By Charles Ofoji
Even in wars, it is a crime for soldiers to open fire on enemy combatants, who have surrendered or who are sick. This is an incontrovertible principle under international humanitarian law. It is also unlawful to target civilians caught up in the middle of conflicts.
But on Tuesday, Nigerian soldiers, who owe their allegiance to the nation, and the people, massacred peaceful, national flag wielding protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos. Their only crime was that they were asking to be treated as humans in their own country. They were also pushing that the same better deal be extended to the same soldiers, who foolishly killed them, not realizing that they were in the same sinking boat with the protesters. Yes, the protesters were fighting to save the Nigerian unsteady boat, they were in, from sinking.
Since October 8, Nigerian Youths have poured out to the streets of the nation to demand the scrapping of the notorious, Special Anti-Robbery Squad , SARS, infamous for torture, brutal extortion, extra-judicial killings and other crimes against humanity. The protesters have also been demanding for good governance and an end to the endemic problem of corruption, which has prevented their dear country from being that shinning nation on the West Coast. The country that would have been a source of pride for the black race.
The Youths talked to those they thought were their fathers in government. They demanded a better country where their dignity would be respected and where their modest dreams would be realized. Unfortunately, those in power were not listening. In fact, while the country under his watch came to a standstill, due to the protests, the commander-in-chief said nothing – not even one word. The Nigerian Senate had to beg him to address the nation. He needed to be reminded of his duty to calm the nation. As at the time of writing this, President Muhammau Buhari has not done that. He continued his sleep at the seat of power, oblivious, dreaming of nothing and wishing nothing for those that entrusted him with power. It is beginning to emerge that Mr. Buhari just wanted power for the sake of it. Nothing suggests, since he assumed office, that he knows what to do with it or how to move a country and a people forward.
Mr. Buhari cannot be called a leader. Same is the case for his enablers and leaders of his echo chamber. These are people, who wish nothing for the people they pretend to be leading – to nowhere. As the rulers they are, they felt threatened. Instead of listening to the cries of the populace, those in power took dishonourable steps to make sure that they were not heard. They resolved to discredit the protests. They activated their propaganda machine. Some elements in the North, benefiting from the staus-quo, were mobilized to say the protests are an attempt by a disgruntled South to overthrow the government of their beloved son. Thugs were also unleashed to scuttle the peaceful protests. They must turned violent. Those in power desperately needed an excuse to ruthlessly crush the protests and kill its own citizens. To killl a dog, you need to give it a bad name. But the government thugs went a step further. They started the killings before the security agents picked it up from where they stopped.
This writer, like many Nigerians, has been shocked the extent this government went just to make sure Nigerian youths are prevented from exercising a constitutionally embedded right – the right to protest peacefully. The government has been accused of having a hand in the jail breaks in Edo prisons, where about 2,000 convicted murders, armed robbers, rapists and those awaiting trial for grievous crimes were released and sent back to the same community they had endangered. Agents of the Department of State Services (DSS) have been fingered. The whisper is all over social media. The fact that no shots were fired as two maximum security prisons were easily broken only lends credence to the school of thought that the government had a hand in it.
The internet is awash with videos of DSS agents conveying thugs in government vehicles to cause mayhem. To kill citizens.
We must have underestimated the desperate people who stroll the corridors of power. Nigerians can’t recognize them again. They keep asking if these were the same people, who found their way to government flaunting their ‘integrity’? Are these the same people who marched numerous times on the streets against the government of president Goodluck Jonathan. Now, at least, we know whose administration is better. Actually there are no grounds to compare. Its like a contrast between light and darkness.
The soldiers that massacred their fellow unarmed country men and women, without any justification, committed treason and crimes against humanity. At the appropriate time those that issued the command would be held accountable, no matter how long it would take.
They could have used teargas to disperse the crowd, even rubber bullets. But no, the order was to kill them. The message needed to be unequivocal, those who felt threatened thought. The next hours would tell if they succeeded in cowing the youths. Nothings suggests it would.
For the avoidance of doubt, it was premeditated murder. The stage was set for mass slaughter. They turned off the light and dismantled the CCTV cameras. They wanted to hide the atrocity from the civilized world But they failed to realize that the world has changed. The Social Media changed the world. The pictures of the villains who played a part are now flying around in the internet. Including that of the military commander, who oversaw the slaughter of people he took an oath to defend. He has boldly written his name in infamy and brought curse upon himself, his children and his entire generation. That is what happens when a soldier choses to serve the oppressors of the people, instead of being a patriot.
Former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu has been accused of playing a pivotal role. The Lekki Toll Gate is one of the milk cows of a man who would never get satisfied with money. The protests mean bad business for him. The ‘miscreants’ needed to cleared by all means possible. Time will tell if the allegations are true or false. However, he was among those that brought this evil of a government upon us, the Nigerian people. And one thing is clear, after this atrocity committed at Lekki, Mr. Tinubu would now die one day without realizing his dream of becoming the president of this great country. At least, that is what the EndSARS protests have achieved, among other things.
Nigerians watched the graphic videos in disbelief. How soldiers cut down the lives of promising young women and women. Nigeria’s future generation of leaders, who were only asking for humanity. Is that too much to ask from a ‘democratically’ elected government?
The Punch newspapers reported that 49 citizens were killed on what it described as a ‘Black Tuesday’ due to the government’s treacherous response to the EndSARS protests. The number of those killed at Lekki are yet to be confirmed. But one of the protesters, present at the scene, told the press that he counted at least nine bodies. Many were said to be wounded. So, the number of casualties may increase.
Those bullets fired at unarmed, peaceful protesters did not only cut short their lives, they killed the soul of the Nigerian Nation. The Old Nigeria. Welcome to the New Nigeria, where things would never be the same again. The Youths have finally woken up to a callous ruling class.
No amount of soldiers and armoured tanks can crush an idea whose time has come.