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 in Lagos, Nigeria, on October 20. This story, written by Nicholas Ibekwe and originally published in PT, is republished here through a partnership-sharing agreement. Read Part I of the story here.
Over a 10-day period in October, massive protests in Nigeria were held throughout the country against police brutality.
On October 20, a shooting occurred at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, where protesters had gathered as part of the mass, youth-led movement against #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.
The Lekki stampede
Residents reported that when the shooting started, a stampede occurred. They said some of the protesters ran into their community to take cover from flying bullets.
PT reporter Ibekwe spoke to a mother who showed him bruises on her daughter’s knee, which she claimed she got during the stampede.
They said some of the protesters ran into the lagoon in the panic that ensued. Agboola Kapko, a fisherman who lives in the community, explained how he rescued some protesters who ran into the lagoon.
I dey for that side [points] before dey start to shoot. Many people run enter water. I can’t leave them like that to die so I help many people comot for inside water and they come safe. I carry many people go another way, go put dem and they follow that way go.
I was at that side [points] before the shooting started. Many people ran into the water [canal]. I couldn’t leave them to drown, so I had to help as many people out of the water to safety. I carried many people to another place, we kept them there and they walked out from that path.
Kakpo’s wife showed Ibekwe her bruised, swollen hand. She said she sustained the injury when she fell while trying to run from the shooting.
‘No scratch of blood’
During a CNN interview on October 26, Lagos State Governor Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu said that when he visited the toll gate, he did not find a “scratch of blood.” However, verified video and photo evidence as well as witnesses and victims’ accounts, contradict the governor’s claim.
In one graphic photo circulating online, a young man is shown wearing a zip sweatshirt over a Versace T-shirt, with his head lying in a pool of blood. Witnesses said that the man was shot in the head by police officers who arrived after soldiers left the scene.
Photo verification tools such as Google and Bing reverse searches and TinEye image search indicated that the photo had not previously appeared anywhere else online.
In one video, protesters were seen tying a tourniquet to the bloodied leg of a victim with a belt. The unidentified man wriggled in pain. He had been shot in the leg. In yet another video, a bloodied man laid lifeless, with the Nigerian flag on his hand as a man tried to revive him.
Footage posted on Twitter of the desolation at the Lekki Toll Gate the morning after the attack indicated a man showing a large bloodstain patch at the scene of the shooting.
This video was shot on 21st October, a day after the #LekkiMassacre. An eye witness walks around the Lekki Tollgate, showing blood stains of victims.#leadership #sanwoolu #SoroSokeGeneration #Rinu WE WILL NEVER FORGET
Rest In Peace #LekkiTollGateShooting #BlackTuesdayNigeria pic.twitter.com/UQsvDlCuLT
— Elevation News Today (@ElevationToday) October 27, 2020
Victims tell their stories
Nicholas Okpe was an active protester and volunteer during the #EndSARS demonstrations when he was shot at Lekki Toll Gate on October 20.
When PT reporter Ibekwe visited Okpe at the emergency unit of Grandville Hospital in Ajah, he could barely sit up and wore a patch on his right chest where a bullet pierced him. A tube attached just under his right rib cage drained blood and puss into a container placed on the floor. The bullet was still lodged in Okpe’s chest, awaiting consultation.
Ikemefuna, a doctor caring for Okpe, said he was in a critical state when he was admitted and that he was lucky to be alive. “He is getting better. He is not on oxygen anymore. God, so good it [the bullet] hit him on the right. It pushed his lung to the side. He still needs further review,” she said.
He told PT that his case was so critical that three hospitals rejected him before Grandville accepted to treat him. The ordeal has been traumatic.
“I’m passing through a lot of pains. I am always in pain. Anytime I cry out they will just give me pain killers and they will go. When that pain killer expires the pain will come again. My head is just too heavy for me with pains,” he said.
Okpe also said he saw the soldiers take aim at CCTV cameras at the toll gate before he was hit.
Raymond Simon, a church instrumentalist, was not a protester at Lekki Toll Gate, but his desire to help put his life at risk. Simon told PT he was at a rehearsal that evening and was returning home on his motorcycle when he decided to take some of those injured during the shooting to hospitals.
Returning to the scene after making a third trip from nearby Reddington Hospital, he was ambushed by police officers at the toll gate who viciously attacked him.
One police officer tried to shoot him but a fellow officer pushed him away. Simon said another officer with a bayonet attached to his rifle aimed to stab him in the neck, but he quickly moved his head and the blade hit his chin.
“After I was stabbed, they abducted me alongside a corpse. They were driving us around the area and I suspect they were looking for where to abandon the corpse. When they got to Ilasan area [a residential community in Lekki, Lagos], they pushed me down. My hands were tied to the back,” he said.
He said the police officers drove off with the other presumably dead person. He later managed to find his way to a hospital where he received care before being discharged.
He said his motorcycle was stolen during the attack.
Abandoned by Lagos government
The Nigerian government claims that protesters who were injured would be treated fully free of charge, but PT spoke with several injured protesters whose accounts contradict this claim.
PT spoke with protester Divine Bassey, who said his right hand was wounded when a bullet pierced it while at Lekki Toll Gate, but that he received no formal medical care for the injury.
And PT also spoke with protester Patrick Ukala, who was shot in his right arm during the Lekki Toll Gate shooting. Ukala told PT the bullet is still lodged in his arm, pending an X-ray, which has been difficult to get due to a lack of equipment at Grandville hospital, where he originally received care.
The victims said the state government has not contributed a dime to their treatments.
And when PT reporter Ibekwe visited Okpe at Grandville Trauma Center, he met a team from the Lagos State Ministry of Health, which came with its media crew to interview the victims. Okpe said that was the last he saw of any government official.
“Since the day you saw those people [officials of the Lagos Ministry of Health] there they have never come there, nor did they speak with the doctor. Finally, the doctor has asked us to leave.”
Okpe was discharged with the bullet still lodged in his chest. He also has not been operated on to remove the bullet in his arm.
When Grandville Trauma Centre was reached for comment, Doctor Adebayo, a hospital employee, confirmed that all victims of the Lekki Toll Gate shooting had been discharged.
“Some that need extra consultations with specialists, we sent them there. We didn’t operate him [Okpe] here. Probably, they will operate [on] him wherever he goes [next],” she said.
Hospitals cite government intimidation
Some hospital owners in Lagos complained to PT that the Lagos State Ministry of Health was using its Health Facility Monitoring and Accreditation Agency (HEFAMAA), the organisation responsible for registering healthcare facilities in the state, to intimidate them.
They said HEFAMAA sent out an online questionnaire requesting details of injured #EndSARS protesters were treated at their facilities, a move they said could be used to “arm-twist” them into providing information which might breach doctor-patient confidentiality.
They said they were particularly worried about the section of the form requesting their registration numbers.
When reached for comment on Wednesday, October 28, Lagos Ministry of Health spokesperson Tunbosun Ogunbanwo asked for questions via SMS but was yet to respond at the time PT published this story on October 31.