Lekki Toll Gate Shooting: An Appeal to the Nigerian Military
by: Deji Yesufu
Twentieth October will be exactly one year when the momentous EndSARS protests, that raged through many states in Nigeria, was abruptly cut short by the killing and maiming of young Nigerians allegedly by the Nigerian military. For about three weeks, Nigerian youths had trooped to the streets of major cities in the country calling for an end to police brutality. Many factors helped to fuel the protest and they include the fact that many of these young people, who ought to have been in school at that time, had been locked out of their studies because of a prolonged strike action by the Academic Staff Union of the Universities (ASUU).
The preponderance of jobless and frustrated youths help provide fuel for a situation that should ordinarily have been nipped in the bud from day one. Another factor that lent a hand to the conflagration that the protests became was the fact that so many Nigerians had either been directly involved in a case of police brutality or they knew someone who had. The EndSARS protests also offered opportunity for many groups that were dissatisfied with the manner the state was being run; so they used the occasion to express their displeasure. If the protest had gone on for another few weeks, some of us think the government of Muhammadu Buhari would have been brought to its knees. And this may just be one reason why the drastic measure of involving the Nigerian military in quelling the protest was employed.
This brings me to the question of what exactly is the purpose of the military in a country’s national life? Does the military have rules of engagement? And if they do, how well do the Nigerian military follow these rules and in cases where these rules are not adhered to, who is punished and how are other deterred from taking laws into their hands? With these questions we come to the matter of Nigeria’s long history and association with military rule. Nigeria had only enjoyed self governance, from the British imperial rule, for a few years before she was plunged into the tight fist of military governance.
The incongruence and inconsistencies of a military government resulted in the nation undergoing a thirty month civil war. The country emerged from the civil war with the Nigerian military still unable to understand its true place in a society. The boys in the barrack continued to wrest powers from each other until 1999, when another military man, now in civilian garb, came to power through democratic means. The fact remains that a government of force, led by force and for force has never really been expunged from the mentality of the average Nigerian. Even after 22 years of civilian rule, some very ignorant Nigerians still covet the return of the military to power. When people are not behaving properly in public, you often hear some people comment that they wish a soldier comes around now and whip everyone in line. When we do not understand the purpose of a nation’s military, abuse is definitely inevitable.
A nation’s military are a body of men, and women, empowered to guard the territorial integrity of that country. The military is empowered by the Nigerian people with weaponry to keep them safe from both external and internal aggression. A country’s military is however only employed to douse internal aggression on a last resort; ideally, the Nigerian police should handle every case of internal conflict within the country’s borders. In fact in an ideal situation, a country’s police should not be holding automatic rifles in public. A baton, Olopa (as the Yorubas call the police), is sufficient. But when a nation has been plunged into something close to a police state, our law enforcement agents will need automatic weopons to keep the peace of society. Unfortunately, the result is more violence on the streets of the nation and this is why the EndSARS came to be in the first place. All of which culminated in the unfortunate shooting at Lekki Toll Gate on the 20th of October, 2020.
We must remind ourselves that the Nigerian military and the police have denied shooting at the crowd of protesters at Lekki that day. A panel of enquiry has been holding over the violence and there are reports coming out saying that no one was killed at Lekki. Yet, there are other reports that have emerged that say that there were clearly killings at Lekki and the government was leaving no stone unturned to cover her tracks on the matter. This is why the phrase “alleged killings” must be employed in the case of the shootings last year. Unfortunately the poor records of the Nigerian military in dealing with civil unrest, with their penchant at using brutal force in quelling them, leaves many Nigerians believing that there might have actually been a number of young people killed in Lekki last year.
This essay is an appeal to the Nigerian military: men and women of the arms, be our friends. You are our sons and daughters; our brothers and sisters. We celebrate your gallant efforts at keeping the peace in the country, in other countries of Africa and beyond. We pray for you to succeed in your war against insurgency; particularly the war against Boko Haram. You should not be giving away so much, so much as your very life to keep us safe, while at the same time doing things to turn the society and public opinion against yourselves.
We understand that many in the military are professional men and women, and would never be caught abusing civilians. There is the report of one officer, who learnt that soldiers were firing live ammunitions at protesters at Lekki, who ran to the spot and ensured that the shooting stopped. We are grateful to men like that and we desire that a lot more of you be more professional in your handling of these weopons we give you to protect us. You should have learnt that public opinion is more powerful than those weopons you wield and you do not want to be the enemy of the very people you are trained to protect. Please be our friend.
Tomorrow, Nigerian youths will troop out to Lekki Toll Gate to commemorate the one year anniversary of the violent shut down of one of the most spontaneous and most organized protests this world has ever witnessed: the EndSARS protests. If any one of the Nigerian armed forces will have to be there, let it be that you are there to protect those young people from hoodlums who may wish to seize the occasion to disrupt the peace of society.
Together, we can all join hands to make this country work.