At about 6:45 p.m. on October 20, men in military uniform arrived at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos in three Toyota Hilux vans and immediately began shooting into a crowd of peaceful protesters gathered there waving the Nigerian green and white flag and reciting the national anthem.
Protesters and other witnesses at the toll gate claimed several people were injured and killed in the shooting.
A popular Disc Jockey, DJ Switch, who streamed the incident live on Instagram, claimed that the soldiers, after the shooting, took the dead away. She also claimed that a team of police officers arrived later to mop up after the soldiers.
She said the military initially prevented first responders and ambulances from reaching the injured but later allowed them through. She said she saw at least 15 corpses and claimed that security agents took the bodies away.
Several people who watched her Instagram live broadcast claimed that they saw protesters being fired upon by soldiers. They said some protesters died of bullet wounds while others while left with mild to critical injuries.
Similarly, a rights group, Amnesty International, claimed 10 people were killed during the shooting at the toll gate, and two others at the Alausa protest.
However, the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who described the shooting as a “dark note in the history of the state” and blamed the shooting on forces beyond the “direct control” of his government, originally said no life was lost in the shooting.
He later admitted that two persons died from the incident, one of them from blunt force trauma.
On Monday during an interview on CNN, Mr Sanwo-Olu continued to discredit the accounts of witnesses about the number of injuries and deaths from the shooting. He said no bloodstain was found at the scene of the shooting when he visited
“What has happened is that there have been so many footages that were seen, that people have shown, but we have not seen bodies,” he said. “We have not seen relatives, we have not seen anybody truly coming out to say I am a father or a mother to someone and I cannot find that person. Nobody has turned up. I have been to the ground, there is no scratch of blood anywhere there.”
Despite accounts by witnesses and video posted online, the Nigerian Army denied that its personnel fired upon protesters.
The army initially claimed its troops were not at Lekki that night, but later backracked and admitted that soldiers were deployed on the request of the Lagos State government. The army, however, insists that its personnel did not open fire on the protesters, let alone kill any.
The Lekki Shooting: Checking the facts
Piecing together details of on-the-ground reporting, credible information posted online by citizens, accounts by witnesses and victims as well as information obtained from top military sources, PREMIUM TIMES can now paint a clearer picture of what happened at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20.
The newspaper’s investigative team set out to unravel what actually happened on the evening of the shooting and the hours that followed.
As this medium gathered evidence for this investigation, Sodiq Adeoye, an employee of research firm SBM Intelligence, informed one of our reporters after the shooting that some residents of Admiralty Way, Lekki Phase 1, a highbrow neighbourhood, about two kilometres from the Lekki Toll Gate, found a body floating in the lagoon just behind their houses.
Mr Adeoyo said the residents suspected the floating body could be one of the protesters fired upon by soldiers and alleged to have been carried away by witnesses.
On this newspaper’s request, Mr Adeoyo sent a brief time-stamped video of the corpse floating in the water. A Google map coordinate he sent indicated that the body was floating close to Bay Lounge, an upscale restaurant.
At around 6 a.m on Saturday, accompanied by a friend, Deji Ashiru, this reporter drove to the Nigerian Army Post Exchange (NAPEX), Car Park Jetty in Victoria Island, where he and his team hired a boat to search for the body.
As the boat approached the bank of the lagoon, behind the imposing Oriental Hotel, the reporter saw a shanty ahead. The shanty is on the left side of the Lekki Toll Gate if one was travelling from Victoria Island. Due to its proximity to the toll gate, it immediately occurred to the reporter that residents of the community might have witnessed things that happened during the crackdown that was not yet in the public domain. His instinct was right.
He told the driver of the boat to stop his team at the shanty. It seems the residents had been waiting for someone to tell the stories of what they saw on the evening of the shooting because team members had hardly introduced themselves or even disembarked from the boat when they started recounting gruesome details about the evening.
The residents, some of whom suffered bullet wounds and other injuries, during the shooting, alleged that several people were killed and injured by the soldiers. They also corroborated the story told by DJ Switch and other protesters that after the shooting soldiers took the bodies of those killed away.
