OCTOBER TO REMEMBER

iyosayi14 Creative Writing, General 1 Comment

Isn’t it strange how suddenly things can change?

What started as a peaceful protest turned on its head after being hijacked by our very own Government and its sponsored thugs. Overnight the feeling of togetherness and hope young Nigerians relished for two weeks turned into sorrow and despair.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020 (now commonly referred to as Dark Tuesday or Lekki Tollgate massacre) will forever remain a turning point in our Nation’s history.

On the 3rd of October 2020, a video made rounds on social media showing members of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) dragging a young man out of his car, shooting him, and taking off in his car. This led to people going on twitter to lament the behaviour of the officers and clamour for the unit to be scrapped. The hashtag #ENDSARS went viral on Twitter.

SARS is a notorious arm of the Nigerian Police force infamous for extortion, killings, and harassment of young Nigerians simply because they use an iPhone, have dreads or have tattoos, ride good cars or look different from the conventional dressing.

This wasn’t the first time the public has spoken out against the particular unit of the police force. This dates back to 2016. To know about how the unit came about, read up this summary by Funmi Oyatogun for TVPadventures.

Following the tweet by Runtown on October 6, and a few other social media influencers, about thirty persons made their way to the Force Headquarters at Ikeja, carrying placards and sign posts to relay their message, seeking an end to police brutality.

What started as a small group of protesters (initially meant to last 3 days of protesting) slowly grew into a massive protest nationwide (across mostly Southern, Eastern, and Western states) that lasted two weeks.

I won’t waste energy on the backward set of Northerners belonging to the Arewa Youth Forum who were pushing a PROSARS campaign. I just need to state this for the records. These are the same persons we Southerners rally around asking for an end to Boko Haram. Well, I won’t use a section to judge the entire North but I still won’t let it slide.

The protests across the Nation were very peaceful. However, what we were fighting against reared its ugly head as the Police in Abuja used tear gas and water tanks to disperse peaceful protesters.

A tweet from Wizkid opened the gates for celebrities who were hitherto afraid to speak up silent to speak up. One bold tweet from Wizkid woke up a lot of persons and also drew the attention of some international artists. #ENDSARS fast became a movement.

Sadly, on the 10th of October, Jimoh Isiaka was killed by agents of SARS while maximum force and shooting of live bullets were used in dispersing peaceful protesters in Oyo State. This was met by wide outrage. This added fuel to the protests. More States joined the protests and streets were blocked and taken over. The protests remained peaceful.

On Sunday, October 11th, The Inspector General of Police announced via his Twitter handle that the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad has been dissolved across all the States of the Federation and also the Federal Capital Territory – Abuja effective immediately.

But we were not buying it. We had seen this script several times before. This wasn’t the first or second time the notorious unit will be disbanded. The police listed a five-point agenda which we refused and brought our own demands #5for5.

A few days later a new unit – Special Weapon And Tactics (SWAT) team was announced to replace the defunct SARS. Soon enough, #ENDSWAT began to trend as well. The message was clear, an end to SARS and not just a change in nomenclature. Crazy thing was that investigations revealed the police already had a SWAT unit in operation.

The public has lost trust in the police. We went even harder with online and street protests. There was no backing down till real actions were shown towards the end of SARS. The rains couldn’t even stop the protests. That’s how determined young Nigerians were for a change. #ENDSARS isn’t just about police brutality, but an overhaul in the way the country is being run by the Government. We need a system that works and one with 100% accountability.

Major roads got blocked on a daily while the peaceful protests lasted. Going to and fro work became a hectic task as I always got stuck in traffic for hours. It was inconveniencing, but worth it. I had to wake up early daily, so I could go through before the protesters assembled. Each morning I saw cars parked by the roadside overnight due to the heavy gridlock.

Those who couldn’t go out to protest did so online. I have never retweeted that much before. Even at the office I took time out to retweet and join the movement. Sometimes I got overwhelmed and had to take daybreaks.

I have never felt so proud to be Nigerian. The youths came together as one voice and fought for change. I felt proud and empowered. The coordination, unity, donations, and all. It was everything – a promise that indeed there is a future for this country in our youths.

