“First they started shooting in the air, so we said, keep sitting on the ground, wave your flags, sing the national anthem — they are military, they won’t shoot you if you are waving a Nigerian flag,” protester Famade Ayodeji told the Financial Times after the Oct. 20 massacre at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos, Nigeria. “Then they started shooting into the crowd. It was barbaric.”
At least 10 people were killed and an untold number injured in the assault.
Workers and youth across the country took to the streets beginning Oct. 8, demanding the government abolish the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigerian police. Lekki toll gate has become a central rallying point.
When the protest began, demonstrators sat on the ground, listening to speeches, chanting and singing, and sharing stories of brutalization at the hands of the cops. When night fell 18 trucks with uniformed forces arrived and deployed to surround the gathering.
“When [the soldiers] were making comments that the flag is not bulletproof — that’s when I knew this was going to get out of hand,” Isaiah Abor told Al-Jazeera. “We are not cowards. We will always come to this ground, and we will always feel for those that are gone.”
Protester Chike Okonkwo told the press that the Oct. 20 rally had been peaceful the whole time, but “we have a country where the lives of citizens don’t matter to anybody in power.” He said soldiers shot seven people near him. The army denies any involvement.
SARS thugs have engaged in killings, extortion, rape, and torture, including “mock execution, beatings, waterboarding and near-asphyxiation,” Amnesty International has documented.
Dressed in plainclothes and armed with heavy weapons, SARS cops also extort money. At ATM machines, if you don’t have money “they take your card. If you don’t give them your card, they shoot you,” Jennifer Agu, president of Newfoundland, Canada, Nigerian Student Association, told CBC.
Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president and a former military general and dictator, announced Oct. 11 he was disbanding the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and replacing it with a SWAT unit. But the government said it had disbanded SARS in 2017, in 2018 and in 2019, and it wasn’t true.
After the carnage at Lekki, actions in solidarity with the protesters have been held around the world. At the Oct. 24 action in Philadelphia, participants wore T-shirts saying, “#Lekki Toll Gate Massacre” and carried signs reading, “#End SARS; #End SWAT; #End bad government; #End impunity” and “Soro Soke,” which means in Yoruba “speak up.”
“We are not only here because of the police brutality. But because of all those who use their power to oppress the people,” nurse Toyin Fajinmi told the rally.
The IndustriALL Global Union said that the union federation’s affiliates in Nigeria are in solidarity. “It is understandable that the current protests reflect the serial historic and contemporary atrocities by the Nigerian police,” read a statement by Issa Aremu, IndustriALL vice president.
Some forces responded to the massacre with arson, looting and street violence. The authorities used this to smear the protest movement, hoping to divide the youth from the rest of the population.