When asked if the protesters were killed and whether they saw soldiers carry bodies away, one of the resident said: “Of course, everyone saw it. Those that were present saw it.
“Even the one that died in our presence, wey be say the ekelabe (policemen) carry am go. They shot am there,” another resident said.
“Boss, if you want to camera, you can camera,” said the second speaker who later identified himself as Ray.
“Let me tell you something. This is my country. I am not afraid of anything. Let me say what I saw on that day. I was here from the beginning to the end of everything. What the soldiers and police did was absolutely wrong. Why would soldier come and shoot on us when we were having a peaceful protest,” he said.
When asked if he saw the soldier carry bodies away, Ray responded: “Of course, I saw dead bodies. They packed bodies. They came with their vans. Their trucks.”
Ray, who expressed his displeasure that President Muhammadu Buhari did not mention the Lekki shooting in his broadcast to the nation a couple of days ago, said Mr Sanwo-Olu visited the scene of the shooting in the early hours of Wednesday and saw some of the dead.
“Why is Sanwo-Olu denying? Because immediately after when that thing happened Sanwo-Olu himself came. He came. He parked at the toll gate. He saw some dead bodies on the ground. Why is he denying,” he asked.
Ray’s account of the event was also corroborated by other residents of the community.
The residents also alleged that after the soldiers who initially opened fire on the protesters left the scene, police officers led by Raji Ganiyu, a chief superintendent of the police, and the Divisional Police Officer of the nearby Maroko Division, arrived on the scene and continued the attack on defiant protesters who had stood their ground despite the military attack.
Showing us spent bullet casings they collected at the toll gate after the shooting, they accused the team led by Mr Ganiyu, whom they described as wearing a white native attire on the day, of shooting and killing some protesters, including a mentally ill man who was often seen around the area.
“DPO of Maroko we see am face to face wey e blow one person head pull the skull off. Pistol. E wear white and white,” one of them said in Pidgin.
“Na only one him kill?” another resident interjected in Pidgin. “What of the mad boy wey he shoot for our front here. Close range. There was a guy that was abnormal, he was sat at that speaker. He just came immediately, saw the boy, the boy didn’t do anything. He didn’t run, he didn’t harass him, he just removed his pistol and blew the boy’s head,” another resident said.
The Maroko Police Division is directly opposite the shanty and on the right of the toll gate.
When reached for comment, Mr Ganiyu declined to respond, saying all requests for comment should be directed to the Police Public Relation Department.
Also, the police public relation officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, said any question about the shooting incident at Lekki Toll Gate would be decided by the judicial panel of inquiry set up by the state government into alleged atrocities committed by the police.
“No comment on this for now,” he said.
The narratives of the residents of the event of Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning correlate with that of DJ Switch.
In a video posted on Instagram three days after the shooting, DJ Switch spoke about the involvement of the police and explained that it was one aspect of the shooting many were not talking about.
“Yes, there were soldiers there. Another part that people are not really talking about; the police also came. The SARS people we are talking about also came. Maybe 40-45 minutes after the soldiers left,” she said.
The Lekki Stampede
The residents explained that when the shooting started a stampede occurred. They said some of the protesters ran into the community to take cover from the bullets flying all around them and in the process injured some of the residents of the community.
This reporter spoke to a mother who showed him the bruises on the knee of her daughter, 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,” he said.
Mr Kakpo’s wife showed our reporter her bruised and swollen hand. She said she sustained the injury when she fell while trying to run from the shooting.
Lekki shooting and the floating corpse
After speaking with several residents at the shanty, our investigative team left in search of the floating corpse. Just about 300 metres after the toll gate on the Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge and about 100 metres from Bay Lounge, they saw the corpse floating near the bank of the lagoon.
The corpse was that of a man. It was already swollen and decomposing. It was shoe-less. The dead man was wearing blue denim jeans trousers and a flimsy white singlet. It also had a rubber band on its left wrist. The man seems to be slightly bearded, but it was hard to tell as a swarm of flies was already gathered around his decomposing face.
