Nigerian Army at the Lekki Toll Gate
from Africa in Transition, Africa Program, and Nigeria on the Brink

Nigerian Army at the Lekki Toll Gate

'End Sars' drawing, referring to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad police unit, is pictured at the Lekki toll gate after days of unrest in Lagos, Nigeria on October 24, 2020.
'End Sars' drawing, referring to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad police unit, is pictured at the Lekki toll gate after days of unrest in Lagos, Nigeria on October 24, 2020. Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

On the night of October 20, Nigerian army units attacked demonstrators calling for the abolition of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), an elite police unit known for its brutality. Demonstrators were killed—the army acknowledged two, but demonstrators and human rights groups said the number was far higher. The army first claimed that it had not used live ammunition. Now, the army acknowledges that it did—to counter "hoodlums" that had infiltrated the demonstrators.

CNN has conducted an investigation of the Lekki episode, and it has broadcast horrifying footage that leaves little doubt that the army fired on peaceful demonstrators with live ammunition. The unanswered questions are “why?” and “who gave the orders?” Officially, the answers will be forthcoming following a "judicial panel of inquiry." Yet, the government has not acknowledged any wrongdoing. The most likely outcome is that there will never be any answers or that the results of a credible investigation will not be made public.

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Episodes like Lekki, and the refusal of either the federal government or the Lagos state government to be forthcoming, are reasons for the profound alienation of many Nigerians—from the army and the police, but also more generally from the Nigerian political system, as I discuss in my forthcoming book, Nigeria and Nation-State: Rethinking Diplomacy with the Postcolonial World. The Lekki episode also calls attention to the risks of the United States and others becoming identified with the Nigerian army.

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