Over a year ago on October 20, an estimated 100 people were killed in Lagos in a frenzy of shooting by Nigerian security forces.
The Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for victims of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars)-related violence has concluded its proceedings, awarding a total of N410.2 million (USD 998,720) as compensation to 70 victims of police brutality.
The panel confirmed there was “truly a massacre” of protesters at the Lekki toll gate, contrary to the official narrative discrediting such claims.
Sars is a Nigerian police unit singled out by demonstrators as being responsible for brutality. A full report of the panel’s findings was sent to Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on Monday.
The panel submitted two sets of reports, one on general police brutality, and another focusing on the investigation of the shooting of peaceful protesters at Lekki toll booth.
International awareness of the protest movement was bolstered by the Twitter hashtag #EndSars, which caught the attention of high-profile celebrities including pop singer Rihanna.
The Nigerian military initially denied being present at the scene but later admitted troops were sent and claimed they did not open fire.
#EndSars death toll unknown
The military statement came shortly before Amnesty International’s publication of an investigation that showed a timeline of the Lekki toll gate shootings.
The report said it had tracked Nigerian army vehicles from Lagos barracks at Bonny Camp to Lekki toll gate using photographs and verified videos of the soldiers’ movements that were posted on social media.
Witnesses at the scene of the shooting, and netizens who watched a livestream from DJ Switch – a Nigerian DJ’s Instagram page, claimed armed men in uniform arrived at the site where the demonstrators were kneeling, waving flags and singing Nigeria’s national anthem at about 7pm before they raised their guns and shot into the crowd.
Ninety-six bodies were presented by the chief pathologist of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, John Obafunwa, but were rejected, apparently for lack of evidence linking them to the shooting. The death toll remains disputed.
Bank accounts belonging to promoters of the nationwide protests were frozen by the Central Bank of Nigeria, while many went into hiding. The accounts were later unfrozen.
Nigeria’s Information Minister, Lai Muhammed, has given several interviews in which he denied that protesters were killed at the Lekki toll.
The Judicial Panel began sitting in October last year, to investigate the shooting and allegations of abuse against the now disbanded Sars unit of the Nigerian Police Force widely accused of extortion, extrajudicial killings, rape and torture.
Governor Sanwo-Olu has formed a four-member committee led by the Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Moyosore Onigbanjo, to raise a White Paper on the reports submitted by the panel.
The 309-page report says that at the Lekki toll gate, officers of the Nigerian Army shot, injured and killed unarmed and defenceless protesters without provocation or justification and the manner of assault and killing could be described as a massacre.
The panel found that Nigerian police sent its officers to the gate on the night of October 20, and between that night and on the morning of October 21 shot, assaulted and battered unarmed protesters, which led to injuries and deaths.
It further revealed that police officers tried to cover up their actions by picking up bullets, while stating that the Lekki Concession Company, which runs the toll gate, manipulated incomplete CCTV video footage of the shootings in an attempt to foil investigators, while the scene was not properly secured to preserve it for potential investigations.
The panel made 32 recommendations, calling for punishment of Nigerian Army and Police Force officers who participated in the shootings.
Another recommendation was a public apology to #EndSars protesters who were killed, injured and traumatised by the incident. The report said that October 20 should be a date to commemorate the Lekki toll gate killings.
The panel previously recommended various sums of compensation to victims, listing 48 casualties and 13 individual petitions in relation to the shootings in which petitioners alleged that they suffered varying degrees of injury.
The governor now awaits feedback from the four-member panel headed by Mr Onigbanjo, to consider the recommendation given by the panel within the next two weeks.