Nigerian government urges #EndSARS movement to shelve the planned protests at Lekki Toll Gate
Posted February 12, 2021 10:48 a.m. EST
CNN — The Nigerian government has urged sympathizers of the #EndSARS movement to shelve plans for renewed protests at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos.
The toll plaza, situated in the affluent Lekki neighborhood, was the scene of a fatal shooting of unarmed protesters by Nigerian soldiers on October 20.
The facility had been shut since the night of the shooting, but a judicial panel -- set up by authorities to investigate reports of police brutality and the violent crackdown of #EndSARS protesters by the army -- recently voted for its reopening.
Supporters of #EndSARS have disapproved of the panel's decision. Many view the reopening of the tollgate as ill-timed and inconsiderate to victims of the Lekki shootings.
Omoyele Sowore, an activist and front line promoter of the #EndSARS movement, has intensified calls for the occupation of the toll gate on Saturday.
Nigeria's Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has warned organizers to abandon the planned demonstration, which is being called #OccupyLekkitollgate.
At a press conference in Abuja on Thursday, the minister said Nigeria was still reeling from the shocks of the #EndSARS protests, which spiraled into widespread violence, resulting in the destruction of both private and public assets.
The federal government "will not allow the kind of violence that was perpetrated across the country under the guise of the #EndSARS last October," he said.
Waves of "#ENDSARS" protesters took to the streets in cities and towns across Nigeria in October, calling for the disbandment of the country's controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and an end to police brutality.
The SARS unit was set up in 1992 to fight armed robbery and was given wide-ranging powers. Many of the officers did not wear uniforms or name tags and there were numerous complaints that they had turned on the citizens and were perpetrating the very crimes that they were set up to combat.
On October 11, Nigeria's Inspector General of Police announced that SARS would be dissolved and its officers redeployed, but protests continued.
"At this time, the chances that any peaceful protest will be hijacked are very high," Mohammed said, adding that even though citizens are constitutionally allowed to partake in peaceful protests, there are no guarantees that Saturday's procession would be peaceful.
"Based on the intelligence at the disposal of the federal government, some Nigerian activists have linked up with others outside Nigeria, including subversive elements, with a view to destabilizing the country. We cannot, and must not, allow this to happen," he added.
Mohammed stressed that "security agents are ready for any eventuality."
He asked anyone with information on the Lekki shootings, which he described as a "purported massacre," to reach out to the Lagos judicial panel.
The minister has continued to disregard a CNN investigation which found that the Nigerian army fired directly at protesters at the tollgate using live ammunition and not blank rounds as was initially claimed.
Amnesty International reminded the Nigerian government of its citizens' right to gather on Saturday.
"The Nigerian government must ensure that when protesters exercise their right to freedom of assembly, it must be without fear of harassment or attacks by hoodlums or others opposed to the protests," Amnesty International Nigeria said in a statement Friday.
The global rights group listed some of the security forces previous attempts to clampdown on protestors which resulted in human rights violations.