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Nigeria: Lekki toll gate was a 'massacre' — leaked report

November 16, 2021

Nigerian soldiers deliberately killed protesters in October 2020, according to a leaked report based on the inquiry into the so-called Lekki toll gate shooting.

People protest at Lekki toll plaza in Lagos, Nigeriaon October 20, 2021
Damning report lays bear the actions of Nigeria's military on the night of October 20, 2020Image: Sunday Alamba/AP/picture alliance

A judicial panel established to investigate a violent crackdown on protesters by Nigeria's armed forces on October 20, 2020 has passed on the report to state officials, according to local media. While the damning report has not yet been officially released to the public, it has been leaked and was widely circulated online on Tuesday.

According to the document, Nigerian soldiers opened fire on the assembly of unarmed protesters, killing a number of people on the night of October 20, 2020.

Tens of thousands had taken to the streets demanding that President Muhammadu Buhari carry out police reforms. But the protests took a violent turn as soldiers opened fire with live rounds near the Lekki toll gate in the country's most populous city, Lagos.

On Monday, Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu confirmed receiving the document in an Instagram post and added it would be released to the public "within the next couple of weeks."

According to the leaked copy of the 309-page document, the soldiers' bloody clampdown amounted to a "massacre."

The report says 11 people were confirmed as deceased and four other people were missing, but presumed dead.

Seun Bakare from Amnesty International said the judicial panel corroborated what the organization said a year ago, that the "Nigerian army and police killed peaceful protesters at Lekki Toll Gate." 

What were some of the key findings?

The report took over a year to complete and took a variety of eyewitness reports into account. In perhaps one of the most damning findings, the panel established that unarmed demonstrators were killed deliberately.

"The atrocious maiming and killing of unarmed, helpless and unresisting protestors, while sitting on the floor and waving their Nigerian flags, while singing the national Anthem can be equated to a 'massacre' in context," the report stated.

Officers and soldiers of the 65 Battalion of the Nigerian army left their base armed with both blank and live ammunition.

"The soldiers actually shot blank and live bullets directly and pointedly into the midst of the protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate, with the deliberate intention to assault, maim and kill," the panel found.

The army denied having used live rounds, claiming only to have used blanks.

Soldiers on the scene also turned back ambulances trying to reach those who had been injured.

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Signs of a cover-up

According to the findings of the leaked probe, following the shooting incident, soldiers removed bodies of protesters from the scene.

A survivor who had been taken for dead was able to provide evidence of his ordeal and had recounted that he was placed in a military van along with 11 corpses. Bloodstains at the scene were cleaned the morning after and police also arrived in the morning to pick up empty bullet shells in an apparent cover-up bid.

The panel also believed there was a deliberate attempt by the military to frustrate the work of the inquiry, with officers who had been present at the Lekki toll gate not offering their testimony.

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Inquiry's recommendations

The panel called for all officers and soldiers deployed at the Lekki toll gate on October 20, 2020, to be stripped of rank and dismissed from the armed forces.

Officers who did not turn up to give evidence should face disciplinary action.

The panel also recommended that the military should be dissuaded from getting involved in matters of internal security.

Additionally, the officials called for security officials be retrained in terms of engagement and management of protests. 

The judicial panel also called for the release of those arrested during the course of protests.

What was the  #EndSars movement?

In October 2020, a video went viral on social media showing an officer with the SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) allegedly killing a man in the southern Delta state.

For years, the unit had been accused of abuse of power and of committing crimes it was meant to be stopping, including robberies, killings and kidnappings.

Despite promises to reform the police, actual changes were slow in coming. Protesters organized themselves on social media, under the banner #EndSars. The SARS unit was eventually disbanded.

SARS ends, protests continue

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kb/dj (AFP, Reuters)