By Arthur Madumere, Owerri
Another round of tension is building in Lagos State as Nigerian youths are bent on occupying Lekki tollgate, where Nigerian security forces opened fire on unarmed protesters last October over the government’s plan to release the plaza back to its owners, the Lekki Concession Company (LCC).
While some are speaking against the handing over of the tollgate back to LCC for repairs and to begin operations, others are speaking in favour of the ruling.
Members of the judicial panel set up by the Lagos State government to investigate the October 20th, 2020 incident, last Saturday voted 5-4 in favour of the proposed handover.
Young people mobilizing through social media have called out the panel for approving the release of the tollgate while an investigation is ongoing. Many are vexed that the government has not owned up to the killing of unarmed protesters who marched against police brutality on that infamous night of October 20th, 2020.
The events of that day at Lekki culminated in large scale violence that grounded the State.
Ondo State government, Rotimi Akeredolu, who led a delegation of Southwest governors to Lagos State on October 25th, 2020, said that he believe that the violence was “well coordinated and funded.”
The military initially denied their presence at the tollgate describing such news reports as “fake”. It later reneged and alluded that it was invited to the scene by Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-olu and that its personnel never shot live rounds ammunition at the protesters.
But Amnesty International insisted that the Nigerian forces killed at least twelve protesters and accused the Nigerian government of shielding those responsible.
Youths miffed by the government position have been pushing the hashtag #OccupyLekkiTollgate since Sunday night and was number one in Nigeria’s Twitter trend table for several hours on Monday. They have also shared and reshared graphics and tweets for mobilization for a protest on Saturday at the Lekki Tollgate.
But their vexation started to face resistance by Monday night. The opposing side also took to Twitter to express plans for a counter protest planned for Saturday at Lekki plaza tagged #DefendLagos protest.
For every #OccupyLekkiTollgate, there’s a corresponding #DefendLagos and #DemNoBornYourPapaWell tweet.
LCC, through it’s counsel, have been praying the panel to allow it take over the plaza for repairs and insurance claims since December 2020. But the panel earlier said the toll plaza could not be handed over as a forensic expert has been contracted by the Lagos State government to examine the tollgate with respect to the October 20th shooting.
On January 5th sitting, Doris Okuwobi, the panel chairperson, said the government has paid a forensic expert to examine the scene of the Lekki shooting and LCC needs to wait for the results as it is needed in the inquiry. The matter was adjourned till February 6th, 2021, as forensic report is expected on February 2nd, 2021.
But on Saturday, instead of the report of the forensic examination to be read during the sitting, the judge made no comment on the forensic report, while the LCC was allowed to proceed with its application.
Okuwobi, a retired judge, said the forensic report is ready and the panel is satisfied “but would not wait till the termination of the petition before it hands over the control of Lekki to LCC.”
After the panel’s chair ruling, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, and a member of the panel, led three other members to oppose the ruling of the judge. Adegboruwa, Patience Udoh (lawyer and human rights activist) and the two youths representatives -Rinuola Oduola and Temitope Majekodunmi, said the decision of the other members of the panel does not represent theirs.
Adegboruwa said the hand over of the plaza at this time is “hasty, premature and will overreach the work and eventual recommendation of the panel”, he concluded.