Justice Cornelius Akintayo, the Chairman of the Ekiti State Judicial Panel, called out the next case. A man stepped forward with his daughter. She limped towards her father who had stood up and was addressing the members of the panel. The case was said to involve a minor, but Justice Cornelius, when he saw the girl, said she couldn’t be a minor. He asked for her age. She was 18. She wore a top and tied a wrapper. In a few minutes, Justice Cornelius adjourned the case and asked the man to return on the December 1, 2020.
Mr Oso walked out. His daughter Caroline followed behind him. And I went after them. There was something in his voice when he addressed the members of the panel. As if a great wrongdoing had been done to him. When I approached him, he looked at me with suspicion, wondering if he could trust me. He looked around to see if there was anyone else within hearing distance of what he was about to tell me.
Then after his daughter had spoken he said, “I received a call that they have shot my daughter. We removed five bullets.”
This happened on October 20, the same day the Nigerian Army massacred protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate. It was also the same day that Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, and his Lagos counterpart, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, imposed a curfew on their states.
Caroline comes off as a shy person. Her English is not perfect. And she smiles a lot. Her father’s face is creased, and full of worry. He is a keke napep driver and makes meagre wages. His wife is a petty trader in the market. Their house is along the Federal Poly Road, a major highway, where the road branches to a small dirt pathway not too far from the Maternal and Child Specialists’ Clinic. Rows of shops are to the right and left of the sandy road. A little further, a tree serves as a mechanic’s shop. One mechanic repairs cars, the other motorcycles. Planks of wood are joined together to make a bench. Cars, trucks, tricycles and motorcycles drive past. It is dry, and quiet, as if nothing ever happened here.
For two weeks, there had been ongoing protests against police brutality across Nigeria. It was the largest social movement recorded since the January 2012 Occupy Nigeria protests against fuel subsidy. The EndSARS protests cut across every youth in Nigeria. Mobilisation took place across the internet: Twitter, Whatsapp groups, Telegram groups, Facebook and phone calls. The peaceful protests which had no clear leader baffled the government as state after state, and street after street staked a claim to the unifying demand — an end to police brutality. For the first time in many years, Nigerian youths felt powerful and that their voices were being heard. In Lagos, different strategic locations were occupied. It was a modus operandi that was adopted across different states. And Ekiti State, which lies about 240km away from Lagos, was no different. The youth set up roadblocks across the state and converged mostly on Fajuyi Park. One of the places where a roadblock was set up was the Federal Poly Road. They chanted songs against the government and kept shouting out their demand: End SARS Now!
These chants were stopped around 10 a.m. when soldiers came to Poly Road and dispersed the protesters. The soldiers cleared the road for ease of traffic and went back to their location. Not long after, the protesters returned and this time created a fire on the road.
POLICE LOOK ON AS 15 GUNMEN TERRORISE THE PEOPLE
Alhaji Olowoyo is seated outside a closed shop. He has on a singlet, and is fanning himself. He was around when the protests were taking place. Three hours later, around 1pm, after the protesters had returned, close to 15 men came on motorcycles. Some covered their faces with black masks and carried pump action. Others had the kind of guns Nigerian policemen use. They wore no uniform. They didn’t look like soldiers. They didn’t look like the police. They didn’t look like they came from the civil defence either or any security unit.
“We don’t know what to call them because they wore no uniform. They started shooting as they zoomed towards protesters,” Alhaji Olowoyo said, imitating bullet sounds. A young man died on the spot. He had a young wife and a young child.
The goal of these gunmen, just like the soldiers, was to disperse protesters. It pointed to what the Nigerian government considered the focus of its problem, getting protesters off the streets by any means necessary. The gunmen quenched the fire that protesters had lit and went to the mechanic’s shop which was just beside the highway. They shot at the car the mechanic was repairing and told the mechanic to lie down flat.
“You are the ones spoiling the government,” they told him as they held a cutlass to his neck. More gunshots rang out.
