Editor’s note: After days of extensive reporting, Premium Times (PT) can now paint a clearer picture of what happened at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20. This story, written by Nicholas Ibekwe and originally published in PT, is republished here through a partnership sharing agreement. Read Part II of the story here.
At about 6:45 p.m. [West African Time] on October 20, men in military uniform arrived at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, in three Toyota Hilux vans and almost immediately began shooting into a crowd of peaceful protesters waving the Nigerian flag and reciting the national anthem.
The protesters were at Lekki Toll Gate as part of a mass, youth-led movement against police brutality, known as #EndSARS, demanding the dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a tactical unit of the Nigerian Police, whose members were accused of atrocities including extortion, rape, abduction, torture and extrajudicial killings.
READ MORE: Global Voices Special Coverage — #EndSARS: A youth movement to end police brutality in Nigeria
Protesters and other witnesses at Lekki Toll Gate claimed several people were injured and killed in the shooting.
A popular Disc Jockey, DJ Switch, who streamed the incident live on Instagram, told Premium Times that the soldiers took the dead away. She also claimed that a team of police officers arrived later to mop up after the soldiers.
She said the military initially prevented first responders and ambulances from reaching the injured but later allowed them through. She also said she saw at least 15 corpses and claimed that security agents took the bodies away.
However, Lagos State Governor Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, who described the shooting as a “dark note in the history of the state” and blamed the shooting on forces beyond the “direct control” of his government, originally said no lives were lost in the shooting.
He later admitted in an interview on October 22, that two persons died from the incident — one of them from blunt force trauma.
On Monday, October 26, during an interview on CNN, Sanwo-Olu continued to discredit witness accounts about the number of dead and wounded. He said he found no bloodstains when he visited the scene:
What has happened is that there have been so many footages that were seen, that people have shown, but we have not seen bodies,” he said. “We have not seen relatives, we have not seen anybody truly coming out to say I am a father or a mother to someone and I cannot find that person. Nobody has turned up. I have been to the ground, there is no scratch of blood anywhere there.
Despite accounts by witnesses and video posted online, the Nigerian Army denied that its personnel fired upon protesters.
The army initially claimed its troops were not at Lekki that night. However, it later admitted that soldiers were deployed at the request of the Lagos State government. The army, however, insists that its personnel did not open fire on the protesters, let alone kill anyone.
The #EndSARS protests
As part of the #EndSARS movement, protesters across Nigeria asked for investigations into the allegations against SARS personnel as well as the immediate suspension of officers accused of committing atrocities.
For at least 10 days, protests — especially in Lagos and Abuja — were conducted peacefully, despite attacks on protesters by suspected pro-government hoodlums.
In one instance in the Ketu area of Lagos, on October 19, rival street gangs capitalized on the protests to attack one another.
On the morning of October 20, the protests in some parts of Lagos, especially at Orile and Mushin, turned violent after police officers shot some protesters. The Orile and Mushin police stations were razed by angry mobs. At least one police officer was lynched, and several others injured in the riots that ensued.
The Lagos curfew
In a move to check the violence that was beginning to spread across the state, at around noon on October 20, Governor Sanwo-Olu announced a statewide curfew.
Protesters at Alausa and Lekki Toll Gate — both epicenters for demonstrations — defied the curfew but remained peaceful.
Just after 3:30 p.m, officials believed to be from the company managing the toll gate, Lekki Concession Company (LCC), arrived and removed equipment initially thought by activists to be CCTV cameras. Authorities later claimed that the CCTV cameras at the facility remained intact and that its footage would be released to the panel probing the shooting.
Protesters who survived the attack said lights, including streetlights and a large electronic billboard which illuminated the toll gate area, were turned off just before the attack to possibly provide a cover for the brutal assault on peaceful protesters.
The advertising company that owns the electronic billboard at the Lekki toll gate, however, said it deactivated its facility in compliance with the curfew declared by Governor Sanwo-Olu, unaware that tragedy would later strike at the location.
The Lekki shooting: Checking facts
Premium Times newspaper’s investigative team set out to unravel what actually happened on the evening of October 20, at Lekki Toll gate, during the shooting and the hours that followed.
