What does the Lagos State Judicial Panel Report Mean for the End SARS movement?

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On October 20, 2020, the world watched on in shock as the Nigerian military forces fired live ammunition at unarmed EndSARS demonstrators at the Lekki Toll Gate. Live streams from eyewitnesses at the toll gate showed numerous deaths and gunshot injuries sustained during the massacre. In the craziest case of gaslighting seen in recent times, the Lagos State and Federal governments debunked the news in spite of the undeniable evidence from the witnesses and hospital records. The army even claimed that soldiers only fired blank bullets in the air.

One year later, the truth is finally out with the release of a 309-page report from the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and other matters. The findings were submitted to Lagos Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu on Monday, November 15th. Titled ‘Report Of Lekki Incident Investigation Of 20th October 2020’, the panel found that at least 46 unarmed protesters were either shot dead, injured with bullets, or assaulted by security forces. “The panel finds the cases of death or injured protesters as credible and uncontroverted,” the report stated.

Heartbreaking Findings in The Report

Further breaking things down, the report mentioned 9 deceased persons and 4 people described as “missing presumed dead.” 22 sustained gunshot injuries while 11 were assaulted by military officers. The report goes on to add that soldiers did shoot live ammunition at armless protesters with the intention of killing and maiming them. Pointing fingers at the officers and soldiers of 65 Batallion of the Nigerian Army, the report reads, “led by Lt. Col Bello, left their base with blank and live ammunition to confront and disperse youths holding only their national flags, with live bullets. The soldiers actually shot blank and live bullets directly and pointedly into the midst of the protesters at the Lekki Tollgate, with the deliberate intention to assault, maim and kill.”

The report found no need for soldiers at the protest venue since the protesters were peaceful and unarmed. It stated: “The Panel finds that although the Army gave copious evidence of general commotion, violence and mayhem in other locations in Lagos State other than Lekki Toll Gate, there is no justification behind the deployment of its soldiers and officers to Lekki Toll Gate in particular, when there was no violence reported there instead of the other critical areas (for example in places like Orile, Mushin etc), which indeed escalated the violence.”

The report goes on to say that “The deployment of the Army to Lekki Toll Gate on 20/10/2020, in the absence of any reported violence, was totally unwarranted. The EndSARS protest at Lekki Toll Gate in particular was peaceful and orderly and was not hijacked by hoodlums. There was thus no need for deployment of soldiers to the Lekki Toll Gate to disperse peaceful protesters in flagrant violation of these entrenched fundamental rights. The Army should on no account be deployed against unarmed protesters.”

Confirming the suspicions of many Nigerians, the Doris Okuwobi-led judicial inquiry into the shootings found that the army stopped ambulances from getting to the toll gate and assisting the wounded protesters. According to the report: “The denial of ambulances by the soldiers, which could have assisted in the prompt and effective treatment of injured protesters, was cruel and inhuman and it contributed immensely to the large number of deaths and casualties on the part of the protesters, especially those from the Lekki tollgate. The panel also called out the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) for manipulating the CCTV footage and refusing to turn over vital evidence. “There was an attempt to cover up the incident of the 20th of October by the cleaning of the Lekki tollgate and the failure to preserve the scene ahead of the potential investigations,” the report added.

The panel concluded that the “atrocious maiming and killing of unarmed, helpless and unresisting protesters while sitting on the floor and waving their Nigerian flags while singing the National Anthem can be equated to a ‘massacre’ in context.” Following the massacre, the judicial inquiry discovered that many EndSARS protesters and victims of the Lekki tollgate incident were harassed or threatened. “Immediately after the protest, there was palpable fear that the Army and Police were visiting hospitals to ‘finish up’ the protesters to the extent that some of them could not return home immediately. Some of the protesters received threats and some were being trailed by unknown persons,” the report stated.

The panel recommends restitution, compensation, public apologies and punishment for the security personnel responsible for shooting the protesters. They also want the government to change Lekki tollgate to EndSARS tollgate and make October 20th of each year a toll-free day.

Where do we go from here?

Following this comprehensive report, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has set up a four-member panel to raise a white paper. “We will ensure that the recommendations that are coming out that will be turned into a white paper and would be made available to the public. We will do it appropriately so that history will judge us well and we will have a document that will stand the test of time,” he said. Headed by the Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), this new panel is expected to submit its white paper within two weeks.

In case you are wondering, a white paper is a report or guide to address issues and how to solve them. We reached out to a lawyer who described the white paper as irrelevant and we agree. In the words of this lawyer who wants to remain anonymous, “I think it’s redundant in this case and a waste of the government’s resources.”

For many Nigerians, the report is proof that the Lekki Tollgate massacre happened despite the government’s attempts to cover up the incident. It’s tangible proof that the End SARS protest and ongoing movement mattered. It proves that the efforts of brave young people count for something. For the first time in a long time in Nigeria’s history, the people fought back in the face of police brutality and the world noticed.

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