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Opinion

#EndSARS Protests in Enugu: Chronicles of Events by Comrade Ifeanyi Obute

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#EndSARS has been the most discussed topic ever since the protest started on the 7th of October 2020. Prior to the protest proper, hashtag EndSARS trended heavily on the internet. Both in Nigeria and beyond, the internet was replete with the hashtag.

It all started with the gory incident at Ughelli, Delta State, where men of the Special Anti Robbery Squad, callously shot an unarmed young man in cold blood. The video of the dastardly act, went viral online, hence the volcanic eruptions of the Nigerian peoples’ feelings about the high-handedness of the men of SARS. The barbaric activities of SARS, has been a serious thorn in Nigerian peoples’ flesh, especially the youths.

In the pasts, public outcries had forced the Federal Government to attempt some sort of reforms in the police tactical unit, but those reforms haven’t been effective at all. So, after the indifferent braggadocio with which the poor boy was MURDERED in Ughelli, Delta State, Nigerians decided to firmly insist on a permanent disbandment of the murderous police tactical unit, hence the #EndSARS campaign, which first started online, before going offline!

Shortly after the commencement of the offline/streets protests, Lagos and Abuja immediately become the hotspots of the struggle. Very angry and hurting Nigerians, especially the youths, occupied some strategic parts of Lagos and Abuja, insisting that they won’t disperse until their demands are met, and proven to have been implemented as well.

The campaign quickly disseminated to other parts of Southern Nigeria, Enugu State inclusive.

On the 13th of October, Enugu State citizens held their own protest, in solidarity with the nationwide campaign for an effective end to SARS. On that day, the likes of Flavour, Phyno, Zoro, KC Limpopo etc, all turned up for the peaceful protest. The crowd was literally overwhelming. And the protest was 100% peaceful. But unfortunately, the Governor of Enugu State wasn’t available to address Ndi Enugu on 13th.

The Governor’s absence on 13th, now warranted another peaceful protest on the 16th. This is to show how much love Ndi Enugu have for their Governor; albeit an unmerited and undeserved love. On the 16th, Enugu people trooped out en mass for the second protest. This time, the Governor addressed the crowd. The emptiness and banality of the Governor’s remarks, elicited a very terse reply from the crowd, such that they chanted that Enugu State is in the Governor’s hands; not God’s. Also, Chibuzor Nelson Azubuike, a.k.a Phyno Fino also asked the Governor a very relevant and pertinent question, which the Governor couldn’t reply anything substantial. The protest of 16th was also relatively peaceful.

Events of the #EndSARS campaign in Enugu State, continued alongside that of other major places in Nigeria. Meanwhile, a Federal Government announcement that SARS has been dismantled effectively, had even come before the 13th Enugu State protest. Nigerian youths wanted to see the disbandment take visible effects. They also started raising other demands not part of their initial demand of #EndSARS, but extremely relevant and crucial. The additional demands, albeit very pertinent, irked the Federal Government for no just reason, hence the stalemate.

Furthermore, the immediate announcement of a replacement of SARS with SWAT, also irked the protesting youths, hence a continuously widening gap between the protesters and the Government.

The stalemate now created an avenue for infiltration of the peaceful protesters with hoodlums that were clearly “sponsored” by some unscrupulous elements that wants the protesters to disperse at all costs. The infiltration now introduced violence into the protest; yet the sincere and decent protesters stood their ground!
On 20th, in a desperate attempt to disperse the protesters, Lagos State declared a 24hrs that was initially billed to take effect by 16:00hrs; but the starting was allegedly shifted to 21:00hrs; so as to give room for people to get home from their working and business places.

Unfortunately, before it’s even 9 0’clock in the evening, security operatives that their true identity is still mired in controversies and denials, stormed Lekki Tollgate, where peaceful protesters have been occupying. There was shootings that left a good number of the unarmed peaceful protesters dead. Casualty figures differ from various sources: BBC reported 20 dead, Amnesty Int’l reported 12, while live witness accounts confirmed that as much as 78 protesters were mowed down.

The news quickly gained weighty international and local publicity, such that the backlashes and condemnations on the part of Government were numerous and strong. Emotions were scorched. Other Nigerian States were appalled and indignant.

On 21st, across Nigeria, Enugu inclusive, widespread protests held. This time, it wasn’t so peaceful as people are severely hurting with the Lekki tollgate shootings. Emotions were raw…

The protest in Enugu was overtly rowdy and violent. Security Operatives responded with excessive force, life bullets were sprayed on the protesters, hence a good number of people died in Enugu on 21st. Most of the recorded fatalities were mostly victims of the excessive forced applied by the security operatives. Not less than 7 persons were killed on the 21st.

Consequently, the State Government quickly declared an indefinite 24hrs Curfew in Enugu South, East and North LGs. A very rash and clumsy decision, given the bloody way that of Lagos State turned out. Nevertheless, Enugu copied and pasted incompetence from Lagos State.

As anticipated, the Curfew couldn’t control the uprising, the only thing it did was to embolden the trigger happy Security Operatives to go on rampage. After all, the State Government has declared a 24hrs curfew. Enugu people continued to die in the hands of police and military men. The State Government feigned complete ignorance of the killings. Although, some of the protesters were violent and lawless, but does that justify the recklessness of the security men?

On the 22 and 23, reports of more killings across Enugu metropolis were recorded. Vandalism and torching of buildings, banks and other properties, continued as well.

But on the 24th, the worst happened! Across Nigeria, starting from Lagos State, looting of storerooms of Covid-19 palliatives became the norm. Rumours of Enugu’s store being at Queens Secondary School started circulating everywhere. On the 23rd night, it was like the entirety of Enugu citizens have decided to go check it out themselves. Tension was very high, given the fact that the school houses teenage girls. But never in the circulating rumours was it suggested that the security of the school girls will be in danger. Everyone was just focused on locating the storeroom housing the palliatives.

In the wee hours of 24th, the first group that wanted to gain entrance to the school were repelled with an unparalleled lethal force ever. Crowds that were completely unarmed, were sprayed with rain of live bullets from the State Government’s security operatives. Stray bullet killed an innocent young that wasn’t even part of the group. A petrol attendant at a gas station in Nkpokiti junction. He died on the spot. Other persons were also killed in other places. On the 24th, at least 4 persons died in the hands of security men that are working to enforce Gburugburu’s directives.

An indelible mark was recorded in Enugu State history on “24/10/2020,” that Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi directed security operatives to shoot hungry people that are unarmed, simply because they wanted to locate where the corrupt officials hid relief materials, when hunger is killing people in the State. Hunger that was largely induced by the cluelessness of people in power. It forced people out, and they met their untimely deaths in the hands of those that are supposed to be protecting them. What an unforgettable horrible history!

Comrade Ifeanyi Obute, the South East coordinator of Eyes on Democracy of Nigeria EDON, and a public affairs analyst, writes from Enugu. [email protected]

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