Lekki toll gate shooting: tear gas as Nigerians mark year since deadly EndSARS protest

Arrests at car procession and protest to mark anniversary

Hundreds of Nigerians were met with tear gas at an event to mark a year since protesters were shot dead at a tolling booth complex in the Lekki suburb of Lagos.

Local media reported at least six arrests as cars lined up in a procession through the streets, under heavy police presence, ending at the Lekki Toll Plaza, Amnesty International said.

The plaza and Alausa were the sites of at least 12 killings in October last year.

People leaned out of bus and car windows demanding justice, while others gathered at the toll booths, chanting and waving small Nigerian flags.

The car protest was led by rapper and actor Folarin Falana, popularly known as Falz the Bhad Guy, and comedian Debo Adebayo, popularly known as Mr Macaroni.

The protesters drove to and from the Lekki toll gate in slow car-racing style.

But moments after the procession of cars passed, police began to arrest marchers and journalists near the toll gate, forcing them into waiting lorries.

Alawode Abisola, a journalist conducting a live stream of the event, was arrested alongside a lone protester holding a placard. They were whisked away by the Lagos State Task Force.

“End Sars, remember them, remember them,” shouted one man from inside a police van after he was detained, referring to the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigerian police.

The unit has a long history of abuse and was implicated in the toll booth killings.

“What happened today is a commemoration of police brutality in its worst form,” said Churchill David, 26, a tech engineer who was beaten and sprayed with Mace before being detained.

“We had gathered to remember those who were killed by a rogue unit of the Nigerian police force, only for us to experience a worse form of what we are agitating against.”

The hashtag that came to represent the movement, #EndSARS, was daubed on white sheets hanging from buildings and the convoy of cars.

Last year's rallies began over Sars brutality but grew into protests against the government in the largest mass demonstrations in Nigeria's modern history.

They came to a halt after the shootings at the Lekki toll gate on October 20, 2020, when the government promised to reform policing and disband Sars after the violence.

Activists say the group has only been renamed and that police brutality continues unabated in Nigeria.

Tope Akinyode, a human rights lawyer living in Lagos, said the use of brute force against the demonstrators on Wednesday was a flagrant abuse of civil rights.

“A government that is serious about the fundamental rights of its citizens will not attempt to either shoot or maim its citizens who have flooded the streets to exercise their fundamental rights,” Mr Akinyode told The National.

“If the victims of the End Sars protests had been given the justice that they deserve, you wouldn’t see people coming out today to protest.

“Even as we speak, not a single officer has been brought to justice for the atrocities.”

A judicial panel investigating last year's incident heard the army was carrying live ammunition, although commanders denied it was used against protesters.

Mr Akinyode said nothing had changed in the year since the shooting, despite several panels of inquiry on police brutality being created.

“Even the Lagos Panel of Inquiry couldn't achieve any reasonable results after a whole year of sitting, but protesters of the End Sars Memorial are being arrested and by the police and Lagos State government," he said.

“It is very disappointing,” demonstrator Adebanjo Akinwunmi said. “There's no account on anything, any human life or property.”

Nigerian rapper CDQ, real name Sodiq Abubakar Yusuf, urged the crowds to stay peaceful.

“Let’s not forget we’re outside for a peaceful protest today across the nation,” he wrote on Twitter.

Wednesday's convoy had not been the original plan to mark the aniversary of the shooting. Organisers said it had to be changed after the owners of Landmark Event Centre in Lagos cancelled the event and returned their deposit. Local media accused the state government of having a hand in the cancellation.

The Lagos State government had earlier stated that citizens have the right to protest, and that what the police should do, is to provide protection for the protesters

Lagos Police Commissioner Hakeem Odumosu told Pulse Nigeria that Wednesday's order to fire tear gas was given because “miscreants had taken over".

Updated: October 20th 2021, 8:32 PM