October, 20, 2020, Muhammadu Buhari, president of Nigeria since 2015 saw power literally slipping out of his hands and a youth revolution kicking in, so he took one last desperate action. He sent soldiers to Lekki to do a very damaging attack on youth who for some two weeks had made the Lekki Toll Gate their homes organizing themselves and peacefully protesting police brutality against themselves and a host of other neglects by the government. He had sent to the youths through the security apparatus to meet him for a parley but the youths fearing and knowing that a trap was being set for them had rejected his overtures.
Even adults who are accustomed to the slipshod attitude of doing things at all levels of the Nigerian society including the government could not but praise the organization of the protest. There was no clear leader but everything went well with everybody offering themselves willingly and voluntarily serving. They ate, they danced, they swept the road and kept the place neat, they provided charging points to charge their phones because they were in the place round the clock. They are the digital generation and their phones are their power. It was the power of those phones that had gathered them to Lekki, and they had mobilised themselves through the social media, especially Twitter. Older Nigerians sitting at home glued to their television sets and social media were seeing enacted before their eyes the possiblity of a new and effective Nigeria. Where they had given up on the nation and even the youth generation, they began to see hope.
The Lekki Toll Gate youth protesters were not just from among the poor, they include children from very rich homes, the types you will not expect demonstrating on the streets. They defied their parents to be present at the action spot at Lekki toll gate where they felt a new Nigerian will be born. Even the Lagos State counsel at the Judicial Panel that later probed the incident, Abiodun Jelili Owonikoko, SAN, said his daughter defied all his entreaties to avoid the demonstration. The youths used their technology to mobilize funds to carry out their assignment. So effective was the the fund mobilization that it became a tool for governmemt to arrest those who led it and those who contributed to it. Nothing had shaken President Muhammadu Buhari since he began his reign in 2015 like the protest. He had missed many opportunities in the past to quell the untoward behavior of the police which was the major complaint of the youth all over the nation. Even where his vice president, Yemi Osinbajo had made changes when Buhari was away from the country in many of his medical tourism, he had come back to reverse the changes. But when he saw the determination of the youths, he began to make concessions to their demands. But it was too late, the youth seemed to have gotten to a place that they felt he was no longer needed in the country; he was the problem of the country and he should leave.
Buhari did not take their threat lying low. He told a team of Arise Television top journalists, ” they threatened to come here ( meaning Ask Rock, where his residence and office are) to come and take me.” That was when he took action to send soldiers to dislodge the youths so that the crisis may be quelled. There have been denials by the Lagos State Government and the Federal Government that youths were massacred on the sordid night of that October 20 but the international media including the CNN have said with impeccable evidence that there were killings on that sad night and that some of the bulllets that killed the youths came from the Nigerian military. Some were from the Police who killed with bitterness because they were the major point of the youth grievance. Evidence from nearby private hospitals who provided first class medicare for shot and wounded youths showed that bullets of the military were used and that some youths indeed died. Despite the evidence, Lagos State Government and the Federal Government continues to deny that some protesters were killed.
Lagos political chieftain and now presidential candidate of the APC, Bola Tinubu, who took a detour as if he ran abroad during the crisis but later resurfaced, denied there was death. He asked the youth why they were at Lekki? Despite that, the probe panel set up by the Lagos State Government found evidences that some youths were killed and that the bullets of of the military were used. The government set up another committee to look into the report of the probe panel. Observers are asking why it was necessary to look again into that report. Does it mean the government had no confidence in a panel which it set up whose chairperson was a former solicitor general in the government as well as a retired high court judge? What is the justification for the government to set up the panel and again say it is not accepting some recommendations of the probe panel? Couldn’t Governor Sanwoolu’s administration simply have made its opinion known to the public? But this obnoxious colonial legacy is always the recourse of governments in Nigeria when they want to deny the obvious or to delay justice or cause a bad event in which government or its cronies are culpable to be forgotten.