About 200m from where the shooting took place was a police station. The police did not come out to help. Their gate was locked. Across Nigeria, this was the attitude of Nigerian policemen when EndSARS protesters were attacked by gunmen and hoodlums. They did nothing. These protests were a sting to the police who had never been held accountable for their actions. Who were these protesters to teach the police how to do their job? The Nigeria police had built a reputation of extrajudicial killings. At certain times, it was as if the police was a kidnapping unit. They would drive around streets in unmarked vehicles hunting for young men and women who would be their victims, demanding them to unlock their phones and scrolling through private messages and emails. Many times they marched these young men to the ATM to empty their accounts. Complaints upon complaints had gone on social media, usually leading to the hashtag #EndSARS. Promises had been made by the Inspector General of Police to look into what was the cause of the rot in the police force. But it seemed as if the more questions were asked, the more the rot continued, unabated. A 2016 report by Amnesty Nigeria found that “the majority of the victims of torture in SARS custody are poor and unable to hire legal representatives”. Despite attempts at reformation, nothing positive was recorded. SARS had been disbanded close to five times.
CAROLINE: HIT BY FIVE BULLETS, FROM BATHROOM TO THE HOSPITAL
When the gunmen started shooting at the protesters, Monday was drinking a cold bottle of coke minding his business. He was a mechanic and he repaired motorcycles. His shop was beside the shop of the mechanic who repaired cars. But on that day, his shop was closed. When he heard the gunshots, he ran into the bush. He showed me where he dived into. He now walks with the help of a walking stick. Close to the bush where he hid were houses. One of those houses was where Caroline lived. She had finished taking her shower and was outside her house when the gunmen shot at her house. By the time she gained consciousness she and another man had been rushed to Maternal and Child Specialists’ Clinic and were both rejected. They were referred to the Afe Babalola University Teaching Hospital (ABUAD). Five bullets had struck her. One on her head, one on her buttocks and the others on her back. Her father, Oso, had thought she was with her mother in the market and had gone to a site to work until he received a phone call that his daughter was hit by bullets. The man whom she had been rushed to the hospital with died. Monday was lucky. He lived. But his legs were a mess. Fourteen bullets had pierced them.
N5,000 FOR EVERY BULLET REMOVED
At ABUAD the doctors wanted to conduct an x-ray amongst other things and were asking for N11,500. Oso borrowed the money from neighbours and returned to the hospital. He asked that his daughter be discharged. He was not going to be able to afford whatever medical bills that would accrue. He was a tricycle rider who lived with his wife and child in a one-bedroom house. The bathroom was outside, demarcated only by a bedsheet for privacy. He could not afford any more bills. He wrote a letter taking responsibility for his daughter and indemnifying the hospital. At around 9pm, he brought his daughter home and took her to an Egbira man who was a traditional doctor. For every bullet removed, the traditional doctor charged N5,000. Oso spent N20,000, and till today, he still feels the pinch. Some days after the traditional doctor had removed the bullets, his daughter’s head was bleeding. One more bullet was still in her head. He took her back to the traditional doctor located the bullet and removed it. He paid another N5,000.
When I got to their house, his wife was undoing her hair. He had come to the judicial panel for some sort of justice. The men that came to shoot at the EndSARS protesters kept saying, “you people want to spoil our government.” Oso pointed to the bullet holes in his house as if questioning what he had done to deserve this.
‘YOU PEOPLE WANT TO SPOIL OUR GOVERNMENT’
A day before, on the 19th of October, the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, had declared a 24-hour curfew in the state. The next day, other governors followed suit. What was most suspicious about these imposed curfews was that the chaos caused was not by the protesters. In Lagos, the curfew was moved from 12pm to 4pm. Protesters refused to leave the places they occupied like the Lekki Toll Gate and the State Assembly at Alausa. The army was sent to both locations. While this was going on in Lagos, those in Ekiti State were facing government sanctioned thugs. The traditional doctor received more casualties whom he treated.
Monday was one of the two mechanics who worked just opposite the highway. When he was taken to the traditional doctor, he could not walk. The traditional doctor began removing the bullets lodged in his left and right legs. Monday removed his trousers showing me the bullet wounds.
“I have spent more than N170,000,” he says. “Here are the medicines I am using. To remove one bullet is N5,000. They removed 14 bullets.”
The traditional doctor took cash on the spot. More casualties were taken to him, leaving a traditional doctor tending to injuries caused by the bullets of hoodlums with some association with the government.
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