When Segun Awosanya, a social media influencer, and activist started the ENDSARS protest demanding for an overhauling of the Nigerian Police force and eradication of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), hardly did he or any other foot soldiers in the earliest days of the campaign in 2017 envisage the outcome of the ENDSARS phenomenon.
Beginning with the hashtag #EndSARS and support from other civic organisations, the EndSARS generated not less than 30 million tweets and eventual street protests across the federation. This cause brought about Youths from different parts of the country coming together under the umbrella of achieving the sole aim of eradicating the nightmarish SARS.
The protest began as organised and peaceful on the 8th of October, 2020. Under the aegis of #5for5, the protesters sought for (i) immediate release of all arrested protesters; (2) justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families; (3) Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all aspects of police misconduct (within 10 days); (4) In line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation and retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed and (5) Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens.
However, the protest took a sour turn when the Lagos State Government imposed a 24-hour curfew on October 20, 2020. It was later reported that on the same day, soldiers dispatched from 91 Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Bonny Camp along with some policemen opened fire along the Lekki Toll Gates corridor killing several peaceful protesters. This later led to widespread violence across the states with the unprecedented destruction of public properties, general looting, and burning down of police stations across the country.
In a statement released by the Nigerian Minister for Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed insisted that there were no casualties on a fateful day. Similarly, a retired Senior Police Officer, IG Adamu declared that about 22 policemen, seven soldiers, and 59 civilians were killed in the violence that erupted after the alleged shooting at the Lekki Toll Gates on October 20, 2020. He further claimed that 205 police stations were razed, 71 public warehouses, and 248 private stores looted in the stormy petrel.
A year after the #endSARS protest with its many lessons, the organisers insist on honouring the victims of the shooting at the Lekki Toll Gate with the hashtag #endSARS memorial. With a line-up of events slated for the commemorative event, the government has expressed its disproval of the protest.
In a statement attributed to the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, where he cautioned against any planned protest given the current security challenges faced by the country, he said:
“Organisers of the planned protests should explore the various channels of communication with governments at various levels to advance their positions and avert the breakdown of law and order that may result from such public protests.”
The organisers went ahead with the planned programme for the first anniversary in honour of the fallen heroes of the #endSARS protest killings. On October 20, 2021, there was a parade of vehicles conveying #endSARS protesters associated with the blaring of car horns – all in the spirit of mourning the lost souls.
There were, however, reported arrests of some of the protesters, shooting and throwing of tear gas to disperse other protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate.