Lekki: Why we should all be ashamed - By: Abubakar Adam Ibrahim | Dailytrust

Lekki: Why we should all be ashamed

In this country, there is always someone or something drawing a line in the sand and people are always expected to fall on one side or the other. Religion, politics, Soyinka or Achebe, 2Face or Blackface, (whatever happened to the latter by the way?) Man United or Arsenal (before Arsenal became a ghost football club) and if Tiwa Savage is vixen or victim.

These issues, some grave, others trifling, are often backed by passionate drama and arguments that sometimes end with blood. Like the time in 2007 when two Lagos friends, Anjorin Dodiki and Akeem Salami’s incendiary support for Arsenal and Bolton, who were playing at the time, turned to fisticuffs and one of them ended up with a knife in the head, like Arthur’s sword in the stone. Fortunately, he lived.

One of the grimmer issues that have drawn a new line in the sand has been #EndSARS and the Lekki shootings. Of the many things Nigerians should be ashamed of, Lekki and the handling of the protests and its aftermath should be one of the most preeminent.

It is no longer news that the Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution looking into the incident at Lekki released its report this week. In it, it confirmed that 11 persons lost their lives that night of October 20 in Lekki while four others are still missing. That the authorities used excessive force and wilfully denied ambulances access to the scene to assist the injured. That what happened at Lekki “can be equated to a ‘massacre’ in context,” the report said.

The last year since the protests were brutally ended by military might on unarmed civilians waving the Nigerian flag and singing the national anthem has shown us up. Since then we have been debating if what happened that night was a massacre or not or if anyone was killed that night or not. Debates are healthy and questions should be asked about claims, especially ones that require scrutiny but the gloating by some Nigerians, which somehow found its way in muted or blatant tones in the media says a lot about us. Even from preliminary evidence, way before the report, it was clear that the shooting at Lekki resulted in deaths, even if it was not in the numbers originally feared and often projected by the protesters, numbers that technically do not qualify it as a massacre. However, the death of one person, especially at the hands of those sworn to defend them, should never be excused. Didn’t John Donne say in his famous Meditation XVII: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

We all should be worried that soldiers, sworn to defend the country, could open fire on peaceful protesters and have habitually been doing these for years. Our continuous excusing of such savagery because we disagreed with the victims be they Shiites or #EndSARS protesters because we don’t like what they are demanding or how they are going about making these demands, should cause deeper introspection in us.

It had happened before, many times in fact. Yes, the Shiites had constituted themselves into a nuisance but did that warrant the massacre that was unleashed on them with at least 300 persons killed? Or was it OK to do the same to Odi and Zaki Biam or to those zealots who became Boko Haram insurgents today?

Nigeria must learn the proportional use of force, where necessary, if necessary. Being equipped with an army that serves as a hammer does not mean that everything, including the fragile tendrils of national euphoria, should be treated like nails.

This, ironically, is where the issue circles back to the police. I am not one to blame colonialism for everything but the Nigerian police, as far from its British counterpart as it could be, is one of the most decolonised institutions in the country. When it was first set up, its raison d’etat was the protection of the colonial government and its officials. Not the protection of the people.

After independence, that core mandate never changed. Till today, the police are dedicated to the service of the government and its officials. Who are they protecting them from? Well, the very people the government and its officials should be serving. The irony.

So, when there are cases of police brutality visited on Nigerians daily, it is the police resorting to its fundamentalist roots in the basest form that both poor pays, exploitation of the police by its senior officers and frustration has infused into that dangerous cocktail.

Most Nigerians agree that police brutality and exploitation of civilians is a problem. What we don’t seem to agree on is if the brutality is enough to warrant the protests. And this disagreement is drawn not from the extent of the brutality itself but from many other issues in the background—a brew of religion, politics, poverty, illiteracy, miseducation and a basic lack of a collective sense of one for all and all for one.

And then we couldn’t agree that protests should be civil. While #EndSARS protesters were marching and cleaning up after themselves, picking up their litter and generally being organised, there were people affiliated with the government who believed chaos should be introduced into the dynamic. They hired, equipped and transported thugs to engage protesters using public vehicles. It was shameful to watch the authorities resort to this dirty strategy and even more shameful to see some Nigerians applaud these disruptive thugs and praise them.

Of course, hoodlums took advantage of the protests to drive their own agenda. Such things always happen. Police officers were killed, most, unfortunately. Correctional facilities were broken into and criminals under lock were unleashed. One of them who escaped the correctional facility in Edo travelled to his village and promptly murdered his neighbour who was a prosecution witness in the case that had him convicted.

All of this chaos, most of it injected by the state, climaxed into what played out at the toll gate at Lekki on October 20th. Massacre or not—and I suspect despite the findings of the judicial commission, this debate will continue, especially considering that far bigger numbers are being lined up by bandits and Boko Haram and shot occasionally without concomitant outrage—what happened at Lekki should never have happened.

When it did, of course, the protesters and the state tried to control the narrative. The authorities cleaned up the crime scene with a brutal efficiency they have not been known for over the years. bullet casings were picked up by police officers. Protesters claimed that a far higher number of people were killed that night than can be accounted for.

Amid this tragedy, Babatunde Fashola added some ridiculously low-budget comic skit to this national tragedy. His miraculous recovery of a camcorder at the crime scene days after the fact was just uncalled for. The objective of that episode will remain pending as the content of that camcorder has not been made public yet and was not mentioned by the judicial commission’s reports.

What it suggests though is that regarding the #EndSARS protests, we all, from the government, the media, the protesters who abused the protests, the anti-protesters who cheered on hired thugs, the deniers of truth, the gloaters, the hoarders and the looters, ought to be ashamed of ourselves because of how we all let our country down.

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