Special to USAfrica magazine (Houston) and USAfricaonline.com, the first Africa-owned, US-based newspaper published on the Internet.
By Suyi Ayodele, a columnist for the Nigerian Tribune, is a contributor to USAfrica.
As you are reading this piece, a very expensive, and almost burial is being planned in Lagos, the Centre of Excellence. Barring any last minute’s change of mind, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu will be spending the sum of N61,285,000 (Sixty-One Million, Two Hundred and Eighty-Five Thousand Naira), to bury the victims of the October 2020 #EndSARS riots, killed in Lagos by mindless soldiers and policemen. Governor Sanwo-Olu and his team succeeded in keeping away the corpses, 103 of them, at least for now, from the public for over two years until the rising of the sun exposed them last Wednesday!
The #EndSARS riots, which first broke out in Benin City on October 8, 2020, spread to other cities like the proverbial harmattan conflagration. For 12 consecutive days, youths across the major cities of the nation, congregated at city centres to protest what they termed police brutality and extortion. Lagos became the epicentre of the protests as the aggrieved youths introduced the Lagos razzmatazz of “Eko for Show” into their protests. They took over popular centres, organised musicals and got notable Nigerians, mostly youths, to address them. They shared food items, drank water, and cleaned up the spaces of any dirt. It was the most organised protest ever, far more coordinated than the 2012 anti-subsidy removal protest at Ojota. One such centre in Lagos was the popular highbrow Lekki Tollgate. Governments at the federal and state levels tried to destroy the unity of the aggrieved youths but the youths maintained their positions. Even when notorious Lagos urchins, allegedly backed by the government, tried to provoke the protesting youths, the street urchins and their paymasters were disappointed as the youths remained calm. When the government could no longer bear the audacity of the protest, it did the unthinkable. On October 20, 2020, while the youths were singing the National Anthem, and waving the Nigerian flag, a killer squad of soldiers was sent after them. The lights at the Lekki Tollgate, managed by Lekki Concession Company (LCC), were switched off. And using the cover of the night, the killer soldiers opened live bullets on the harmless protesters.
The public outcry that greeted the barbaric act was deafening. The reaction of the Lagos State Government was what the iconoclast, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, termed “government magic”. A panel, the “Lagos Judicial Panel on Restitution for Victims of EndSARS and Other Related Abuses”, headed by Justice Doris Okuwobi, was set up. Prominent Nigerians were included in the panel. The panel sat for over a year and submitted a 309-page report to the government on November 15, 2021, where it admitted that there was “massacre in context” at the Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020. Among other findings, the panel submitted that 48 protesters were either killed or injured, or assaulted; found Governor Sanwo-Olu, the Army, the Police and the LCC culpable and awarded N410 million as compensation to about 70 victims of the event.
What was the Lagos State Government reaction? The very government which empanelled the Justice Okuwobi board, rejected the reports, and insisted that nobody was killed at Lekki Tollgate. Abiodun Owonikoko, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who represented the government at the panel, claimed to have discovered “40 discrepancies” in the report. Owonikoko, argued that the Justice Okuwobi panel erred by making its findings public. “By law, the findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the panel were not supposed to be made public”, the senior lawyer told a bemused nation. In other words, the report would have been submitted secretly for the government to issue its “White Paper”. Governor Sanwo-Olu himself, on October 21, 2020, after his initial denial that nobody died at the Lekki Tollgate shooting, admitted that one person died because of “blunt force trauma.” He dismissed the death as an isolated case.
The controversies over the reports were endless. Like every other issue before it, the Lekki Tollgate “massacre” ‘died’ a natural death, and Nigerians moved on to some other engagements. In a piece titled: “Lekki Massacre: The real dead men”, published on November 23, 2021, as my reaction to the denial of any death by the Lagos State Government, I concluded thus: “…I make bold to submit here that the real “dead” are the individuals, who are still in self-denial of the massacre. Those who said nobody died in the Lekki Tollgate shooting of October 20, 2020, are the very dead and missing victims of their inhumanity. A man must be truly dead, but not yet buried, to believe that after soldiers fired live bullets at National Anthem-singing and flag-waving harmless Nigerians, everybody went home and like the Israelites told Moses in Numbers 31:49: “Your servants have counted the men of war who are under our command, and there is not a man missing from us”. Lie can travel as fast as it can and as long as it likes, it takes a split second for truth to overtake it.” The truth of the matter, like the Olori predicted that the rising of the sun would expose the wicked king, came to the fore on Wednesday, July 19, 2023.