Lekki Tollgate fast became the centre point of the peaceful protests in Lagos. People slept there over night. Daily food and drinks were provided along with medical support. People volunteered to clean up at the end of each day’s protest.

The organisation by the Feminist coalition was top notch. Even when the Government-sponsored hoodlums started attacking the protesters, from the donations received, private security was hired and dispatched to various locations across the country. Is it not a shame that we had to hire security to protect us when we have the police?

Helplines and a call centre were all set up. A legal team efficiently helped in getting protesters arrested across the country released. It was amazing to watch young people come together, pull resources, and achieve so much in a few days more than this country has ever given us. With a few millions, an efficient ecosystem was set up to cater to every need, in contrast to the billions of naira wasted on failed projects by the Government.

On Friday 16th October, Candlelight/Festival of Lights was held in various locations across the Country (was also held in the United Kingdom and Canada on later dates) to honour those lost to police brutality. That night a lot of persons wept, both those physically present at the festival of lights and those of us who followed it online. There was strength and healing in our vulnerability.

Unfortunately, what felt like a promise for the future was hijacked by the Government via sponsored thugs. This was a spur for them to deploy armed soldiers to disperse attack the peaceful protesters. Due to the mayhem caused by the Government-sponsored thugs, the Lagos State Government announced a curfew on Tuesday, October 20. Let’s not forget that while the thugs were attacking protesters, no policeman or army was seen trying to quell the situation.

Adamant protesters stayed back at the Lekki Tollgate, holding the Nigerian flag and sitting on the road peacefully. While the day was still bright, warning tweets were sent out that everyone should vacate as a picture of some men taking off the cameras at the Toll Gate began circulating. At night fall, the lights at the toll gate was switched off, and then the army came with guns, firing live bullets at the protesters.

Even if the protesters defied the curfew and they needed to be dispersed, what happened to water tanks? Tear gas? Why shoot into a crowd of unarmed peaceful protesters?

The entire country fell silent. The feeling of despair could be felt in each home. Instagram was filled with the picture of the Nigerian flag stained with blood. These peaceful protesters sat there in the dark, holding their country’s flag and singing the national anthem while their own country shot at them.

Thank God for Dj Switch’s bravery. She was able to stream the events of that chaotic night on her Instagram live. This is one proof the Nigerian Government and Army can’t deny. Over 154,000 persons watched it, even International news media watched it. We all watched how they removed a bullet from the lap of one of the protesters.

Watching DJ Switch’s Instagram live broke me. I cried myself to sleep that night. The entire nation was in gloom. The air was filled with sorrow and broken spirits. This nation broke us all. I went on Instagram to distract myself but everyone kept posting the blood-stained flag.

Writing this post breaks me all over again as I am forced to remember that traumatic night. I woke up by 5 am the next morning, all was well with the world for a few seconds and then I remembered. My world went dark and I realized it wasn’t a bad dream. It happened. I went online and I saw more horrible videos I missed on the IG live. The tears flowed freely till 6 am when I was able to force myself back to sleep as a way of escape.

When the protests had gained traction and the economy was being disrupted significantly, we easily judged the older generation as weak. That they didn’t fight, that they were docile and too quickly resigned to fate, accepting whatever those in power gave them. If only we knew better.

Like Tunde mentioned in his email to me, he said while listening to his Mum tell him stories of the ugly things under past administrators, he noticed her depressed countenance. He finally understood most of our older folks still have clear memories in their heads due to how degenerated their minds have become following years of psychological abuse and torture.  A lot of them haven’t recovered. So it’s easy for us to judge them as weak and timid after all, those of us born at the time were just kids with no memories of the past.

Now imagine if they have seen this repeatedly despite years of activism, compared to us who collectively had our world stopped the night of the Lekki Tollgate massacre. As I write now, we are still not even healed or moved on from that day. Those of us who seem to have things together have taken the easy route of detaching and shutting it out for our sanity’s sake.

For once, I knew what collective grief feels like. We had so much vigour and momentum, then next moment it felt like cold water had been poured on us all, and our fire went out. My heart still bleeds. I still get triggered when I drive past remains of burnt tyres. For once, the every jovial Country went silent.

We are broken but we will never forget how a democratically elected government ordered the army to shoot at its unarmed citizens.

