Members of the African Literary community have responded to the murder of protestors by military personnel in Lekki, Lagos, Nigeria on October 20, 2020.
In 1992, the Nigerian government set up a new outfit called the Special Anti Robbery Squad or SARS to battle rising levels of crime and kidnappings. In the last few years, the squad became a new scary reality that citizens, especially the young, have had to deal with. Its officers have been alleged to profile youths based on fashion choices, mount illegal roadblocks and searches, conduct unwarranted temperature checks, arrest without warrant, rape women, and extort young Nigerians for driving exotic vehicles and using iPhones. You can read more about this unit and its history here.
In 2017, an online campaign was started to demand the government disband the feared unit using the hashtag #EndSARS. After a hiatus, the campaign returned this year not only online but there were also demonstrations in many towns and cities across Nigeria. Many came to the support of protestors to live a life with dignity including over a hundred writers across the continent.
The Nigerian authorities announced that SARS had been scrapped and a new unit called SWAT was to be formed. There were statements from establishment figures denouncing the mainly younger demonstrators as well as reports of thugs attacking protestors with security forces either turning a blind eye or supporting the criminals overtly. The protesters did not relent and continued raising their voices.
On October 20, the governor of Lagos State Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced a 24-hour curfew starting at 4 pm. While some followed his bizarre announcement, many demonstrators at the Lekki area in the commercial hub of the West Africa nation stayed to continue raising their voices. In the evening, the lights and CCTVs in the area were switched off and the army was reported to have opened fire on the demonstrators. The number of those who were shot and injured or died on the night of October 20 cannot at this time be independently verified. The violence at that part of the country has been referred to online as the #LekkiGenocide, #LekkiMassacre, or #LagosMassacre. It is important to note that many in other parts of the country demonstrating against SARS impunity were also injured or killed on this day.
The writing community across the continent reacted swiftly with many putting out statements during and after the mess we saw in the last 24 hours. Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka spoke about his experience trying to move during the last 48 hours and has described what is happening as going back to Abacha days. He adviced governors of affected states to call for the immediate withdrawal of soldiers.
Booker Prize shortlistee Maaza Mengiste posted on Twitter, “Some of us are breaking. Some of us broke long ago. All of us are wondering how we can survive the next days, weeks, months, years. I am sending love & strength to each of you. Never, for one moment, think that you are alone.” Her fellow shortlistee Tsitsi Dangarembga shared an image with a blood-stained Nigerian flag and the words “Black Tuesday 20TH OCTOBER 2020. THE DAY NIGERIA MURDERED HER PEOPLE. #ENDPOLICEBRUTALITY #ENDSARS #ENDSWAT #FAILEDGOVERNMENT”
There have been reactions from organisations in the literary space like the Ake Festival which is set to start tomorrow. They posted on their Twitter timeline, “we‘re devastated by the gunning down of unarmed #EndSARS protesters in #Lekki and in other parts of Nigeria yesterday. To honour those we’ve lost, we’re suspending the scheduled #AkeFest20 Welcome Ceremony to host panel discussions that speak to this moment in Nigeria & Africa.”
Also giving a statement was Writers Project of Ghana whose Pa Gya! Literary Festival ended this weekend in Accra, Ghana. They said, “Writers Project of Ghana expresses deep concern over the emerging political security and safety concerns in Nigeria, particularly incidents of violence against protestors. As a writer’s organisation with collaborators around the world, including Nigeria, many of our friends and collaborators have been caught up in these incidents that threaten their very safety and lives. Of interest is the reported firing of live rounds against protestors at the Lekki Toll Booth on 20th October 2020, which has reportedly resulted in many deaths and injuries. We ask that the security apparatus exercise extreme restraint in their effort to keep the peace, and to respect the fundamental human rights of the protestors. Writers Project of Ghana stands with our colleague writers and associations in Nigeria during these difficult times and wish them strength and safety.”
Here a few other statements from writers and other personalities in the literary community starting with those who are Nigerian. The list is not conclusive.
Buhari & Gang have sown the wind; the whirlwind cometh!
How many times will your country break your heart, like this? How many times can you pick up the pieces of you and mould you back together again to continue trudging on? How many times?
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
Nobody is coming to save you.
My thoughts are with my brothers and sisters who died today fighting for justice in Nigeria. The Nigerian government has crossed a line, and there may not be going back.
What do you call a country that spills the blood of its young as if it were dirty dishwater? #StopNigeriaGovernment #EndSARSBrutalitynow #EndSARS
“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command” – George Orwell, ‘1984’.
Today the @NigeriaGov has been killing peaceful protesters asking for an end to police brutality.
What we saw yesterday was a state sanctioned genocide, period.