“No scratch of blood” – Sanwo-Olu lied
During the CNN interview, Mr Sanwo-Olu, in what appears an attempt to discredit eyewitnesses’ accounts of the shooting, said when he visited the toll gate, he did not find a “scratch of blood.” However, video and photo evidence verified as being from the incident as well as witnesses and victims accounts of the shooting showed the governor’s claim as inaccurate.
One of the photos showed a young man 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 the policemen who arrived the scene after the soldiers left the scene.
Photo verification tools such as Google and Bing reverse searchers and Tineye indicated that the photo had not previously appeared anywhere else online.
WARNING: Graphic images below. Viewers discretion advised
In one video footage, some protesters were seen tying a tourniquet to the badly 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.
In another footage, an elderly man whose cloth was drenched in blood was seen lying beside another person who had suffered bullet wound injuries.
Footages posted on Twitter of the desolation at the toll gate the morning after the attack indicated a man showing a large patch of bloodstain on the scene of the shooting.
Victims recount ordeal
When this reporter visited Nicholas Okpe at the Emergency Unit of Grandville Hospital in Ajah, he could barely sit up. He had a patch on his right chest where a bullet hit him. A tube was attached just under his right rib cage that drains blood and pus into a container placed on the floor. The bullet was still lodged in his chest while the hospital waits for a consultant to further test before deciding how to proceed.
A doctor at the hospital, who identified herself as Ikemefuna, told me Mr Okpe was in a critical state when he was admitted, and said 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 (the bullet) pushed his lung to the side. He still needs further review,” she said.
Moved by the prospect of achieving an end to police brutality, Mr Okpe did not just protest, he did more. He volunteered alongside a handful of other youth to clean the protest ground at the end of each day’s protest.
He told me his case was so critical that three hospitals rejected him before Grandville accepted to treat him.
“The first hospital they said they cannot admit me. They poured honey where the bullet passed through and plastered and gave me some injection. They said that will sustain me until I get a hospital that can treat me.
“They took me to another hospital, they rejected me. They took me to another they said they were not open. This is the fourth hospital they came to. The man here said they should admit me if not I would have died,” he said.
Mr Okpe said the blood and pus that was drained from him have filled the container four times already. He said he was in severe pain.
“I’m passing through a lot of pains. I am always in pain. Anytime I cry out they will just give me painkiller and they will go. When that painkiller expires the pain will come again. My head is just too heavy for me with pains,” he said.
Mr Okpe also said he saw the soldiers took aim at the CCTV cameras at the toll gate before he was hit.
Lekki Shooting Victim — Raymond Simon
All Raymond Simon wanted to do was help. But his large heart almost cost him his life. Mr Simon told PREMIUM TIMES he was not at the toll gate when the soldiers were shooting. A church instrumentalist, he was at a rehearsal that evening. As he was returning home on his motorcycle, he decided to take some of those injured during the shooting to hospitals.
He said he was returning after making the third trip from nearby Reddington Hospital when he was ambushed by police officers at the toll gate who viciously attacked and abducted him.
“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, they push 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 his wound was stitched, and he was given painkillers before being discharged.
Mr Simon said after he was attacked, one of the police officers tried to shoot him but one of his colleagues pushed him away. He 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.
He said his motorcycle was stolen during the attack.
Lekki Shooting Victim — Bassey
A bullet hit Bassey in his right hand as he mingled with other protesters at the toll gate. Unable to reach first responders on time due to the blockade set up by the soldiers, he said some residents of the area close to the toll gate removed the bullet that was lodged in his left hand.
Bassey appeared to be in severe pain and in urgent need of medical attention. He gingerly carried the swollen hand, with a huge wound in the spot where he was hit by the bullet, close to his body, as he spoke with this reporter. He said he has not received any treatment worth mentioning since he suffered the injury.
