‘Black Tuesday’: Lekki killings mirror Tianamen Square’s brutal suppression of dissent
EYEWITNESSES and others who witnessed the incident on video which went viral on the social media, watched in shock as black Toyota Prado sports utility vehicles pulled up at the scene, and slowed down long enough to pick up a pack of thugs, who were armed with assorted dangerous weapons.
Men, clad in dark suits, who appeared to be government officials, could be seen opening the doors of the SUVs for the thugs, who rushed inside as the vehicles sped off.
A hysterical voice, which ran a commentary, narrating what was going on in the viral video, expressed shock at the development.
The Toyota Prado SUVs – the Federal Government’s choice vehicle – were transporting thugs to protest venues to attack unarmed citizens who are protesting against police brutality.
Apparently, from what could be seen in the videos, the government was providing logistics support for the hoodlums, who have been attacking protesters in various parts of the country, all in a bid to shut down the #EndSARS protests.
Cases of thugs launching unprovoked attacks on the protesters escalated after the protests continued even after the Federal Government disbandeed of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force and speedily replaced the outfit with the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team.
The hoodlums had initially commenced their operations by staging parallel protests in support of SARS, but gradually they turned on the #EndSARS protesters with violence.
Protesters were attacked and harassed in calculated moves that were obviously aimed at intimidating them into giving up the campaign.
To further discredit the #EndSARS movement, the thugs destroyed vehicles and other property belonging to members of the public who were not even participating in the protests.
This was the case at the Julius Berger roundabout in the Wuse area of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, on October 14.
The apparent intention was to create the impression that the protesters have become violent, and thereby provide the security agencies a reason to clampdown on them.
Eventually, it appeared that the mandate of the hoodlums became deadlier, culminating in murderous attacks on protesters across the country on Tuesday, October 20.
However, not all victims of the attacks were protesters – in some cases, passers-by were caught up in the state-sponsored violence that was unleashed on the #EndSARS movement.
October 20, a day which became known as ‘Black Tuesday’ in the social media, was to go down in history as another of those infamous dates on which dictatorial regimes suppressed popular dissent with brutal force when soldiers rained live bullets on unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos.
The daily barricade of the Lekki Toll Gate by mostly youthful protesters was a major highlight of the #EndSARS protests and dislodging the crowd at the Gate was key in the agenda to forcefully suppress the movement, which the army and some backers of the Federal Government were beginning to liken to a push for ‘regime change’.
Many protesters were killed in the ‘Lekki Killings’ and many more were critically wounded.
By the end of the day, pictures of a blood-stained national flag, which went viral across social media platforms, has become the symbol of ‘Black Tuesday’.
Interestingly, the Lekki Killings of Black Tuesday mirrored the events which culminated in the Tiananmen Square Massacre in China, on June 4 and 5, 1989.
Tianamen Square killings
The Tiananmen Square protests – student-led demonstrations calling for democracy, free speech and a free press in China, were suppressed in a bloody crackdown, known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, by the Chinese government on June 4 and 5, 1989.
Following the death of Hu Yaobang, a former Communist Party leader who had worked to introduce democratic reform in China, pro-democracy protesters, mostly students, initially marched through Beijing to Tiananmen Square.
In mourning Hu, the students called for a more open, democratic government.
Eventually thousands of people joined the students in Tiananmen Square, with the protesters numbers increasing to thousands by mid-May.
The protesters were unhappy with the one-party form of government in China, which limited political freedom.
They also complained about economic challenges in the country, which was ruled by the Communist Party.
Although China’s government had instituted a number of reforms in the 1980s that established a limited form of capitalism in the country, poor and working-class Chinese still faced significant challenges, including lack of jobs and increased poverty.
In the same vein, the students also argued that China’s educational system did not adequately prepare them for an economic system with elements of free-market capitalism. While some leaders within China’s government were sympathetic to the protesters’ cause, others saw them as a political threat.
By May 13, a number of the student protesters initiated a hunger strike, which inspired other similar strikes and protests across China and as the movement grew, the Chinese government became increasingly uncomfortable with the protests, particularly as they disrupted a visit by Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union on May 15.
As a result of the protests, a welcome ceremony for Gorbachev originally scheduled for Tiananmen Square was instead held at the airport. Other than that inconvenience, the Russian leader’s visit passed without any unsavoury incident as the protesters conducted themselves in a peaceful manner.
But still, feeling the demonstrations needed to be suppressed, the Chinese government declared martial law on May 20 and 250,000 troops were deployed in Beijing.
By the end of May more than one million protesters had gathered in Tiananmen Square, where they held daily marches and vigils, and images of the events were transmitted by media organisations to audiences in the United States and Europe.
When the initial presence of the soldiers failed to quell the protests, the Chinese authorities decided to increase their aggression and at 1:00 am on June 4, Chinese soldiers and police stormed Tiananmen Square, firing live bullets into the crowd. While many of the protesters tried to escape, others fought back, stoning the attacking troops and setting fire to military vehicles. Reporters and Western diplomats who were at the Square, covering the protests, estimated that hundreds to thousands of protesters were killed in the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and as many as 10,000 were arrested.
The massacre attracted condemnation from world leaders, including Gorbachev himself, and, about a month later, the United States Congress voted to impose economic sanctions against China, citing human rights violations.
Just like in the case of the protests that culminated in the Tianamen Square Massacre, the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria were led by youths who were fed up with police brutality, a phenomenon that is personified in the activities of the bloody SARS outfit. Beyond the ‘end of SARS’, they demanded immediate release of all arrested protesters, justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and compensation for the families, setting up of an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all cases of police brutality, psychological evaluation and retraining of all officers of the disbanded SARS before they can be redeployed, and increment in police salary to compensate them for protecting lives and property.
As the protests continued, even after the Federal Government gave in to the demand to disband SARS, and pledged to implement other demands, the protesters began to question other aspects of bad goverance in the country. Government at all levels became uncomfortable. It became clear that the protest has taken on a life of its own and there was no certainty about when it will end.
Hence, the ugly incidents of Black Tuesday.
Lekki Killings has already been condemned by some world leaders, with the United Nations demanding that the perpetrators must be brought to book.
“The Secretary-General (António Guterres) is following recent developments in Nigeria and calls for an end to reported police brutality and abuses.
Condeming the violent escalation on 20 October in Lagos, he calls on the Nigerian authorities to investigate these incidents and hold the perpetrators accountable,” parts of a statement issued by the UN said.
But it remains to be seen whether the perpetrators would be brought to book, more especially when the government, accused of sponsoring the mayhem, will also be the umpire.