6 min readReadA Sad SARS Sequel

Months after the tragic events of Lekki Toll Gate, protesters against the facility´s reopening recount the SARS-like treatment suffered at the hands of policemen.

 After finishing his night shift as a security guard in Lekki Phase One, Kayode Adekambi headed home. It was the morning of Feb. 13, 2021. He was going to rest for the day before beginning another shift later that evening. 

During the walk to his house, he had reached Sandfill Bus-Stop when he heard someone shout, “watch your back!” He turned and realized it was a plain-clothed policeman. But before he could ask why, he had already been grabbed and was being dragged towards a black Maria stationed in the middle of the road.

While still disoriented, he was pushed into the police van, where he met five others, including the popular comedian Debo “Mr. Macaroni” Adebayo.

 The police would later arrest more people, picking up passersby and protesters as they showed up for the much-publicized second phase of the #EndSARS protest. 

In all, forty people were arrested in an attempt to quash the latest wave of the protest, which was organized against the reopening of the Lekki Toll Gate. 

Many peaceful protestors were allegedly injured and murdered by armed soldiers at the Lekki Toll Gate during October 2020’s #EndSARS protest, leading to the place becoming a symbol of the movement.

The Lagos State Judicial Panel on Inquiry and Restitution for SARS Victims, led by former Justice Doris Okuwobi, had green-lighted the reopening of the toll months after the violence, much to the dissatisfaction of many youth.

“This is not the time to reopen the toll gate,” Mr. Macaroni, who has become a poster-boy for the youth activism at the heart of the #EndSARS protest, said. “Have we gotten justice for anything that happened last year? Families left in years of sorrow because they lost loved ones.”

 A day before the planned protest, the Nigeria Police Force deployed over a hundred fully armed anti-riot police officers to the protest ground. When the protesters trickled in, they were outnumbered and easily picked out. 

Damilare Adenola, 26, was the first person to be arrested at the Toll Gate.

Before late morning, not less than 40 people had been arrested and taken to Adeniji Adele police station, where they were allegedly tortured.

 “It was like a comeback of SARS,” says Moshood Oshunfunrewa, who was arrested alongside Adenola. “We were beaten, battered, and dehumanized. We were told to look down with our hands tied while we were being beaten. I was trying to dodge a blow from one officer when another hit me with his knee. It hit my right eye and my eyes got cut.”

 In a video that went viral on social media, some of the detainees were tied up and crammed into a bus while they were being filmed by the police. “Even animals are shown love,” Olushi Abdulfatai, another victim, says. “We were treated worse than animals.”

The experiences narrated by the protesters range from outrageous to totally bizarre.  

 “We were asked to remove our clothes – or to tear it off our bodies if we aren’t fast enough,” reveals Morgan Rogers, another victim of the humiliation. “They were using sticks to play with our genitals.”

The victims are convinced the abuse by the policemen was premeditated. They claim the policemen were bent on ¨making a statement¨, while they suspect they (the policemen) were also acting on orders from their superiors. 

The officers, the victims observed, never referred to themselves by their names, but by their posts. Some also wore casual branded police T shirts, while others, who had on full police gear, had their name tags conveniently concealed. 

 “They beat the hell out of us,” Kayode Adekambi recounts. “They told us that had the arrest been made in the night, they would have killed us straight away.”

“Even if a criminal was the one that got this kind of treatment,” Kayode continues, “he would have given up.”

The victims are convinced they can identify the policemen if given the opportunity.

“They were up to 20, and if you line them up, I can identify 17 out of them,” says Kayode. “The officer that kicked me in the eye has a scar on his face. I could see the scar even though he wore headgear. I later saw him at Panti after he had changed his clothes.”

“We were packed in an 18-seater bus and asked to lap ourselves in threes,” Olushi Abdulfatai adds. “This bus was kept in the sun for over an hour, with us inside.”

It was after a three-hour ordeal at the Adeniji Adele Police station that all 40 protesters, sporting various degrees of injuries, were transferred to the State Crime Investigation Department office in Yaba.

Nelson Olanipekun, the Team Lead at Gavel, one of the NGOs that offered pro bono legal services to the protesters, has condemned the torture on the protesters. 

“There is an anti-torture act, but the problem is implementation,¨ he explains. ¨If people are protesting against police brutality and in the same protest they are still being brutalised, it shows that the police have not learnt their lesson.”

Kayode, who describes what was supposed to be his day of rest as a “day to forget”, says his bag was returned to him empty after his torture, while his phone and N55,000 cash were gone.

“If I had gone for the protest, all these things wouldn’t have hurt as much,” Kayode laments. “But I was just [minding my business] on my own, only to end up being treated this way in my own country.”

Once his bail was secured, Kayode was already too late for his night shift, but he went anyway, fearing he might lose his job.

Meanwhile, almost a month after the protest, the Magistrate struck out the case against all 40 protesters. At the hearing of the case on March 12, the representative of the government notified the judge of their intent to drop the case, which the judge heeded to.

“The judge however ordered that all our belongings and missing items should be returned to everyone,” Moshood Oshunfunrewa reveals.