit, because we had lost trust in the government to protect our lives.
The weapons we took to these protests were our youthfulness, our voices, our placards and our grit but they still killed our colleagues.
An estimated twenty people have lost their lives between October 8 and October 19.
They killed our colleagues because they could not stand to be overruled while they were at the helms; they arrested, harassed and detained our friends because we had the guts to be vocal in a country where silence is golden; they threatened us with bodily harm for going to the protest grounds; they terrorised and framed us as criminals because of our persistence; they damaged and burnt our cars because we dared to ask for good governance.
Our government did all these but never assented to our demands, our President’s acknowledgement of our demands was his gap-toothed smile during the photo ops when Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu presented it to him.
Our President never addressed us directly during these protests. Only one pre-recorded broadcast on October 12, saying many things that ended up in nothing. Some of our governors never gave us the decency of an audience when we matched to their offices to present our demands to them.
And when they saw how powerful we had become with our voices and persistence, they made sure to paint us as the enemy of the state that freed prisoners and burnt police stations even when we were protesting far away from the scenes of the atrocities.
To punish us for having a voice and making demands for good governance, at 11:49am on Tuesday, October 20, 2020, Sanwo-Olu [on Twitter only, no press statement] declared a 24-hour curfew, to commence 4pm, same day.
In a city of over 20 million residents with most on the road, striving for their daily bread, they gave us four hours to make it back to our abode. This is in a city that is notorious for its traffic gridlock and major roads under rehabilitation.
Alausa and Lekki protesters decided to stay put at the venue of the protest in order to ride out the curfew. Around 4.00pm, two men posing as government workers reportedly came to remove the cameras -they say it is license verification lens but the images shared on social media screams CCTV- at the Lekki Toll Gate where the protesters gathered. The lights at the toll gate was turned off to and around 7:00pm, security operatives believed to be from the Nigerian Army in the guise of dispersing protesters fired at the crowd, who sat huddled together, waving the nation’s flag.
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Despite video evidence of the Army carrying out the alleged shooting, the Nigerian Army debunked it as fake news.
News reports confirmed several deaths but Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced only one death.
There are accusations that the Nigerian Army carted away bodies to hide evidence of their shooting. There was a country!
Nigerian Government’s grandmaster move has been to let the protest ride out, turn on its head and become a full-blown riot, fuelled by tribal conflict, the normal reset button for every agitation and demands within the system. This is playing out at a fast pace in Lagos and other parts of the country.
And forty-eight hours after the alleged shooting in Lekki, Buhari graced us with the usual pre-recorded speech at 7.00pm on October 22, 2020 to tell Nigerians to keep calm and go back to normal business. No acknowledgment of dead protesters in Lekki or any part of the country but the Nigeria Police got an addendum in his long-winding speech.
Our dear President gave the youth a pat on the back -like Mr. Macaroni telling us “you’re doing well” -but as children you’re meant to still be observing, that’s why I setup NPower and other petty-petty things for you. Quite sad!
Many questions left unanswered, heads did not roll, neither did anyone loose their job for the death, manhandling and human rights abuse suffered by Nigerian Youths between October 8 to October 21.
Nigerian youths have paid and are paying the ultimate price, their bloods are being shed on the flag for demanding good governance, end to police brutality, safeguarding their right to life and freedom of expression at the expense of Buhari’s maladministration and his cronies in power that thrive on gross ineptitude and little regard for human dignity.
Remember us, we fought a good fight but the power that be turned it against us!
Olakunle Mohammed is a development expert and researcher. He writes on the interlink of public policy, development, education and being Nigerian, tweets at @Olakunile.