Lagos state government has announced plans for a mass burial of more than 100 people killed during Nigeria’s 2020 anti-police brutality rallies, sparking renewed criticism over a crackdown on protesters.
The youth-led #EndSARS protests were the largest anti-government demonstrations in Nigeria’s modern history, but ended in repression by security forces and bitter disputes over whether some victims were shot by troops.
Lagos state government and the armed forces always denied troops opened fire with live rounds at Lagos city’s Lekki Tollgate, the epicentre of the protests, but an independent panel ruled there was a “massacre” of unarmed protesters there.
Rights group Amnesty says at least 10 people were shot dead by security forces on October 20, 2020 at the tollgate, and more were killed in rioting and violence that broke out elsewhere in Lagos city and state.
In a statement late Sunday, the Lagos State health ministry said 103 victims whose bodies have been held in Lagos morgues for three years and were still not claimed by family will soon given a mass burial.
It said bodies were picked up in a dozen areas around Lagos state, but it denied any were collected at Lekki, after a copy of the burial plan was leaked by local media.
“There was also a jailbreak at Ikoyi Prison. The 103 casualties mentioned in the document were from these incidents and NOT from Lekki Toll gate,” it said.
The health ministry statement was the first time the government has admitted that such a large number of people died following the riots.
“For the avoidance of doubt, no body was retrieved from the Lekki Toll Gate incident,” it said.
The repeated denial of any deaths at the Lekki toll gate sparked criticism online and from those who took part in the protests.
“The report of the panel was empathetic there was a massacre at Lekki,” Dele Farotimi, one of the lawyers for victims told Arise TV. “The facts are not in dispute.”
The #EndSARS protests erupted initially against police abuses, with the rallying name referencing the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which was later disbanded.
The demonstrations spiralled into a broader protest to demand better governance and rights in Africa’s most populous country and largest economy.
Demonstrators said people were shot dead when security forces opened fire on peaceful protesters at the Lekki. But the army said only blank rounds were used to break up a crowd that was defying a curfew.
An investigative panel set up by Lagos state government concluded that the armed forces shot and killed unarmed protesters in what could be considered a “massacre”, according to a leaked copy of the report.