- BBC News World
The largest protests in decades took place in Nigeria in 2020, when thousands of young people took to the streets to demonstrate against police brutality.
But on October 20, the Nigerian army opened fire on protesters at the Lekki toll station in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest and most populous city.
Even though the shooting was filmed on mobile phones and even streamed live on Instagram, the military denies that it happened and says it was ‘fake news’.
The government has called it “a massacre without blood or bodies.”
One year later, Nigerian authorities they continue to deny that the events occurred.
The BBC’s Yemisi Adegoke was investigating what happened that day. He spoke with relatives of some of the deceased, who say they are still looking for answers.
Why were people protesting in Lagos?
The Special Anti-Theft Squad, known as SARS, was a police unit created in 1992 to combat a wave of armed robberies carried out by criminal gangs in Lagos and other cities in southern Nigeria.
But over the years SARS became known for his excessive use of force and brutality.
Then, in October 2020, a video allegedly showing SARS members shooting a man, and then stealing his car, went viral.
The authorities denied that SARS was responsible for the events. But after years of fears and frustrations about the squad, the hashtag #EndSARS (End SARS) became a trend on Twitter.
And in a few days the protests began, the biggest seen in decades in the country.
Olalekan Abideen, also known as Biggie, used to regularly attend protests at the Lekki tollbooth, as one of his relatives, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the BBC.
“He was not someone who held grudges, he was a happy person. In our area he was popular because he was very sociable and open. Whatever I needed, he always supported me.”
“There are so many things that I miss about him,” she adds.
“They shot him in the ribs”
Despite the government’s announcement then that it would disband SARS, the protests continued.
The government declared that “ruffians” had taken over the demonstrations. And to keep the situation under control, the governor of Lagos announced a 24-hour curfew, which began at 4 pm on that October 20.
A group located at the Lekki toll station defied the governor’s order. Among them was Victor Sunday.
“He was a comedian. He liked to do comedy and sing,” his brother, Elisha Sunday, tells the BBC.
“My brother was very important to me. He was my right hand,” he adds.
He says that Victor arrived at the toll booth in the afternoon and that it was the first time he had attended a protest.
Also in that group was Abouta Solomon.
“He was a very nice young man. He respected me,” says his brother Nathaniel.
“Whatever I asked him to do, he would do it. He was the one who took my children to school and picked them up to bring them home.”
That day Nathaniel received a call informing him that Abouta had been shot. And he ran to the place.
“I saw a crowd surrounding my brother, who was lying on the ground,” he says. “When I saw it, I passed out.”
“They shot him in the ribs, from the side.”
There is a video showing Abouta on the ground. It was recorded by his aunt, whose voice is heard in the background.
Days after the shooting Nathaniel took his brother’s body to his village to bury him.
If this evidence exists, why do some continue to refer to the events as “fake news”?
The first to cast doubt on the events of that day was the eNigerian army, who posted on Twitter that the event was “fake news.”
A week later he admitted that there were soldiers present at the Lekki station, but indicated that they “did not open fire on any civilians.”
Subsequently the army changed its position for the third time.
“The soldiers were stoned upon arrival, and responded by firing bullets into the air,” Brigadier General Ahmed Taiwo declared during the investigations into the events.
“There were undoubtedly peaceful protesters, but there were also thugs who tried to take advantage,” he said.
When asked if the soldiers stationed at the Lekki tollbooth were armed with blanks as well as projectiles, the general replied in the affirmative.
After admitting that the soldiers were armed with ammunition, the army refused to respond to further requests to testify in the investigation process.
But what happened to the other authorities who were present that day?
Immediately after the shooting, the governor of Lagos visited local hospitals what he described as “shooting victims”.
He also called the incident “the hardest night of our lives.”
A doctor from one of the hospitals later spoke on television of “overwhelming” scenes when dozens of people with gunshot wounds arrived at his emergency room.
Elisha Sunday scoured the hospitals looking for her brother Victor.
“I was looking for [en todas partes]. I even looked in the General Hospital of Lagos and in another hospital, in many places … but I could not find it. So far I haven’t found it. ”
“I would like to see my brother’s body, because he is my brother and I am supposed to bury him,” he told the BBC.
Amnesty International estimates that at least 12 people died in two places of the protest during the night of October 20.
But many people are too afraid to speak. The BBC saw the threats that some have received, with messages telling them to shut up.
However, every video that was filmed that night is evidence of the fact, because when you record something on your phone, information is printed, which is called metadata.
And there are also the testimonies of those who were present.
“It was full of people everywhere. And there was a lot of blood, scattered, flowing everywhere,” says Elisha Sunday.
“The traffic lights and cameras were broken. They destroyed everything.”
But Nigerian Information Minister Lai Mohammed disagrees.
“The evidence available so far points to the first case in the world of a massacre without blood or corpses,” he said.
What happened since then
Thus, to this day there are still some people who maintain that no one died at the Lekki toll station on October 20.
What do the relatives of those who died that day think?
“People died, there were deaths. I saw it,” Biggie’s relative tells the BBC.
“A member of my family was killed at the Lekki tollbooth, that’s where they killed him,” he adds.
But did anything change in Nigeria after the protests of the likes of Victor, Biggie and Abouta?
In the last year, national commissions have been created to investigate police brutality. And some families have received compensation for damages caused by SARS.
But no one has been held responsible for the shootings at the Lekki toll station.
“I miss a lot of things, because there is no one I can sit with and talk to or give us advice,” says Nathaniel Solomon.
“We went to this protest for our own good and for the future of our children. If I had known something bad would happen to my brother, I would have told him not to go anywhere.”
It is not yet clear who sent the army to the Lekki toll station and ordered them to fire on the protesters.
The presidency has said that Investigations into the incident continue.
But a year later, perhaps the question is not whether the shooting took place, but who gave the order.
Now you can receive notifications from BBC Mundo. Download the new version of our app and activate them.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.