Lekki Shooting: “Unknown Soldier, na ‘im do am”
By: Deji Yesufu
In 2015 when soldiers of the Nigerian Army moved into Geylesu, Zaria, and mowed down the headquarters of Shi’ites, an Islamic sect in Northern Nigeria, most people felt that El-Zakzakky and his followers had gotten their due because the Shi’ites had become notorious for shutting down highways during their walks and rallies. This faithful day the Shi’ites had blocked the road in the quiet city of Zaria, Kaduna State, but this time they were hindering the chief of army staff, General Tukur Buratai from passing through their neighborhood. We understand that after some persuasions, the General was allowed to pass but he did not forget the incident. A few hours later, soldiers from a nearby barrack moved into Geylesu and mowed down the living quarters of the Shi’ites members. Their leader, El-Zakzakky, was arrested along with his wife and has been in detention ever since – undergoing a protracted trial instituted against them by the government of Nigeria. It is believed that hundreds of members of this religious group perished that day but the news received very little traction from Nigerians because some of us felt that the Shi’ites were becoming too much of a nuisance to people in Zaria. However, a few concerned voices warned against the Nigeria military’s penchant for extra-judicial killings. They said in effect: it is the Shi’ites today; it can be you and I tomorrow.
On the 20th October, 2020, a little over a month ago, the Nigeria military’s penchant for extra-judicial killings drew closer home. This time soldiers moved into the city of Lagos and killed peaceful protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate. The protesters had been calling on the Nigerian government to end police brutality in the country. At first the military denied that its men were present at the Toll Gate at Lekki where the shooting occurred. Eventually they admitted that personals of the Nigerian army were at the Toll Gate, after they were invited by the Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Sanwo-Olu. They said, however, that they did not use live bullets on protesters. The public is still at a loss as to how live bullets were not used on protesters, yet many were wounded and a few people were killed. A few days ago, the international news network, CNN, published their own finding around the shootings at Lekki in a five minute video and they arrived at the very uncomfortable position that live ammunitions were used on peaceful protesters – young people mowed down in their prime as they were holding up the Nigerian national flag and singing the national anthem – a sight that must break the heart of even the coldest minded person.
The question remains: who ordered the shooting of unarmed peaceful protesters who were mostly youths at Lekki Toll Gate on the 20th of October, 2020; a day that carries a unique numeration (20/10/2020) yet has become quite infamous for the number of young people killed? No one has offered answers to that pertinent question. The Lagos State government has set up a panel of inquiry into the shooting and the facts emerging from these seatings are quite interesting, to say the least. What is clear is that soldiers, no matter what they may have smoked or drank, will never take up guns and turn them loose on the same Nigerians the nation has armed them to protect. The only way soldiers could have reached Lekki is if one of the following people had ordered them to go there: The President of Nigeria; the Governor of Lagos State; or the Chief of Army Staff. One these three ordered soldiers to Lekki to quell the protest there and when soldiers are called out to the civil populace, we can be sure that they are not sent to pat people on their heads; but rather ordered to use maximum force to end the protests.
While we continue to ask the question regarding who ordered the shooting at Lekki, we need to remind ourselves of a few pertinent facts. First, the EndSARS protests carried out all over Nigeria was a protest aimed at ending police brutality in the country. For a long time young innocent Nigerians have continued to be killed and at other times maimed for the mere fact that they are young people. The protest was calling on the Nigerian government to carry out long lasting institutional reforms on the police so that Nigeria’s law enforcement can carry a human face and do their jobs in humane manners like their counterparts around the world. The protest was a spontaneous reaction from the people of a nation who are sick and tired of government turning deaf ears to the cries of its people. Second, the EndSARS protesters did not precipitate the riots that enveloped the country following the shooting at Lekki Toll Gate. The riots, burning of public buildings and killing of policemen, began after peaceful protesters were shot at and killed. The protests were subsequently taken over by hoodlums and hooligans, who used the occasion to unleash mayhem on the nation – mostly in Lagos State. Thus, the arrest of leaders of the EndSARS protest and the closing of their account numbers is actually totally uncalled for.
Third, and even most importantly, when people are not given opportunity to vent their frustrations, they find other ways of carrying them out. What is very clear is that if pent-up anger continues in Nigeria, it would find fruition in some other ways. This is how revolutions begin in countries and these are the seeds that lead up to full blown up conflicts in nations and even civil wars. The Nigerian government will need to take heed; history is replete with situations like these and those who choose not to learn from it, end up becoming victims themselves.
Sometimes in the late 1970s, the Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-kuti, got into a melee with the Nigerian government. Fela had mapped out a section of Lagos city as his home and called it the Kalakuta Republic. He meant it as an independent state from Nigeria. No one took him serious. However, as head of his own state, he began to criticize the Nigerian government virulently over of some policies. He condemned the 1977 FESCTAC feaster that had blacks from all over the world come to Nigeria to celebrate pan-Africanism. Fela, a pan-Africanist himself, condemned the whole thing; he said government was wasting money. Then he released his blockbuster song: “Zombie”, where he said the Nigerian soldier had no sense but are made to obey to the letter everything their superiors asked them to do. One day, soldiers broke into his “republic” and burnt down his home. Fela was arrested, along with other members of his family. His mother, a politician and rights activists herself, was gravely injured by soldiers in the encounter. She later died at the hospital as a result complications from that coonflict. Fela was incensed. The moment he gained some freedom, Fela released “Unknown Soldier”:
Unknown soldier, na im do am
I get one information for you…
That my mama wey you kill… she is the only mother of Nigeria
Which kin’ injustice be dis…
Wetin concern government inside…
If na unknown soldier…
We get unknown police… we get unknown soldier… we get unknown civilians
All equal to unknown government…
Incidentally, throughout the EndSARS protests, Fela Kuti songs kept blaring out of radio soro soke, the internet radio station for EndSARS. If the organizers had had any premonition, they should have sensed the ominous end that was going to befall protesters on the streets. Government had become jittery and had they allowed the protests to continue for another week, the government of Muhammadu Buhari might have been brought down. It only made sense that something drastic is done. Then we had the Lekki Shooting and the rest, like they say, is history.
We do not know what the findings of the judicial panel of enquiry will be in the days to come. What we are certain of for now is that unknown soldiers gunned down peaceful protesters at Lekki, Lagos, on the 20th of October, 2020. A rather infamous day; a day that will go into Nigeria history books in red, white and green.