On getting there, we were happy to see that there were no gunshots or violence of the sort, but rather things seemed to be in order. Law enforcement officials (which I would later come to recognise as the Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Corps) had gathered all around the toll gate, controlling the cars and the general flow of traffic. They went in, turned around at the bottom end of the toll gate and came out again, in a circular fashion. The only thing that stood out as weird for me were the huge armoured tanks parked at the corner of the road. Why bring armoured tanks in for a memorial? But we would all find out the answer to this soon.
Everyone who participated was passionate about the remembrance as drivers tooted their horns loudly while the passengers raised the Nigerian flag with green and white roses to mourn the fallen heroes. But, it was more than just a memorial procession. People also used the opportunity to vent their anger and disappointment at the government for refusing to take responsibility for their actions that night, as well as the continued acts of police brutality and bad governance. I remember a man wearing a navy blue shirt, weeping about his brother that has not been seen since that fateful night, not knowing if he was dead or alive. You could tell that this man was almost out of his mind from grief and worry of the uncertainty of it all.
A Turn For The Worse
I would say things escalated quite a bit at 11 am. I noticed that there was a young Nigerian man in a green tracksuit and compelling accent who was quite passionate about the event. He used every opportunity he could to talk to the press about his grievances towards the government. I do not know the exact words he said, as I was quite a distance away from him, but I do remember the screams from people around me as the police dragged him away from a reporter into the armoured truck. He remained resilient, saying that “he was a Canadian citizen” and that “the world should take note of this”.
Then a group of seven unarmed people came out of their cars. No guns, no weapons, not even a knife. Contrary to the previous instructions of staying in a car, they held hands and chanted as they marched towards the toll gate. I will never forget the way those policemen came out with all fury to arrest those poor souls. One in a yellow shirt was begging and crying so hard to not take him into the truck, that he would do whatsoever they requested. But they refused to listen. Within minutes, they had locked them away in one of the armoured tanks. I can only assume that the police took this as a threat because they soon started shooting tear gas in the air. My friend and I had heard about the effects of tear gas and immediately we noticed it, we took off in the car and fled for our lives, not wanting to inhale the gas mistakenly. It was then that I really understood the true meaning of fear.
I can say this for sure, that the Nigerian police and law enforcement have not learnt anything from last year’s EndSARS protests. If anything, they have been given more leeway by higher authorities to execute the law as they see fit and in their eyes, suppressing protest falls under the scope of their work. And as a Nigerian, you only have two choices — to live your life in constant fear of the system, or to be bold, courageous and ready to face their wrath. The choice is ours to make.