By Adedotun Ajayi
Three years have passed since the haunting events that unfolded at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, and left the nation in shock and mourning. The Lekki Tollgate killings of October 20, 2020, stands as a stark reminder of the fragility of human rights, the importance of freedom of speech, and the tragic consequences when these fundamental rights are threatened.
On that fateful night, peaceful protesters, gathered at the tollgate to call for an end to police brutality hashtag ENDSARS, were met with violence that shook the nation and reverberated across the globe. As the darkness descended on Lekki, the tollgate became a place of sorrow and injustice, where lives were lost and countless others forever changed. But even amidst this darkness, a light emerged—the unyielding spirit of resilience and a collective call for accountability, justice, and reform.
Now, we look back at the Lekki Tollgate killing, the events leading up to it, and the aftermath.
In a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected through social media, the power of video has transcended borders and ignited movements. This was abundantly evident in Nigeria, where a series of viral videos showcasing instances of police brutality served as the catalyst for a groundswell of the youth-led protest.
These videos, often captured on smartphones and shared through social media platforms, revealed the stark reality of unchecked police violence against young Nigerians. With images that were both disturbing and deeply distressing, they galvanized a generation that had long been subjected to the injustice of police brutality.
One particularly harrowing video depicted an unarmed youth being harassed and assaulted by law enforcement officers. Another showed the heart-wrenching story of a young Nigerian who had fallen victim to the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), an elite unit of the Nigerian police force. These stories, far from isolated incidents, were symptomatic of systemic issues that had long plagued the nation’s law enforcement.
Fueled by anger, frustration, and a collective yearning for justice, Nigerian youths harnessed the power of social media to unite their voices. They mobilized, organized, and took to the streets in peaceful protests, demanding an end to police brutality and advocating for sweeping police reform. The viral videos had provided a stark visual testament to the urgency of their cause, and the world watched as a new generation of activists emerged, determined to make their country a better place.
In these tumultuous times, the viral videos became a critical source of information and mobilization. They were not just digital evidence of abuse but also a forceful reminder of the power that resides in the hands of the people. Through peaceful protests and tireless advocacy, Nigerian youth leveraged the strength of their collective voices, with the hope that change was not only possible but inevitable. The videos were not just a catalyst; they were a testament to the resilience and determination of a generation that refused to be silenced in the face of injustice.
Now we reflect on the lessons learned, the progress made, and the work that remains to be done to ensure that such a tragedy is never repeated. As we examine the path forward, we ask the crucial question: How can we guide against a reoccurrence of the Lekki Tollgate killings?
Speaking with The Hope, Oludare Adebayo, Founder of the DAF Global, a Non Governmental Organization, stressed the urgency of taking concrete steps to prevent a reoccurrence of the Lekki Tollgate killings.
He pointed out the necessity of establishing a transparent and impartial investigation into the events of that tragic night, holding those responsible accountable, and providing justice to the victims and their families.
He emphasized that accountability is a cornerstone of preventing future atrocities and reinstating trust in the legal system.
Adebayo also advocated for open channels of communication between the government and civil society, as a means to address grievances and concerns. He expressed the belief that constructive dialogue and collaboration between all stakeholders can help to avoid confrontations and protect the rights of citizens.
In conclusion, he reiterated the NGO’s commitment to working towards a society where human rights are respected, where the rule of law is upheld, and where the lessons learned from the Lekki Tollgate killings lead to meaningful reforms that prevent such tragic events from happening again.
Khalid Okunade, a legal practitioner, described the Lekki Tollgate killings to be a deeply troubling incident that has far-reaching legal implications. The events that unfolded on that grim night three years ago were not only a tragedy for the victims and their families but also a stark violation of fundamental human rights.
“In examining it from a legal standpoint, it becomes evident that several aspects demand our attention. First and foremost, the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, which are enshrined in international human rights law, were infringed upon. Peaceful protesters gathered to voice their concerns, seeking redress from their government, but they were met with excessive force and violence. This raises critical questions about the duty of the state to protect these rights and the accountability of those responsible for such actions” he said.
“Furthermore, the lack of transparency and accountability in the aftermath of the massacre is damning. The families of the victims and the public at large deserve answers and justice. In a functioning legal system, investigations into such grave incidents should be conducted impartially and transparently. Without this, trust in the justice system erodes, and the risk of impunity prevails”.
“The killings is a stark reminder of the importance of upholding the rule of law, safeguarding human rights, and ensuring accountability for those who commit human rights violations. As we reflect on this tragic event, it is crucial to call for an independent and comprehensive legal inquiry into the incident, one that will hold those responsible accountable and prevent such horrors from occurring in the future” he concluded
Also speaking, Ayoola Kolapo, another legal expert, said It is the collective duty of legal experts and advocates for justice, to ensure that the lessons of the Lekki Tollgate killings are not forgotten and that they work towards a society where the rule of law and human rights are upheld without compromise.
The lawyer emphasized the need for a comprehensive review of law enforcement procedures and human rights safeguards to prevent any reoccurrence.
He stressed that it is crucial to ensure that law enforcement agencies are held accountable for their actions, and that any use of force must adhere to international human rights standards. The lawyer also called for the establishment of an independent oversight mechanism to monitor and review law enforcement conduct during public protests, in order to prevent a repeat of the tragic events that transpired three years ago.
Furthermore, he recommended that the government should engage in open and honest dialogue with citizens and protesters, acknowledging their concerns and working towards necessary reforms. This, he argued, would help in building trust between the government and the people, reducing the likelihood of confrontations like the one at Lekki Tollgate.
He concluded by emphasizing that respecting and protecting the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, and the right to life are fundamental in preventing such tragedies, and that the lessons learned from it should serve as a catalyst for positive change in both policy and practice.
Joshua Oloruntoba, an Educationalist, conveyed the importance of never allowing the event to happen again. He shared his perspective, saying that the experience of that night still haunts the memories of many Nigerians and should serve as a wake-up call.
He emphasized that trust between the government and the people must be rebuilt, and accountability for the actions taken that night is paramount. He firmly believed that a transparent investigation is essential to ensure that justice is served for the victims and their families.
He also spoke of the need for both law enforcement agencies and protesters to better understand their rights and responsibilities during public protests. He called for the promotion of peaceful dialogue as a means of addressing grievances and ensuring that the right to peaceful assembly is respected.
In closing, he stressed that the lessons learnt should be a driving force for change. He hoped for a future where Nigerians can exercise their rights without fear and where the government is more responsive to the needs and concerns of its citizens.
Tolulope Aribs, a youth and business owner, while passionately conveying his thoughts on the killings, recalled that young people played a significant role in the protests, and the events of that night still weigh heavily on their minds.
Aribs stressed the importance of accountability, demanding that those responsible for the violence be held to justice. He believed that justice for the victims and their families is not just an obligation but a step toward healing and preventing future incidents.
He also highlighted the power of technology and social media in raising awareness and capturing events as they unfold. The concerned youth pointed out that the world witnessed the tragedy through these platforms, and they encouraged their peers to continue using their voices to demand change.
Finally, he expressed his unwavering determination to see a Nigeria where young people can engage in peaceful protests and exercise their rights without fear of violence. He believed that the lessons should be a catalyst for a more just and accountable society.
“Three years on but 20/10/2020 will always be in our hearts. We will never forget” he said.