Youths across the nation protesting against police brutality, extra-judicial killings and unfair profiling embarked on a protest to demand the scrapping of the dreaded SARS outfit in October last year. They also wanted justice for victims of police brutality and a total reform of the Nigerian police force. The protest in Lagos was anchored by Yoruba and Igbo youths. Northern youths however organized a counter protest to denounce the EndSARS protesters in the south. This was followed by public expression of support by their northern governors who insisted SARS was needed because of criminal activities of bandits, kidnappers and cattle rustlers in majority of states in the north.
One of the first to take to the streets was the 22-year old Rinu Oduala, an activist. Armed with a letter for President Buhari, she and her group had set up a camp outside the Lagos governor’s office In Alausa, Ikeja on October 7, 2020. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu demonstrated his solidarity with the youths not just by calling for the disbandment of SARS but by promptly taking the youths’ letter to President Buhari in Abuja.
While this was going on, another group led by some musicians ignored Ikeja seat of government and Gani Fawemi garden in Ojota where many protests had taken place in the past opting for Lekki toll gate as the epicentre of the EndSARS protest. Although the protest was not against Lagos State, economic activities in the whole of the Lekki axis was paralysed for 12 days the siege on the toll gate lasted. Intervention by the military according to Amnesty International claimed 10 lives, a figure disputed by the military and the state governor who directed those who lost loved ones to present evidence before the judicial tribunal of inquiry set up to look into the youths protests.
However, following the judicial commissions of inquiry ‘s recommendation that the toll gate be reopened , some aggrieved youths who felt it was ill-timed issued statements threatening to take over the toll gate with the police also declaring the place a no-go-area for protesters. Some 17 youths including Jay D Boy, a comedian, who dared the police were arrested on Saturday night. Calling attention of journalists to his predicament from inside the Black Maria, he had said he was there “for human rights”, adding “three of my friends were killed here last year. And we are not hearing anything about it.” Many will however argue the right place for such submission is at the on-going tribunal and not the toll gate.
Lekki, a high-brow area, is a pride of Lagos. The opening up of the area was said to have been initiated by Alhaji Lateef Jakande, governor of Lags State (1979-1983) who died few days ago. But like the Metroline project, derailed by the late President Shehu Shagari and buried by Buhari’s military regime, the project could not start because of funds until the administrations of Tinubu and Fashola. The toll gate, one will assume, was one way of recouping the huge investments in forms of loans and taxpayers money that have turned Lekki into an exclusive preserve of the wealthy.
Events have since shown, the obsession with Lekki toll gate by some youths was all part of Lagos State PDP politics. In the heat of the protest, Chief Olabode George, former deputy national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had called for the dismantling of the Lekki and Ikoyi toll gates at a press conference attended by PDP party chieftains and members.
And finally his ill-will against Lagos and its current temporary power holders became obvious when he tried to justify the curious choice of Lekki toll gate by a section of the Lagos protesters. According to him “the choice of Lekki toll gate as the epicentre of these legitimate protests was very symbolic about the massive aberrations in the state”, adding for effect: “Lagos was gutted from within and outside”.
From the above, one can draw a parallel between a telephone conversation of two ill-informed young girls with Bola Tinubu the morning after the military assault on the protesters. They accused Tinubu of inviting soldiers to shoot protesters at the toll gate because of the losses he was incurring as a result of the toll gate lockdown. The two girls were not convinced by Tinubu’s argument that he was not in government and could not have possibly influenced deployment of soldiers to the toll gate in which he had no personal stake. Curiously, the conversation was aired live by Channels.
Later that morning, those who tuned to Channels and Arise could observe well-dressed young men leading mobs to torch business concerns including TVC and Channels suspected to belong to APC stalwarts in Lagos State. The palace of Oba of Lagos was not spared. So were the Lekki toll gate and many Lagos State’s newly purchased buses. Assets replacement cost for the 12 days siege on Lekki toll gate and destruction of Lagos state assets was put at N1.1 trillion.
Surprised at the extent of damage to lives and properties in Lagos, chairman of the Southwest governors, Rotimi Akeredolu, said during their visit to Lagos State governor: “We will be right to say Lagos was turned into a war zone. We are deeply concerned with the ease with which public buildings, utilities, police stations and investments of our people have been burnt despite the proximity of security agencies to those areas”.
It must however be of interest to Nigerians that while TVC and The Nation owned by an APC stalwart were torched by arsonists, Lagos-based media concerns of PDP stalwarts such as Silverbird, AIT, Arise, Daily Independent and Daily SUN were all spared . And with TVC off the air and The Nation off newsstand, it was nothing but a sardonic humour that the narratives and views of the above papers on honour, integrity and patriotism became the dominant view.
And for the Yoruba youths that joined other groups to destroy Lagos, and their patron, Bode George, whose only known legacy in Yoruba land was selling of public enterprises he and his fellow Yoruba military administrators inherited to non-Yorubas, they must be reminded that Lagos is no more Nigeria’s federal capital city and for her pains in providing for the millions of immigrants, she does not enjoy special federal subvention.
They must also understand that those driven by forces of competitive federalism to take refuge in Lagos are fortune seekers. They have no stakes in Lagos. And if a proof is needed, it would be recalled the other day when the Oba of Lagos threatened to curse those who would work against the interest of Lagos after making their fortunes in Lagos, not a few groups protested openly.
Finally, the Yoruba youths must be reminded that the Yoruba nation has paid dearly for waging other peoples wars including supporting the self-actualization quest of some Nigeria middle belt groups who Ahmadu Bello insisted were his great grand-father’s slaves and the marginalized Ijaw, Efik, Anang and Ibibio minority groups of the old Eastern Region. The elites of the former have since the collapse of the First Republic behaved like slaves until the current revolt by the likes of Theophilus Danjuma; rather than be identified with the Yoruba aspiration, they have always aligned with the Hausa/Fulani of the north.