I am heartbroken, along with millions of Nigerian mothers, grandmothers, and women, to have borne witness to the killing of a still uncounted number of our nation’s children, protesting peacefully, holding the flag of our nation, behind a barrier, at the Lekki Tollgate, on the October 20th, 2020
Our nation’s children were shot in cold blood as many of them sat on the ground singing our national anthem. They were shot by their own army, by soldiers whose job it is to protect them. And they were shot in the complete absence of members of Nigeria’s Police Force, whose job it likewise is to protect the lives and property of civilians, and who have sadly proven themselves to be under-trained, under-equipped and thus over-strained in times of crisis, incapable and unwilling to exercise the standard stewardship of crowd control.
It is no secret that the peaceful protests concern the glaring impunity and militarization of the Nigeria Police Force’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad’s brutality towards young Nigerians which had reached the fever pitch of a public safety emergency, culminating in widespread reports of intimidation, harassment and extrajudicial killings – and that young people had organically risen, together, yet leaderless, to peacefully oppose this constant threat to their normal lives.
In the last 24 hours, these protests were visibly disrupted in several cities by armed thugs. While the latter appeared to have the backing of the organs of state, in some instances they even killed innocent policemen. Last night, the Nigerian Army came out of its expansive barracks to ‘control’ a group of protesters on the Lekki Bridge Toll Gate, linking two of Lagos’s most exclusive residential communities. The young people had gathered peacefully behind a barrier as can be seen from all manner of media footage. The army fired live rounds not into the air but into the crowd, at close range, killing several and injuring an indeterminate number – in a flagrant contravention of the protocols of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Moreover, in so doing the commanding officer ignored the human rights of freedom of speech and assembly, and the right to protest peacefully, despite Nigeria being a signatory to the ICCPR.
My ears have rung with the mournful blare of howling sirens ever since, as ambulances contributed by private hospitals made their way, with difficulty through the curfews and against the odds, to the scene of bloodshed and death, to try to provide care, for the injured, and the murdered dying.
Behind every statistic of inhumanity and injustice is a story, and behind each human being and young citizen is a family. The Nigerian flag, standing for peace, progress and unity, has been indelibly stained with the blood of our young citizens, who themselves were protesting against the SARS’s notorious record of thousands of incidents of rape, torture, un-anaesthetised testicular castrations, and extra-judicial killings, not to mention wanton acts of theft – the very crime it was established to curb.
As a mother and grandmother, and I know I am not alone, I fully understand the determination of the youth movement advocating peacefully to #EndSARS and #ReformPoliceNG in Nigeria. At the same time, as a patriot, I am deeply concerned by the disruptions to the nation’s safety, peace and productivity.
To build a nation, youth empowerment and youth development should be supported as a process where young people are encouraged to take charge of their lives. They should be supported as they address their situation, transform their consciousness through their own beliefs, values, and attitudes, and take action in order to improve their lives. Youth empowerment is a gateway to much needed inter-generational equity, civic engagement and democracy building.
Many have called for our nation’s youth to ‘sheathe their swords’, appoint leaders and representatives to embark on dialogue with belatedly yet urgently assembled government commissions – but we must recognize this incontrovertible fact: the youth never had any swords.
All they had were their voices, hopes, aspirations and patriotism. If their words were swords, then we know how frightening words must be for the current administration. How can an invitation to sit down at a table for proposed dialogue be so frightening as to be simultaneously accompanied by fatal aggression and bloodshed? Who called our army out to kill, maim and injure our nation’s youth – all of whom eagerly and enthusiastically give a year of their efforts and energies to our mandatory National Youth Service Corps.
It is a travesty, and a crime, that young Nigerians should be shot in cold blood simply because they empowered themselves to develop and declare five wishes to live, work and prosper with respect and rights, as occurred on 20th October, 2020. Silence is not an acceptable answer amidst the public calls for dialogue, and Nigeria must hold itself to account.
I urge Nigerian Leaders and the Nigerian military, to immediately cease the violent and in part fatal crackdown on peaceful protesters in Nigeria. I urge the Nigerian Police to redouble its discipline to safely secure lives and property. My heart is broken along with all those who have lost a loved one in the violence. I ask the world and the diplomatic community to stand with Nigerians who are peacefully demonstrating for police reform and an end to injustice and corruption in our democracy.
I thank the churches and religious leaders, who threw open their parish doors to offer our nation’s children refuge and have sought to encourage the government to engage in a good-faith dialogue with civil society. It is time to address these long-standing grievances and work together for a just, inclusive, peaceful and united Nigeria.
I thank the hospitals that have worked tirelessly and free of charge to do what they could to treat the gunshot wounds many young people had. It was an act of profound solidarity at a time when our nation’s leaders abandoned our young.
For the blood of Nigeria’s children that has been spilled, for daring to raise their voices to peacefully demand a better future of inter-generational equity and accountability for all, we must do our utmost to ensure that their blood was not shed in vain. Our nation just celebrated 60 years of independence, autonomy, agency and governance. We remain in measured hope as we pray that our children continue to surpass us in their achievements, and we will not forget.