We thought we had seen the worst of it, but soon enough we realized the Government was not done breaking our spirits. They rolled out their “clean-up” plans, even going as far as denying the events of that Black Tuesday night. The Lagos State Government started with the lies that there was no casualty. He did mention forces beyond his control…but then the army said it was all photoshopped. Wow! Photoshop an Instagram live stream? Seriously??

To add salt to injury, the President gave a very insensitive and aloof broadcast way after 24hours. The speech, in summary was a threat to the citizens to desist from exercising their rights to protest and a warning to the International community to mind their business. He couldn’t even acknowledge the Lekki Tollgate shooting. Not even a reference or comfort words to lives lost.

There have been several propaganda going on to discredit the horrendous actions of the Army on that dark Tuesday night. The question of who ordered the shooting at peaceful protesters has been left unanswered. The Lagos State Governor admitted recently after being grilled on CNN that the army shot at the protesters. This was days after his denial and claiming it was forces beyond his control.

The next day, the army released a statement saying the Lagos State Government invited the army to help control the protests. It’s been a week of hearing trash and insensitive statements from those who are supposed to lead us. The entire system is broken and filled with nonentities.

For those who have let the Government gaslight them and cast doubts in their minds about the events of Lekki Toll gate, it’s quite a pity. Worse are those who have chosen to act smart and turn into some form of conspiracy theorists questioning if any one died. As if, no death makes the army shooting at peaceful protesters with the lights turned off any less of a crime.

This was very personal to me. I muted and unfollowed a lot of persons and brands on Instagram who were so insensitive posting unrelated matters, especially the Nigerian brands and citizens who didn’t realize that this fight was for all of us. For the black Americans who we all collectively joined to fight when the Black Lives Matter took centre stage, it was sad seeing that they held on to their ignorant notion that being black is exclusively for them. Their silence was very loud and duly noted.

We can’t all be activists, but we should all be socially conscious.

Like I tweeted a few days ago, for me, denying the events of that Tuesday night is like denying the Holocaust and I won’t have that near me. I’m ready to block and unfriend anyone who wants to spit on the graves of the lives lost in this fight against police brutality.

Yes, the government seems to have gotten away with their atrocities but all is not lost. One thing is for sure, this has caused a conscious awakening in the youths. We may have been beaten down, but that’s just for now. We are not going to give up fighting for a country that works, we will keep pushing and we will take back our country.

Two things we can take away from the #ENDSARS protests are –

1. Nigerians are good people and this generation goes beyond tribe or religion when it’s for a good cause. Case in point – this protester’s picture was shared and people were asked to donate to get her a prosthetic leg. Within two days more than enough was raised.

2. Contrary to what most of us had concluded about our country, this country can work. Feminist collation proved this.

There have been statements from the International community and Governments against the shooting of peaceful protesters but in my opinion, they have been weak statements not going to be backed by any action. To be honest, we are on our own. This is our fight and we will have to fight it to the end ourselves. This country belongs to all of us and as Aisha Yesufu said, no Nigerian is more Nigerian than any Nigerian.

The Government may try to deny and come up with lame embarrassing tricks, but shame on them. They are only making a fool of themselves and showing how low their mentality is. I mean Babatunde Fashola (Minister for Works) made a big shame of himself walking up to that camcorder placed at the toll gate days after the place has been swept, acting like some Sherlock Holmes who discovered evidence.

I told someone who asked if the Government thinks we are daft to believe the foolish display by Fashola, that this is not about us being daft or gullible. It’s in fact, a reflection of how limited their reasoning and sense of creativity is for them to come up with such. Quite unfortunate that these are the people in charge of leading this nation. Little wonder why things keep growing worse daily.

They can try but they won’t be able to erase history. There is already a Wikipedia page and Nairametrics has a page documenting the daily events from the start of the protests to date (it is updated daily).

The street protests may be over in Nigeria, but the fight is still on. We are not going to relent in our quest for change and accountability.

We will heal from this, but we will never forget. In our grief, we will grow stronger and the unity of the youths that so much threatens this Government will prevail.

All hope is not lost.

To all the souls lost to police brutality, before, during, and after the protests, your deaths shall not be in vain. We shall continue to say your names.

#ENDSARS

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