It is our delight to welcome you again to this press conference to address the findings of the report submitted to the Executive Governor of Lagos state by the Judicial Panel of Inquiry setup to look into the ENDSARs protest and indeed the unfortunate Lekki tollgate incidence dated October 20, 2020.
It should be recalled that October 2020 witnessed one of the most organised and coordinated youth actions since the return to democratic rule in 1999 and even in the 60 years of Nigeria’s independence. The ENDSARs protest represents a shift in youth organising, a reminder that people’s power is the strongest form of power; and awareness of the fact that, if issues of citizens’ welfare are not addressed, the citizenry hold the power to enforce the change they hope to see.
The Nigerian youths exemplified people’s power by staging a series of coordinated nationwide protests in a call for social justice and the end to police brutality, human right abuses, injustice, bad governance and a reform of the entire structure of the Nigerian Police Force.
Leveraging social media platforms, young Nigerians demanded an end to the country’s unbearable spate of police brutality. The hashtag #EndSARS was not just a social media trend as it triggered street protests by youths across the country. The approach deployed and the management of the protest was unprecedented in the history of such movements in the country; and it remains an unforgettable experience in the minds of the political elites, the Nigerian youths and the entire structure of the Nigeria police force; and to say that government’s response was anti-democratic and regretful will simply be stating the obvious.
Despite widespread criticisms and international attention, with the Amnesty International confirming that unarmed protesters were indeed shot at, the Nigerian government has continued to deny or even take steps to address some of the demands of the young people who went out to protest, as cases of police brutality, corruption and government official’s impunity still hold sway.
To address the crux of our call today, gentlemen and ladies of the press, as an organisation, we hold that the report by the Lagos state Judicial Panel on the ENDSARS protest, is a vindication and validation of the position of unarmed Nigerian youths at Lekki tollgate that, indeed, live bullets were shot at them on October 20, 2020, by officers of the Nigerian Army.
We consider the report as legal stamps on the already circulated evidence that authorities went overboard to interrupt citizens’ democratic and constitutional processes in a most gruesome manner.
As a democratic nation, it is important for our government officials to be reminded of fundamental principles of democracy; the provision of section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), and Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which both guarantee right to freely assemble and associate with other persons, with no restrictions; is a fundamental right and not a privilege that can be withdrawn by government officials should such constitutional actions go against the selfish wish of the political class.
To this extent, we reiterate our position and strongly condemn the gestapo actions of the Nigerian Army which the Judicial Panel confirmed were mobilised to the scene of the incident by the Lagos State Government.
May we use this opportunity to also remind the government and authorities that public offices are positions of trust, and that public confidence is built on honest communication. The claims and insistence by the federal government through the Minister of Information and Culture, Alh. Lai Mohammed that there were no shootings at Lekki, and that no Nigerian youth was killed during the unfortunate incidence, against available records by eyewitnesses and international observers was not only preposterous, but also shows the extent the government is ready to go to force down its false and misleading narrative about the Lekki incidence.
Continuing in this path would further erode trust and public confidence. We call on the Minister to issue a public apology to Nigerian youths and victims of the Lekki shootings, which we believe would go a long way to pacify the wounds caused by government insistence on the contrary.
Beyond the paper indictment of authorities involved in the October 20, 2020, Lekki incidence, in the interest of justice and fairness, those that have been fingered to have been involved in giving the order that led to the shootings at the tollgate should be publicly prosecuted, and this includes; Governor Sanwo-Olu, Lt. Col. Bello, officers of the Nigerian Army and Police who shot the live bullets, the Lekki Concession Company and other actors. We demand and reiterate that all their identities be made public and that they be prosecuted to the full extent of the law; as we call on the government to implement all the recommendations of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry.
At this juncture, we must not fail to commend the excellent job done by the Lagos Judicial Panel of Inquiry chaired by Honourable Justice Doris Okuwobi (Rtd). Their factual and elaborate research into the ENDSARs protest in Lagos and evident findings has renewed the hope of many Nigerians in the judiciary as the last hope of the common man. It is hoped that their efforts would not be treated as another “paper work”, but would be implemented to the fullest.
Ladies and gentlemen of the press, as an organisation, and in line with our good governance and accountability thematic areas, we will continue to advocate and support government and stakeholders’ efforts at ensuring a peaceful society, where democratic tenets are enshrined and respected by both the leader and the led.
We have continued to do this through our programmes and webinar series that were specifically organised to discuss and build sustainable strategies to youth engagement in light of the ENDSARs protest in October 2020, and we want to seize this platform to echo the unanimous voice of participants at our webinar series that the need to build on the success of the protest for massive youth political participation ahead of the 2023 general elections is NOW.
Thank you for coming.
For: SING Nigeria