On July 19, the Director-General of the Lagos State Public Procurement Agency, Onafowote Fatai Idowu, wrote to the Permanent Secretary of the Lagos State Ministry of Health. In his letter, Mr Idowu signed off on the award of a N61.2 million contract to conduct a mass burial for 103 victims of the 2020 #EndSARS protest. Days later, the letter was leaked on social media, sparking fresh outrage.
The outrage, especially on Twitter, appeared to focus on the idea that the government was secretly planning to bury victims of the October 20 Lekki tollgate shootings; the government has and continues to vehemently deny that protesters were shot at the tollgate. So, where did it find the 103 EndSARS dead bodies?
In a response late Sunday, the state government described the ‘Lekki tollgate’ interpretation of the leaked memo as the work of “mischief makers.” The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Dr Olusegun Ogboye, said the 103 bodies did not come from the Lekki toll gate.
“For the records, the Lagos State Environmental Health Unit (SEHMU) picked up bodies in the aftermath of #EndSARS violence and community clashes at Fagba, Ketu, Ikorodu, Orile, Ajegunle, Abule-Egba, Ikeja, Ojota, Ekoro, Ogba, Isolo and Ajah areas of Lagos State, including a jailbreak at Ikoyi Prison,” Ogboye said. “For the avoidance of doubt, no body was retrieved from the Lekki toll gate incident.”
Ogboye’s statement does two things. One, it tries to absolve the Lagos state government of responsibility for the deaths. “#EndSARS violence and community clashes” did not happen in a vacuum. Security forces shot at protesters in Mushin, for example, a precursor to the complete breakdown of order in that area; the same can be said of how chaos broke out in many parts of the state. The government narrative that seeks to demonise protesters for the destruction that enveloped Lagos in the latter days of the protests is not just absurdly revisionist but also immoral.
The second thing Ogboye sought to do with the evening statement was to, once again, deny that protesters had been killed at the Lekki toll gate on October 20, 2020, despite evidence to the contrary from eye-witnesses and a Judicial Panel set up by – wait for it – the Lagos State Government. It is worth reprinting some of the Judicial Panel’s conclusions here.
“At the Lekki Toll Gate, officers of the Nigerian Army shot, injured and killed unarmed helpless and defenceless protesters, without provocation or justification, while they were waving the Nigerian Flag and singing the National Anthem and the manner of assault and killing could in context be described as a massacre,” the panel reported.
“The Panel also found that the conduct of the Nigerian Army was exacerbated by its refusal to allow ambulances render medical assistance to victims who required such assistance.
“The Army was also found not to have adhered to its own Rules of Engagement.”
The Panel also “found that the Nigerian Police Force deployed its officers to the Lekki Toll Gate on the night of the 20th October, 2020 and between that night and the morning of the 21st of October, 2020, its officer shot at, assaulted and battered unarmed protesters, which led to injuries and deaths.
“The police officers also tried to cover up their actions by picking up bullets.”
Also, the Lekki Concession Company (LCC), operators of the toll gate, was found to have “hampered the panel’s investigation by refusing to turn over some useful and vital information/evidence as requested by the Panel and the Forensic Expert engaged by the panel, even where such information and evidence was by the company’s admission, available.
“It manipulated the incomplete CCTV Video footage of the Lekki Toll Gate on the night of the 20th of October 2020, which it tendered before the Panel.”
The Panel noted “that there was an invitation of the Nigerian Army to Lagos State made by the Lagos State Government through the Governor before the hierarchy of the Nigerian Army deployed its soldiers to the Lekki Toll Gate on the night of the 20th of October.
“The Panel found that there was an attempt to cover up the Incident of the 20th of October by the cleaning of the Lekki Toll Gate and the failure to preserve the scene ahead of potential investigations.”
That the Lagos State Government has continued to insist there were no deaths at the Lekki toll gate on October 20 is a pointer to its diabolic characteristic. Lies, especially when they have been debunked, should have no place in public administration. And the souls of those who died during the protests, including ‘pawned’ police officers, will continue to demand justice.