On Oct. 20, 2020, the Nigerian army opened fire on a gathering of protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, Nigeria. This was the culmination of weeks of protests by Nigerians, young and old, against police brutality by a special unit of the Nigerian police, known as the #EndSARS movement.
The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was originally created in 1992 to combat robberies and other serious crimes, but in present times they have been criticised as being a corrupt unit that carries out extrajudicial killings.
After the Lekki Toll Gate shootings, a panel was set up by Lagos Court of Arbitration to investigate the shootings and cases of police brutality and, last week, the findings of the panel were leaked.
According to the report, the shootings by the Nigerian army can be considered a “massacre”, a decision that’s brought some relief for activists and young people who participated in the protests. Many of them took to social media to express how validated they feel by the ruling, and their anger towards the Nigerian army.
"We need justice, not just reports. The people who allowed this to happen are not ghosts or figments of our imaginations. They are real and should be made to face the law immediately,” Rinu Oduala, an #EndSARS activist, told the Washington Post. Oduala was part of the first group of young Nigerians who took to the streets of Lagos to protest after a video went viral reportedly showing SARS officers dragging two men out of a hotel and shooting one of them.
"The Lagos judicial panel’s report into October 20 is so necessary. We’ve not grieved properly because we’ve spent all our time insisting the shootings happened. Having the truth validated doesn’t mean our grief ends but that finally a path for it to run its course has opened," said Wale Lawal, editor of The Republic, a publication that covered the #EndSARS protests.
For a lot of Nigerians who participated in the protests, raising awareness and documenting the movement was essential to creating change, amid reports, including from Amnesty International, of Nigerian authorities’ attempts to cover up the Lekki Toll Gate shootings.
Moe Oladele, a lawyer, offered legal aid to #EndSARS protesters who were arrested while protesting all over the nation. After the report was leaked, she took to Twitter to talk about next steps.
"The report from the Judicial Panel tells us what we already knew, that innocent Nigerians were killed simply for demanding better. The next step is accountability. Some people need to be held accountable for the #LekkiMassacre," she said.
"The findings of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry in its report defining the atrocities at the toll gate as a massacre, is a big win and leads us on a pathway to obtaining justice for many of the innocent victims, survivors, and lost souls still lying in unmarked graves," Akin Olaoye, who was present during the Lekki Toll Gate massacre, told CNN.
In a letter addressed to the Nigerian government, EndSARS Frontiers, a group of activists who took part in the #EndSARS protests called on the Nigerian government to apologise to the victims of brutality at the hands of the Nigerian police and army.
The statement said: "As directed by NEC [National Economic Council], all state governments proceed to set up human rights committees to conclude with other cases and ongoing issues with the first order of business being investigated into the unlawful incarceration of #EndSARS peaceful protesters in Lagos, Abuja, Oyo, and other states. A memorial of this horrific occurrence must also be installed at the Lekki Toll Gate, to forever mark the memory of the deceased, and honour their martyrdom.".