By Ezinwanne Onwuka
The emerging push for another series of protests in the country is currently being anchored on the hashtag #OccupyLekkiTollGate which has been trending on Twitter since Monday.
Following the decision to reopen the Lekki Tollgate by the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses set up by the Lagos State government to investigate the October 2020 Lekki shooting incident, Nigerians on social media have threatened a fresh protest to express their displeasure over the development.
The tollgate has not been operational since October 20 when armed soldiers opened fire at peaceful protesters gathered at the toll plaza.
Recall that nationwide protests against police brutality began on October 8, 2020 after a video emerged in early October showing police officers thought to be from the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) allegedly shooting and killing a young man in Nigeria’s southern Delta State.
The protests with the hashtag #EndSARS suddenly took many Nigerian cities by storm. Nigerian youths took to the streets and major roads in the country to demand for the scrapping of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), accused of killing, brutalizing and maiming Nigerian youths with impunity.
However, what began as a relatively peaceful nationwwide protest turned ugly on 0ctober 20, 2020 when Nigerian soldiers allegedly emerged from gun trucks and started shooting live ammunition on the peaceful protesters. Amnesty International reported that at least 12 protesters were killed in that incident and many were injured.
Reacting to this, the Nigerian government set up a panel of inquiry in Lagos State to investigate complaints against SARS and the incident at Lekki on October 20, 2020. The panel is led by a retired judge, Doris Okuwobi, and includes members from civil society groups, the Human Rights Commission, Citizens Mediation Centre and two youth representatives.
It was hoped that the judicial inquiry set up to look into the events at Lekki as well as the wider issue of police brutality would bring erring officers to justice and recommend effective and efficient compensations for victims.
But it seemed Nigerians were being delusional as the panel on Saturday approved the reopening of the tollgate.
Not pleased by the panel’s decision, some Nigerians on Twitter have planned to occupy the tollgate on Saturday to express their displeasure.
Hence the hashtag, #OccupyLekkiTollGate. The protest is scheduled for Saturday, February 13, 2021, at 7 a.m.
Undoubtedly, the organisers of the protest are angered that the judicial panel voted in favour of reopening the toll gate even as the extra judicial murders that took place on October 20, 2020 had not been addressed.
It is quite unreasonable for the panel to approve the reopening of the tollgate when investigations into the Lekki shootings is still ongoing.
It is hasty and premature to think of reopening the tollgate at the moment, not when no one has been held responsible and accountable for the killing of the unarmed protesters, who marched against police brutality on October 20.
Reopening the tollgate reveals the failure, on the part of the government, to bring to justice those suspected to be responsible for the brutal crackdown by security forces on peaceful #EndSARS protesters at Lekki toll gate in Lagos in October 2020 and a brazen attempt to cover up the violence.
The government owes the masses the duty to carry out prompt, thorough, independent, impartial, and effective investigations into violations of human rights of the protesters including the right to life, such as those committed at Lekki, as well as in other parts of the country, and to identify and bring suspected perpetrators to justice in fair trials.
Moreover, as Nigerian youths warm up for the #OccupyLekkiTollGate protest, they should remember this: We are young Nigerians with hopes, dreams and aspirations for our country. This means that we need to stay alive if we are to pursue our dreams to build a better future.