A peaceful protest called by activists over the weekend, Saturday 13 February 2021, to protest the decision to reopen Lekki tollgate to business was openly and brutally repressed. This new repression following widespread protest against police brutality, last year, has unmasked the Buhari government as a major enabler of police brutality and repression. It is important to note that police brutality and state repression have actually increased since the end of the #EndSARS protest in October 2020. Saturday’s repression bears the hallmark of a state-sanctioned revenge mission of the police against the radical youth who had dared challenge it that also was meant to serve as a warning to others. Some women in a bus in Maryland, several miles away from Lekki, were overheard complaining about Saturday’s arrests by a police inspector also in the bus who then tried to arrest them for criticising the police!
The decision to reopen the tollgate was taken by the Lagos State Judicial panel of inquiry set up in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protest, last year, particularly the alleged shooting and killing by the army and police of multiple protesters occupying the Lekki tollgate. This decision split the panel with at least one youth representative on the panel, Rinu Oduala, quitting in protest and another, Barrister Ebun Adegboruwa, announcing he is “consulting with civil society to take a decision”.
A few days before the protest, the police authorities issued statements warning of brutal consequences. A faceless group called #DefendLagos also attempted to organise a counter-protest based on stoking sentiments alleging that any protest would lead to destruction and violence similar to that which occurred last year after state-sponsored thugs took over the streets following the October 20 Lekki tollgate killings. Despite this, scores of protesters showed up on February 13 at the tollgate and were promptly rounded up and arrested, along with some passers-by. They were equally subjected to beatings and torture while in custody. They were arraigned before a mobile court on a three-count charge of conspiracy, on conduct likely to cause a breach of public peace and violation of COVID19 rules. They were subsequently granted bail and ordered to re-appear in court on March 2nd, 2021.
This violent arrest of people gathering for a peaceful demonstration has invoked widespread condemnation from different organisations, including the Nigerian Bar Association, the main lawyers’ organisation.
One of those arrested is Comrade Moshood Oshunfurewa, Ajegunle (Lagos) branch organiser of the DSM and leading member of the Youth Rights Campaign (YRC). He is also the Lagos state secretary of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN). He narrates below his ordeal and that of other protesters to Socialist Democracy (SD) – bi-monthly paper of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM).
Comrade Moshood’s report:
Comrades of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) from Ajegunle branch intervened on February 13, 2021, in a protest tagged “OccupyLekkiTollgate”. This was called to oppose the decision of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry to reopen the tollgate for business even before investigations are concluded into allegations of collusion in the killing of protesters at the tollgate on 20 October, last year. Recall that following brutal repression of #EndSARS protesters, last year, including those occupying the Lekki tollgate, the panel had been set up to look into the killings.
Around 1,000 copies of a Youth Rights Campaign (YRC) leaflet were produced. Another 400 copies of this leaflet were distributed in Ajegunle the day before and also on the morning of Saturday 13 February before we moved down to Lekki.
Our leaflet received attention and support in Ajegunle. Following my arrest while videoing others being arrested, I was able to secretly distribute the leaflets to other detained activists right under the noses of the trigger-happy police. Some were inspired and asked questions on how to join the organization.
The police were very vicious and violent towards the arrested protesters. We were about 40. The agenda appeared to be to inflict as much damage as they could on us knowing they cannot really prove any case of breaking the law against us. They subjected us to torture while in custody. I was severely beaten in Adeniji Adele police station and sustained injury to my right eye. My phone was also damaged by the police who used their gun butt to smash the screen. Some other detainees had their phones smashed in similar manner.
Our statements at the police station were forcibly collected with the aid of blows and canes.
However, despite the harassment and torture, I was able to make six contacts out of the arrested protesters who signified they wanted to join the YRC. After our release by around 10pm same day, myself and comrade Maureen (who came to visit me at the police station and help out with bail processing) held brief discussions with the contacts to further acquaint them with the organisation.
I want to thank members of the DSM, the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), the two barristers, Ogunlana and Ayo Ademiluyi, and other lawyers, the media, and members of the public who played one role or the other to help us to be freed.