When PREMIUM TIMES returned to the shanty to check Bassey the next day, our reporter was told members of the community had arranged for a motorcycle to take him to St. Nicholas Hospital, Lagos Island. Our reporter went to St. Nicholas Hospital to check on him but was told nobody that fits his description came there for treatment.
Bassey later returned to the shanty on Thursday. Fellow residents said his condition has become worse as he is yet to get proper treatment for his injury.
Lekki Shooting Victim — Patrick Ukala
Mr Ukala was shot in his right arm. He said the bullet is still lodged in his arm and that he had only received first aid and painkillers. He was told by doctors at Grandville to do an X-ray of the arm before the bullet can be removed.
“I am still walking everywhere looking for where to do x-ray but nowhere yet. They promise that I should come back.”
Abandoned by Lagos Government
His account as well as those of Messers. Okpe, Simon, and Bassey contradict the claim of the Lagos government that protesters who were injured would be treated fully free of charge.
The victims said the state government has not contributed a dime to their treatment. Some of them who were originally treated are now being treated in other hospitals.
Mr Ukala said the bill for their treatment was covered by one Ideh Chukwuma, a filmmaker.
On Sunday when our reporter visited Mr Okpe at Grandville Trauma Centre, he met a team from the Lagos State Ministry of Health, which came with its media crew to interview the victims. Mr Ukala 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 neither did they speak with the doctor. Finally, the doctor has asked us to leave.”
He said Mr 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, an employee of the hospital who said her “professional name” is Doctor Adebayo, confirmed that the victims have all been discharged.
“Some that need extra consultations with specialists, we sent them there. We didn’t operate him (Mr Okpe) here. Probably they will operate him wherever he went to,” she said.
Hospitals owners accuse Lagos Government of intimidation
Following the shooting at the Lekki Toll Gate, some hospital owners in Lagos complained to this newspaper 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 treated at their facilities, a move they said could be used to “arm-twist” them into providing information which may breach the doctor-patient confidentiality they swore to.
They said they were particularly worried about the section of the form requesting their registration number.
When reached for comment on Wednesday, the spokesperson of the Lagos Ministry of Health, Tunbosun Ogunbanwo, asked for the questions to be sent via SMS. He is yet to respond days after the questions were sent to him.
Link to the form: https://forms.gle/XYY9EEw3ovzqYZiv5
The protest movement, which is known as #EndSARS, demanded 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 protesters also asked for investigations into the allegations against SARS personnel as well as the immediate suspension of officers accused of committing atrocities.
At least for 10 days, the protests, especially in Lagos and Abuja, were conducted peacefully despite attacks on protesters by persons suspected to be pro-government hoodlums.
Within the period, no fewer than 11 protesters were killed by the police across the country.
In one instance in the Ketu area of Lagos, on October 19, rival street gangs capitalised on the protests to attack one another.
In the morning of October 20, the protests in some parts of Lagos, especially at Orile and Mushin, quickly turned violent after police officers shot some protesters. The Orile and Mushin police stations were subsequently razed by angry mobs. At least one police officer was lynched, and several others injured in the riots that ensued.
In a move to check the violence that was beginning to spread across the state, at around noon on October 20, Governor Sanwo-Olu announced a state-wide curfew from 4 p.m.
The protesters at Alausa and Lekki Toll Gate, which were the epicentres of the protests, defied the curfew but remained peaceful.
Just after 3:30 p.m, officials believed to be from the company managing the toll gate, Lekki Concession Company (LCC), arrived at the toll gate and removed equipment initially thought by activists to be CCTV cameras. Authorities later claimed that the CCTV cameras at the facility remained intact and that its footages would be released to the panel probing the shooting.
Protesters who survived the attack said lights, including streetlights and a large electronic billboard which illuminated the toll gate area, were turned off just before the attack to deliberately provide a cover for the brutal assault on peaceful protesters that were to follow.
The advertising company that owns the electronic billboard at the Lekki toll gate, however, said it deactivated its facility in compliance with the curfew declared by Governor Sanwo-Olu, unaware that tragedy would later struck at the location.
This investigative report was originally published by Premium Times newspaper.