In a five-paragraph memo dated July 19, 2023, authored by the Lagos State Public Procurement Agency, with the subject: “Letter of No Objection Mass Burial for the 103 Year 2020 ENDSARS Victims”, the agency stated that it had no objection “to the award of contract to MESSRS. TOS FUNERALS LIMITED at a total cost of N61,285,000.00 (Sixty-One Million, Two Hundred and Eighty-Five Thousand Naira) only for the mass burial for the 103 year 2020 EndSARS victims.” The memo was addressed to the Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Health, who had in a July 13, 2023, memo, with “Ref No: LSMH/G/NS/013-1/23”, sought the agency’s consent to award the N61.2 million contract for the mass burial of the 103 ENDSARS victims to the mentioned undertakers. The Nigerian social media made a feast of the memo. The entire secret, which the Sanwo-Olu government in Lagos had hidden from the public, came to the open, effortlessly.
Predictably, the Lagos State Government came out with another denial. In a press statement issued on Sunday, July 23, 2023, and endorsed by Dr. Olusegun Ogboye, Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Health, the government said that the 103 corpses were not those of the Lekki Tollgate massacre, but dead bodies picked up by the Lagos State Environmental Health Unit (SEHMU), at different locations in Lagos during the EndSARS and other riots. Hear him: “For the records, the Lagos State Environmental Health Unit (SEHMU) picked up bodies in the aftermath of #EndSARS violence and community clashes at Fagba, Ketu, Ikorodu, Orile, Ajegunle, Abule-Egba, Ikeja, Ojota, Ekoro, Ogba, Isolo and Ajah areas of Lagos State. There was also a jailbreak at Ikoyi Prison. The 103 casualties mentioned in the document were from these incidents and NOT from Lekki Toll-gate as being alleged. For the avoidance of doubt, nobody was retrieved from the Lekki Toll Gate incident.” Really? How many of the 103 bodies were those of EndSARS riots? How many people died during the “jailbreak at Ikoyi Prison”? When people died during “community clashes”, were there no relations to pick up their dead for burial? Is Dr Ogboye saying that the entire communities perished in the “community clashes”. He was never specific in the demographic distribution of the 103 dead bodies to his numerous ‘causes’! Ogboye claimed in his press statement that “there was not a single finding in the report or ensuing white paper attributing the death of any named citizen listed in the autopsy to the Lekki incident.” The question to ask here is who is lying between the Permanent Secretary and Governor Sanwo-Olu, who over two years ago, admitted that one person died because of “blunt force trauma?”
How on earth would a government, which initially denied that anybody died during the #EndSARS riots come up with the argument that it picked up corpses at different locations after the riots. Yeah, the keyword Sanwo-Olu and his handlers would want to avoid till they meet their makers is Lekki Tollgate. But for how long can they hold the truth down? The subject of the procurement agency is very clear. It has no ambiguity in it. A ministry requested for procurement of a contract to bury 103 #EndSARS victims. The agency replied by saying: “Letter of No Objection Mass Burial for the 103, the Year 2020 ENDSARS Victims”, and a permanent secretary somewhere is telling us that the dead bodies included those “picked up”, like common snails, from the streets of Lagos. If the Lagos State Ministry of Health knew that the 103 corpses were not those of the EndSARS victims, exclusively, why did it not include the other victims in its request to the agency? And come to think of it, who are those not allowing “the hapless families of the unclaimed loved ones a deserved closure”, if not the very government which denied the existence of “massacre in context” at the Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020, as submitted by the government panel. Nigerians, home and in the Diaspora now know the truth. Indeed, the words of the Lord are forever settled in heaven and Ifa remains the Awise that He had been from ages past. Nigerians, who knew the truth can now rejoice because itansan oorun ti fi won han (the rising of the sun has exposed them).
As the Good Book says in Isaiah 5:20, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter”! May the souls of the heroes and heroines of the 2020 ENDSARS riots all over Nigeria rest in peace.