Following years of military disgrace by Boko Haram teens, our soldiers (fondly called Zombi-o by Fela) last night restored the Army’s glory in a battle against flag-waving #ENDSARS protesters who had attacked first with verses of Nigeria’s dangerous National Anthem #LekkiMassacre
The Buhari administration has finally divested itself of any veneer of democratic legitimacy. And it has now revealed to the world what it truly is: a murderous government of occupation propped up by bloodthirsty forces of occupation. #EndSARS #BuhariIsaMurderer #Nigeria
So heartbroken. So shaken. I don’t even know what to tweet. God please help my people at Lekki Toll Gate!! #EndSARS
They are in this abroad with us, flexing wealth looted by their parents in the Nigerian government. Your parents are killing peaceful protesters so they can keep supporting your lifestyle overseas. We see you. #EndSARS #SarsMustGo #BuhariResign
Your legacy is being written in your silence at this hour. Lekki is our Tiananmen and I promise you, Professor of Law and Pastor, that not tendering your resignation tonight is your testament writ large, that you’ll rather stay with the killers of our brothers than with us.
The youth went to the streets to protest being summarily killed and harassed by the Nigerian state. In response, twelve days later, the state sent soldiers to shoot them down. #NeverForget #EndSARS
Woke up to hear that soldiers opened fire on #EndSARS protesters at Lekki yesterday. A sad day for Nigeria. We’ve reached a tipping point now. May the souls of the martyred young people rest in peace, may we never forget their names. #EndSARS #EndBadGoveranceInNigeria
#EndSARS was never for the government. They didn’t need to be educated or corrected they knew what they were doing, sars was never a mistake. #EndSARS was for us. To bring us together
writers, visual artists, photographer. I have said this before, but it needs saying again. the government is so invested in misinformation. but we need to counter it with the truth. again, use every platform available to you to amplify this. write. document. paint. do something.
When you remember what happened today, recall this image. Let it manifest. A photograph of us at our
How the fuck does a protest over a rogue police unit degenerate into police killing people? Make it make sense. It’s madness. And the impunity: because the world is distracted by COVID19, Trump’s buffoonery and the US elections, they think they can get await with it.
No more recycling of military rulers turn democrats. No more. No more recycling of the establishment from 1999. We know who you are. No more NADECO freedom fighters turn politicians. No more in 2023! 70% pop under 40. #EndSars
Solidarity with the Nigerian youth in struggle. Protests against police violence have been going on for two weeks. The repression would have killed people today. We talk about it, but no more than that … #endsarsnow
We don’t assert our humanity+dreams for this; we aren’t made custodians of a treasured continent to end up like this. The seasoning of time on a human should not culminate in the murder of children like this. You who are given a visionary destiny, my Nigeria…please, not this.
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
The Nigerian govt opened fire on its citizens with the world watching in real time. Pure cruel carnage is the response the state gives when it is asked to #EndSARS
It makes me think of #Marikana & #FeesMustFall. The entire continent needs to change regime.
Something devastating happened last night. Forces from the Nigerian government opened fire on Nigerian citizens who were part of the #EndSARS protests in Lekki. A middle class neighbourhood. We are outraged, as we should be. I hope we are equally outraged at the deaths of those among the working classes and we are saying their names. The Nigerian government needs to account for the death of everyone who died yesterday. Equally, they need to account and prosecute every death at the hands of SARS in working class neighbourhoods. Because All Nigerian Lives should matter.
if you hide behind a desk
sign away the lives of the masses
your police bold from your shared values
brotherhood of green
blindness of stolen years
your armed men feeding on pain
the white in your green turned red
from your people’s bleeding
you’ve failed as a leader
Nii Ayikwei Parkes
Who will hold the Nigerian government accountable? All our African governments operate from the same playbook of cruel cowardice. Nigeria today, Zimbabwe tomorrow. They are all killing us. As African citizens we are on our own. #EndSARS
“…you will not be able to stay home, brother; you will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out…” —The Revolution Will Not Be Televised by Gil-Scott Heron.
We stand in solidarity with the people of Nigeria to demand an end to state sanctioned violence and police brutality. #EndSARS
The Cheeky Natives
Are we waiting for another 1,000,000 bodies in 100 days before intervening? Have we not learnt anything?
Imagine getting shot dead by soldiers because you’re singing your country’s national anthem, with your hands raised during a peaceful protest? That’s what Nigerian government did last night. Massacred it’s own citizens protesting against police killings. #EndSARS #LagosMassacre
The killing of unarmed civilians by General Muhammadu Buhari’s @MBuhari regime using its rogue military is not only wicked, but cowardly! The silence of African leaders shows complicit, and that is why western powers comment! It is bcoz of this vacuum of leadership!