Sodiq Adeoye, an employee of research firm SBM Intelligence, informed PT reporter Nicholas Ibekwe after the shooting that some residents found [graphic video, viewers discretion advised] a body floating in the lagoon just behind their houses in the highbrow neighborhood of Admiralty Way, Lekki Phase 1, about two kilometers from the Lekki Toll Gate.
Adeoye said the residents suspected the floating body could be one of the protesters fired upon by soldiers.
At PT’s request, Adeoye sent a brief time-stamped video of the corpse floating in the water. A Google map coordinate he sent indicated that the body was floating close to Bay Lounge, an upscale restaurant.
At around 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 24, PT reporter Ibekwe drove to the Nigerian Army Post Exchange (NAPEX) Car Park Jetty in Victoria Island, where he and his team hired a boat to search for the body.
As the boat approached the banks of the lagoon, Ibekwe realized that those living in a nearby Lekki Toll Gate shanty, shown in the video below, likely witnessed the October 20 crackdown and had information.
When Ibekwe visited this community, residents immediately offered up gruesome details of what they had witnessed, as evident in this video:
Some residents claimed they were there at the time of the shooting and suffered bullet wounds and other injuries while running for their lives when the shootings started. They also alleged that several people were killed and injured by soldiers. They also corroborated the story told by DJ Switch and other protesters that after the shooting, soldiers took deceased bodies away.
One anonymous source told PT: “Even the one that died in our presence, wey be say the ekelabe [“policemen”] carry am go. They shot am there.”
Even the one that died in our presence, the policemen carried him away. They shot him there.
A second source who goes by Ray told PT:
Let me tell you something. This is my country. I am not afraid of anything. Let me say what I saw on that day. I was here from the beginning to the end of everything. What the soldiers and police did was absolutely wrong. Why would soldiers come and shoot on us when we were having a peaceful protest?
When asked if he saw soldiers carry bodies away, Ray responded: “Of course, I saw dead bodies. They packed bodies. They came with their vans. Their trucks.”
Ray expressed displeasure that Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari did not mention the Lekki shooting in his broadcast to the nation on October 22. Ray also said that Sanwo-Olu visited Lekki Toll Gate early Wednesday morning and saw some of the dead.
Why is Sanwo-Olu denying? Because immediately after, when [the Lekki shooting] happened Sanwo-Olu himself came. He came. He parked at the toll gate. He saw some dead bodies on the ground. Why is he denying?
Ray’s account was also corroborated by other residents.
Residents also alleged that after the soldiers who initially opened fire on the protesters left the scene, police officers, led by Chief Superintendent of Police Raji Ganiyu, and the divisional police officer (DPO) of the nearby Maroko Police Division, arrived at the scene and continued to attack defiant protesters.
One anonymous resident said in Nigerian Pidgin: “DPO of Maroko we see am face-to-face wey e blow one person head pull the skull off. Pistol. E wear white and white.”
We watched the DPO of Maroko as he blew the skull off one person’s head with his pistol. He was wearing a white native attire.
Some residents showed PT spent bullet casings they collected at the toll gate after the shooting. According to the group that spoke with PT, they accuse Ganiyu and his team of shooting and killing some protesters, including a man with mental illness who was often seen around the area.
“What of the mad boy, wey! He [was] shot for our front here. Close range. There was a guy that was abnormal, he sat at that speaker. [DPO] just came immediately, saw the boy, the boy didn’t do anything. He didn’t run, he didn’t harass him, he just removed his pistol and blew the boy’s head,” said another anonymous resident.
Ganiyu declined to respond when reached for comment and redirected all requests to the Lagos police public relations department.
Also, public relations officer Muyiwa Adejobi said that any questions about the Lekki Toll Gate shooting would be decided by the judicial panel of inquiry set up by the state government to investigate alleged atrocities committed by law enforcement officers.
“No comment on this for now,” he told PT.
After speaking with several shanty residents, PT’s investigative team left in search of the floating corpse. About 300 meters after the toll gate on the Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge and about 100 meters from Bay Lounge, they saw the [graphic video, viewers discretion advised] corpse floating near the lagoon banks.
The swollen, decomposing corpse appeared to be a male with a slight beard, wearing blue denim jeans and a flimsy white singlet, with a rubber band on the left wrist. He is believed to have died in the Lekki Toll Gate shooting.