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#EndSARS : After the Violence and Bloodshed, will Peace Return?

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The government and people of Nigeria are still counting their losses after the tragic halt to the #EndSARS protests by peaceful youths advocating for police reforms and improvements in the way Nigerian security officers treat citizens. The nationwide protests began on Thursday, October 8 and went on for almost two weeks, until Tuesday, October 20, when armed men invaded the focal point of the protests at Lekki toll gate in Lagos State, and opened fire on protesters. There were reports that the lights at the protest venue were abruptly switched off and the CCTV cameras taken down before the shooting of the innocent, peaceful protesters. There were casualties and reports of deaths and several injuries. The numbers of the casualties are yet to be verified. For everyone around Nigeria and the world, this was an unprecedented occurrence, vicious and unheard of.

Less than 48 hours before the incident, the Nigerian Army had announced that it would be  commencing  its “Operation Crocodile Smile” on the same day, which it described as a cyber warfare and reiterated that it was not related to the #EndSARS protests. In spite of this, the announcement has however, raised questions of a possible connection between the shooting of protesters and the military operation. Meanwhile, prior to the incident, Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu had announced a 24-hour curfew in the State at about noon, to commence at 4pm of the same day. The shooting incident eventually occurred at about 7pm with information emerging that the State Governor actually extended the commencement of the curfew from 4pm to 9pm, thereby raising questions as to why security operatives were even present at the location in the first place, hours before the commencement of the curfew.

The Nigerian Army has denied shooting at protesters in Lagos State, while the President, Muhammadu Buhari in his address on Thursday, October 22, made no reference to the incident. This is an apparent contradiction to cellphone video recordings released by witnesses who were present at the shooting and captured men in military gear firing gunshots. Some of these witnesses also picked up empty bullet shells from the scene. Citizens, socio-cultural groups, civil society organisations and the international community have called on the Nigerian Government to investigate the brutal killing of innocent, peaceful protesters in Lagos State.

Most observers of the #EndSARS protests point to its peaceful nature and the strong solidarity exhibited by young people of different classes, who came together to express their dissatisfaction with the quality of governance in Nigeria. Unfortunately, reports came in of attempts to infiltrate the #EndSARS movement and discredit its peaceful nature by introducing thugs into it. These thugs attacked the peaceful protesters at their onset, with the #EndSARS protesters desperately retreating from these attacks, and in some instances, resisting the thugs. There was hardly any effort to protect the protesters against what appeared to be hired, disruptive thugs. After the violent and forceful disbandment of peaceful #EndSARS protesters on the night of the Lekki killings by armed men, the thugs and other opportunistic persons embarked on their own agenda, rampaging as if awakened across the country. Indeed, they went on massive looting, break-ins and burglary of the properties of government and private individuals, particularly politicians. These unscrupulous activities now continue across the country.

In Lagos, looters and vandals are reported to have vandalised a popular television station, TVC, The Nation Newspaper office, the Federal Government owned Ports Authority, the Ikoyi-Lekki Tollgate, the palace of the Oba of Lagos, court complexes, police stations and shopping malls. In Cross River State, the private home of a Senator was invaded and looted. In the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), warehouses in Idu Industrial layout  belonging to companies and individuals were broken into and looted. The looting of private and government establishments quickly spread to several other States – Adamawa, Oyo, Anambra, Plateau, Kogi, Osun, Kano, etc. The police has however, begun to arrest suspects in connection with these incidents, with over 400 suspects already arrested in five States.

Prior to the shooting of protesters in Lagos State, the Edo State Government had imposed a 24-hour curfew on October 19, following a jail break in which over 1,900 inmates were said to have escaped. Several other States including Abia, Plateau, Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo, Anambra, Osun, Ondo and Delta also imposed curfews following the activities of hoodlums that took advantage of the chaos and unrest that ensued.

It is unclear how soon these wanton looting and banditry will come to an end or how soon calm and peace will return to Nigeria. What is clear however, is that by unleashing violence on peaceful protesters, the government has earned for itself a national and international image deficit. The government lacked the patience to negotiate #EndSARS protests to a peaceful end but instead, applied a violent and strong arm tactic to put an end to the peaceful protests. How the government intends to rebuild its image or earn the trust of its citizens is unclear. What is clear is that the journey for it in this regard will be a long and arduous one.