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Lekki tollgate: One Mad Week in One Insane Year and One Thousand Lessons

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Lekki tollgate

 

 

 

Lekki tollgate

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We thought 2020 had done everything. Then one week went truly mad. Nobody could have predicted the precipitous descent into anarchy.One morning, a mob descended on Orile police station looted its armoury, burnt it and bludgeoned two policemen to death. Trouble had been brewing, youths casually walking away from a police station with AK 47 rifles was Mogadishu, not Lagos stuff. Lagos state watched that chaos arrive Mushin and fear for the worst. It instituted a curfew. With policemen being hunted down by protesters—you can call them hoodlums if you like—the army was rightly invited to enforce the curfew and restore order.

But the madness was on.The Army marched to Lekki tollgate where some protesters were sitting and singing the national anthem. It was 7pm; the curfew was to start 9pm. The Army, it seemed, forgot their manual on internal security operations in the barracks. The account of events that took place at that tollgate is sketchy but video recordings showed men in military uniform approach the protesters and start shooting into the air. It was bizarre. Some protesters were seen scampering; others were heard screaming. That was the turning point in the madness.

EndSars protesters said a massacre had taken place. Crazy figures of casualties spread like wildfire over the Internet. Some said 78 died. Other said they counted 15 corpses. Pictures of victims of the massacre were distributed to an outraged world. The Army initially denied involvement.

Then they said they didn’t shoot protesters. They didn’t say if they were shooting birds in the sky. The Lagos state governments said no one died at Lekki toll gate that night. But it confirmed that some protesters were rushed to hospitals with injuries. The governor said he didn’t know who invited the army. Confusion went wild.

By the morning of Wednesday hoodlumism became a central feature of the protest. Banks were attacked. Policemen became preys. Police stations were roasted. Tinubu’s TV station and newspaper house were burnt. BRT buses were incinerated. Somehow, NPA headquarters was singled out, doused and razed. Some local government offices were burnt. Nobody could tell how they were selected. Hoodlums roved the streets. The Oba of Lagos was spirited away by the army before a mob sized his palace, looted it, and swam in his pool.The incident at the Palace energized lawlessness.

Mayhem spread unhindered. Symbols of authority everywhere were falling, crashing. By the next day, looting had become a culture. Roving gangs in their thousands went after warehouses both government and private. The security agencies let mobs rule. Ikoyi prison was attacked. Bode Thomas was ransacked. Every mall became fair game. Some estates were violated. CACOVID stores were broken into and looted with righteous anger. The discovery of stacks of COVID palliatives lent justification to looting.

When the Lagos mayhem was subsiding other towns took the baton. Osogbo, Ibadan Benin, Abuja, the madness was sprouting everywhere perhaps watered by social media. In Calabar, two Senators had their houses targetted and looted. Not even toilet seats were not spared. United Nations office in Calabar was vandalized and looted. A petrol station suspected to belong to the governor was vandalized. A psychiatric hospital was looted, mentally ill patients were set free.

A bedlam was sweeping across the nation. The Calabar dimension which was pointed at all politicians was a new dangerous twist. Politicians fretted.Everywhere, mobs wanted prisons broken. The symbols of the state’s power of coercion— police cells and prisons—became vulnerable. A frightened government tried to balance force and persuasion having learnt from Lekki that excessive force could be calamitous, counterproductive.

In one week, politicians witnessed a power-to-the-people move from being an overused, abused slogan to a disconcerting reality. Joe Biden and Lewis Hamilton were condemning the Lekki ‘genocide’, all thanks to social media. Oba Of Lagos was a refugee in his town. His staff of Office carted away by a thug in broad daylight. A political deity was on the ropes. The amiable governor of Lagos bled public support.

The EndSars protesters, a collection of people with diverse aims, were torn between seeing the upheaval through to Armaggeddon and calling for restraints. Many of them got fixated on the Lekki tragedy and pretended the nation was not aflame.

As those supposedly killed at the tollgate denied their deaths, those who had mourned them looked away and found new pictures to incite more fury amongst the youths. Lekki tollgate could actually be a massacre but so much was invented that night.

It is hoped that hard lessons have been learnt. Power truly belongs to the people and when they wake, an earthquake could follow. The madness left many lessons. When the chips are down and the people say enough, no army or police can save their oppressors. It is hoped that the welfare of the people will now become the priority of politicians. Seeing thousands of ordinary people troop out into hoodlumism at the news of a location to be looted paints a picture that should tighten politicians and make them sit up.

Another lesson. The Army could have easily dispersed the Lekki toll protesters with persuasion or some tear gas canisters at the most. How could a protest against brutality be visited with brutality? Let’s hope the army has learnt not to use bullets against unarmed people because they could actually touch the tail of a lion by so doing.

Another lesson. The government and its agents must desist from the use of Janjaweed tactics. Hiring thugs to disperse protesters can cause an explosion of violence. The viral pictures of men in suits acting as chaperon to hooligans with cudgels in the centre of Abuja infuriated the protesters and the world.

If governments can hire violence against protesters at Lekki tollgate then our democracy is crippled. The government has denied its involvement. But it hasn’t explained how it allowed unknown persons to bring in thugs into central Abuja, an area protected by presidential security.

Yet another lesson. The Lekki tollgate protesters must have learnt how quickly the situation can degenerate into utter gangsterism. Those at the Lekki tollgate were poised to disobey the curfew. But disobeying the curfew after hoodlums had begun killing policemen and burning police stations was not responsible behaviour.

Nothing can justify the shooting of protesters. Those who shot protesters should be court marshalled. But it is hoped some lessons intact must have been learnt by everyone. The EndSars protesters can now find leaders and find tact and help change the country.

Some of those who cheered when TVC was burning didn’t sleep at night when the hoodlums began invading residential estates. Some had looked on with glee as the Oba’s palace was being ransacked only to wake up two days later to hear that their shops at Adeniran Ogunsanya shopping mall in Surulere and other places had been looted. A governor had beautiful words of advice for Lagos as Lagos burned. A few days later when the inferno got to his state he was dumb.

VANGUARD