Armed security forces stamp out planned peaceful protest in Nigeria

Armed security patrol Lekki toll gate, Nigeria
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Armed security forces have suppressed a planned peaceful protest in Lagos, Nigeria. End SARS protesters planned to occupy Lekki toll gate, where state-sponsored armed security forces shot and killed 12 peaceful protesters in October 2020. Organisers intended to protest against the government’s plan to reopen the toll gate while covering up its involvement with the tragedy. Authorities have arrested a number of individuals for exercising their right to peaceful protest. And the police are allegedly denying them access to lawyers. They’ve also shut down the planned protest and opened the toll gate.

Lekki toll gate massacre

Young Nigerians have been protesting against police brutality, impunity, and bad governance since October. That was when they took to the streets and social media to campaign against the government’s notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). It came following years of mounting evidence of systematic brutality and corruption in the police unit. Although the government disbanded the squad, it’s carried out sustained attempts to quash the youth-led End SARS movement. Indeed, armed security forces shot and killed peaceful protesters; the Nigerian president blamed “hooliganism” for violence during protests, and the government banned cryptocurrency, a key source of income for the movement.

On 13 February, End SARS protesters took to social media to share their plans to occupy Lekki toll gate in Lagos. The toll gate was where Nigerian security forces shot and killed 12 peaceful protesters on 20 October 2020.

The protest was sparked by government plans to reopen the gate without taking accountability for the tragedy or seeking justice for those who were killed. On 8 February, one Twitter user posted:

Movement leaders such as Omoyele Sowore urged protesters to ignore calls from Nigeria’s minister for culture asking protesters to abandon their plans:

Why are Nigerians protesting?

As one Twitter user highlighted, Nigerians are protesting because the government continues to cover up the Lekki toll gate massacre:

Many see the government’s plan to reopen the toll gate while continuing to cover up its involvement in the national tragedy as callous:

As Toke Makinwa highlights, young Nigerians are also challenging bad governance, police brutality, and an economy that fails young people:

Nigerians are being denied their right to peaceful protest

Amnesty International Nigeria took to Twitter to remind the government that the right to protest is enshrined in the Nigerian constitution:

Despite this, journalist Yemisi Adegoke reported a heavy police presence and acts of police brutality. Even though there were very few protesters in attendance:

According to BBC News Africa, some of the people arrested by police were on their way to work:

Sowore highlighted another blatant injustice. The private security company allegedly complicit in the Lekki toll gate massacre was policing the attempted occupation:

Another Twitter user shared that would-be protesters were met with “brutality and arrest”:

Meanwhile, lawyers and organisers have reported that police are transporting would-be protesters out of Lagos and denying them access to legal counsel:

Stamping out peaceful protest

CNN Africa‘s Stephanie Busari shared that although armed security had dispersed protesters, more appeared:

It appears that police have successfully stamped out the planned peaceful protest, and reopened the toll gate:

Reacting to state suppression of the planned protest, Tope Akinyode labelled Nigeria’s political situation a “dictatorship”. And he called on Nigerians to challenge it:

By denying Nigerians their right to assembly and peaceful protest, the government has sent a clear message: it intends to keep suppressing the youth-led movement against police brutality and bad governance. It must answer for its corruption and incompetence, and it must listen to young Nigerians. If the government continues down this path of destruction, the consequences will be devastating.

Featured image via Stephanie Busari/Twitter

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