Somebody is afraid of the Lekki Toll Gate. Obviously the oligarchy is afraid of the Lekki Toll Gate. Those who have kept Nigeria under since before and after the country’s independence in 1960 are afraid of the Lekki Toll Gate. The military is afraid of the Lekki Toll Gate. Both the police and the bourgeoisie in Nigeria are afraid of the Lekki Toll Gate. Evidence: as soon as the ‘Obidients,’ that name the youth followers of Peter Obi, the new man on the block who want to be president of Nigeria in 2023 on the platform of the Labour Party gave themselves, announced they were going to have a million man march in Lagos and that the Lekki zone of it will be at the toll gate, jitters went through the spines of the APC political heavyweights in Lagos State and Abuja. Perhaps the youths were coming again with their revolution. They quickly ran to the court represented by ten legal practitioners who claimed they were traumatized by the October 20, 2020 stanzar of the demonstration. They wanted an injunction to stop the rally. The court did not stop the rally but granted that the ‘Obidients’ can pass through the toll gate but not stay there. Freedom of assembly is a constitutionally recognized freedom in Nigeria and so it was a surprise that the court entertained the request of these renegade lawyers at all. But trust the energetic youths who want a change in the nation desperately, they were all over Lagos and some of them stayed at the toll gate. There was no incidence and so whoever was afraid of the toll gate got his fears misplaced.
The Lekki Toll Gate is not just a place where some bourgeoise collect money in cahoots with some rentiers in Lagos State milking poor Nigerians dry, the symbolic toll gate has become a statement to the determination of Nigerian youths to rescue their country from the clutches of the bourgeoisie. Lekki is a testimony to the possibility of admirable unity of all tribes in Nigeria. There, Nigerian youths of all tribes got together to say no to tribalism. Indeed the Lekki Toll Gate is a monument to religious freedom where Muslim youths prayed during Jumat and their Christian brothers made a protective ring around them so that the Buhari gestapo does not come to injure them. Lekki is a testimony to the youth resistance of evil oppression, where the youth said no and will continue to say no to gimmicks to divide and oppress the nation by religious tactics. It is a place where a religious extermist like Ishaq Akintola could not divide the youths into Muslims and Christians by his rabbid teaching that Islam forbids demonstration. Again the Lekki Toll Gate is a place where Nigerian youths were not afraid of the guns of the military but sat peacefully while the soldiers rained bullets on them with the youths holding steadfastly to the national flag and waving them. They believed that holding the flag of Nigeria will get them secured from the guns of the military. But they did not know they were face to face with an untamed military sent by a supposedly democratically elected ruler.
There, at Lekki, the youths demonstrated the willingness to fight for and have a new and great Nigeria. It is a place they willingly shed their blood for the greatness of Nigeria. It was at the Lekki Toll Gate all Nigerians got a promise of new Nigeria. Though the denial of massacre is still on, only because the governments of President Muhammadu Buhari and that of Governor Sanwoolu that perpetrated the evil against Nigeria, according to the findings of the Judicial Panel, are still around. Nigerians are very optimistic that the truth of the massacre will soon manifest. The certainty of that was brought home when retired Major General John Eneche who was the Defense Spokesperson for the Nigerian military when the massacre happened explained that he denied the killings because of the oath of allegiance he swore to Nigeria. General Eneche had been enlisted in Peter Obi’s campaign council, an appointment that attracted criticism and condemnation by the youths on the social media. Promptly, Peter Obi removed the name of the general, an action that was seen by many as indicative of a growth in Nigeria’s democracy where rulers are going to be prompt in obeying the voice of the people and where those who aspire to rule Nigeria are going to have their past scrutinized. It also signifies that social media has become a very powerful force in Nigeria’s political mobilization. Definitely, the #EndSARS protest held in Lekki has become the nightmare of oppressive rulers in Nigeria and the graveyard of those who think Nigeria will not be except with their antics of religious and tribal divisions.
Tunde Akande is both a journalist and pastor. He earned a Master’s degree in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos.