In Nigeria, unarmed peaceful protesters were shot at, teargassed, and attacked for demanding accountability from the police force that had long terrorized the people they ought to serve.
On October 20th 2020, something happened. It was the culmination of peaceful protests that had occurred over the country spanning a few weeks before. But on that day, it started with the Governor of Lagos State announcing a curfew. Later in the evening, watching on Instagram live, the brave DJSwitch captures a scary few hours of peaceful protesters shot and teargassed at the Lekki Toll. She did a recount of what happened here. For a comprehensive background on #ENDSARS click the link.
TL;DR: SARS (Special Anti Robbery Squad) is a police sub-team set up to protect Nigerians from robbery, which turned into a rogue, unchecked, power-drunk, trigger happy unit that terrorized and extorted people. They carried out the exact crimes they are to solve and grew to be an untamable monster.
The protest to #EndSARS isn't new. A few times in the past, they have been "disbanded" by the Government, but it was all talk and no action, and SARS as a unit continued to thrive. Till the Nigerian youth had enough and took to the streets using decentralized protests to demand their disbandment for real this time. They asked for five simple things. [image above] They asked for accountability.
On October 20th, the protests continued at Lekki Toll Gate, and around 1 pm, the Governor had called a curfew for 4 pm the same day. The Governor later extended it to 9 pm. In the evening hours of that day, men in military uniforms showed up and shot at the peaceful crowd.
On an Instagram live by DJSwitch [GRAPHIC], who was at the toll gate, you could hear gunshots nonstop in the background. You could see people bleeding. I saw people unconscious on the ground with bullet holes in their torso. I wish I hadn't watched the live, but I wonder how the dead, the wounded feel.
The next day, the state government responded by saying they didn't give the order but that an investigation would happen immediately. The Governor visited the wounded at the hospital and claimed no one had died. The military, controlled by the Federal Government, responded by saying it wasn't them. They called it #fakenews. They later took responsibility but framed it as a restoration peace and enforcement of the curfew, at the invite of the Governor of Lagos state. It was a mess—all of it reeking from a fundamental lack of accountability. Ironically the very thing the protests were about.
Riots and looting happened all around the country, and things got violent. The president of Nigeria finally addressed the nation and did not mention the event. He did not empathize, did not acknowledge the Toll Gate or take responsibility, or re-iterate that he would investigate the matter. It was unbelievable.
There are many people I know who couldn't sleep properly for days after this event. Who were scarred by what they saw and heard on Instagram live by their own experiences that day.
Denial: No, it couldn't have happened. Did that really happen? Did the government shoot unarmed peaceful protestors? Innocent lives? Did I see that right?
Pain and Guilt: Yes, including physical pain. That really could have been my loved ones in that crowd or me. What could I have done better? How could I have helped? I should have done more.
Bargaining: At the very least, the government should have acknowledged the event? At the very least! They should offer compensation; they should please tell me they didn't knowingly shoot into an unarmed crowd?
Depression: ...... Numb. Just numb.
Acceptance: Yes, they did. Military personnel shot and teargassed unarmed protesters in the crowd, and this is the type of government that governs Nigeria. They had hinted at it a few days before here.
What can I do? I will do whatever I can, wherever I can, to contribute and not stifle the myriad of efforts trying to strengthen institutions that foster accountability so that something like this never happens again. No matter how little.
There is still an undercurrent of trepidation in the air, and I believe many are still oscillating between all stages of grief (as am i). However, I hold on to a silver lining. Something's changed. The psyche of those who can make meaningful change in Nigeria has moved from apathy to anger and now leans towards action. Advocacy groups like the feminist coalition among other brave people came together and demonstrated what accountability looked like during the protests; it gives hope.
The psyche of the average Nigerian has been on apathy for so so long. A critical first step of any lasting change, to building systems that you might never be alive to enjoy, is that there has to be an unconditional rejection of the status quo. It can't be an option.
We won't forget. October 20th 2020, happened, and now it is time to play the long game.