Nigeria: Lekki toll shootout: Devastated mother reveals her horror of finding dying son at protest site

In a blind panic, she called her phone, but there was no answer. She immediately hailed a passing motorbike taxi, known locally as Okada, and rushed to the scene.

But nothing could have prepared her for the heartbreaking scenes she witnessed upon arrival, she said.

“While I was looking for my son… I saw people running and someone was in the gutter and had an iron bar in their eye. The person was already dead,” she recalls.

We also withheld the name of his son at his request.

“We got there around 5 or 6 in the morning,” she said in her first sit-down interview. “We saw a lot of people. There was a child holding a Nigerian flag lying dead, there was a gunshot wound on the side of the body.

“He was a little boy and there were a lot of people there,” she told CNN from a makeshift wooden structure where she makes a living selling cold drinks.

“He died in my arms”

As Adesola watched over scenes of chaos and stepped over personal effects hurriedly thrown by panicked protesters, she spotted a familiar figure lying in a pool of blood on the floor, wearing only one shoe.

“When I saw my son I screamed and held him … There was too much blood, there was a gunshot wound on his chest. His clothes were torn and the bullet came out. her back, ”she said, crying. she recounted the painful moment.

Despite her injuries, she discovered that her son was still alive.

“I saw other people carrying their loved ones so I tried to wear it because it was still breathing at the time. I called for help and people came to help me put it on. in a vehicle, ”she said.

“He was looking at us as we wore him. He was just screaming ‘ah, ah’ in pain.”

They desperately tried to resuscitate him in the car, but he failed, she told CNN.

“He died in my arms,” Adesola said. “I was screaming and I couldn’t stay calm.”

Her son was buried almost immediately in accordance with Muslim funeral rites.

He was 32 and left behind two children, 14 and nine, who had also lost their mother under undisclosed circumstances a few years earlier.

No official report

Adesola says she is grateful that she was able to find her son’s body. Others were not so lucky.

CNN spoke to several families during an investigation last year who had yet to locate the bodies of their missing loved ones – protesters at the toll booth – who dozens of eyewitnesses say were shot, first by members of the Nigerian military, then hours later by the police.
Relatives of Wisdom Okon told CNN last year that he disappeared after going to the toll booth.  He is still missing.

Witnesses told CNN that ambulances were prevented from entering by Nigerian authorities.

There is no official toll, but an Amnesty International investigation found that at least 12 people died at the Lekki tollgate and another site on October 20.

Eyewitnesses told CNN they saw the military remove a number of bodies from the scene.

CNN’s investigation has reconstructed what happened when the Nigerian military and later police opened fire on civilians as they protested against police brutality.

Nigerian military admits performing live patrols during Lekki Toll Gate protests, despite previous denials

He used time stamps, video data and geolocation to analyze the hours of video shot by protesters – tracking the movements of the military to the Lekki toll booth where protests had been going on for nearly two weeks.

Video shot by an eyewitness appears to show the army firing at the crowd. The Nigerian government has threatened to sanction CNN for its reporting.

The narrative of what happened to the Nigerian military has changed over time.

Immediately after the shooting, the military denied any involvement, calling reports of the incident “false news”, before backing off and saying soldiers were present but fired in the air and used white people. .

He said thugs mingled with the crowd of protesters.

On November 14, during a judicial inquiry into the shooting, army representative Brigadier Ahmed Taiwo (who has since been promoted to the rank of major general) admitted that soldiers at the scene had live ammunition. but continued to deny that anyone was shot.

“There is no way that officers and men will kill their siblings. I repeat, no way. We have those who are constantly seeking to sow discord among us and among the Nigerian citizens …”, a he declared at the time.

Protesters and witnesses posted several videos in which bullet casings were displayed which they said were recovered from the scene.

At the time of the incident, police denied shooting anyone.

CNN made further attempts to elicit comment on the latest report from the Nigerian armed forces, police and federal government, but received no response.

A protest movement silenced

The #EndSARS protests lasted nearly two weeks in October 2020 before being silenced by the Lekki toll shooting.

Angry young Nigerians have taken to the streets, blocking main roads through cities in Africa’s most populous nation, in largely peaceful protests. They marched by tens of thousands chanting “Enough is enough” against police brutality and violence.

Their initial demands were the shutdown of a notorious police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS, but the marches turned into protests campaigning for police reform and an end to bad governance. in the oil-rich country.

During the protests, participants erected tents and DJ booths at various sites across the country and held multi-faith prayer sessions and a “festival of lights” in honor of victims of police brutality. , held at the now infamous Lekki Tollgate. .

A young Nigerian witnessed the Nigerian national flag waving during the protests.

Adesola wonders why the protesters were dispersed with such brutal force that night.

“Even if the government wanted to kick them out of the place, they weren’t supposed to shoot. They could have asked them to stop and not shoot. Anyone could have found their way.”

Adesola says his son participated in the protests as a “worried Nigerian”, and in what would be their last phone call he described a scene of calm where people were protesting peacefully and preparing to camp overnight. .

“All his friends were going and when he got home from work that day he said he was going to join his friends. When he arrived he called me and said there was a lot Some were sleeping there with their mattresses and had brought their cooking gas. If the soldiers had not come, things would have gone well without any problem, “she said.

No liability

A year after the Lekki toll shooting, no one has taken responsibility for what happened that night, and no one has been held responsible.

In a brief report released Tuesday, titled “Nigeria: One Year On, No Justice For #EndSARS Crackdown,” Human Rights Watch said: “Prospects for accountability remain inconclusive and bleak. Nigerian authorities should take concrete and decisive steps to ensure that those involved in abuses against protesters are held accountable. “

The court hearing organized in October 2020 by the Lagos State government to examine cases of police brutality – and the now disbanded special anti-theft squad – and to investigate the toll incident was marred by delays and other issues.
Last month he abruptly suspended his session, saying he did not have enough time to complete his reports on cases, including the Lekki shooting. It reopened briefly a few weeks later to hear additional testimony and ended its sitting on Monday. However, his report is still under preparation.

“The Nigerien authorities should take effective measures to be accountable to the victims in order to show the victims that their loss, pain and suffering are not in vain,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The Lagos State panel set up to investigate the shooting and other cases of abuse visits the Lekki tollgate on October 30, 2020.

“Anything less will increase mistrust of government and reinforce the perception that the lives of citizens do not matter.

Many Nigerians believe the problems that sparked the protests 12 months ago persist – and those who were there that fateful night are still seeking justice.

DJ Switch, a local musician whose real name is Obianuju Catherine Udeh, attended the protest and broadcast much of the evening live on his Instagram page.

A year later, she remembers that she thought they were all going to die. “I thought that was the end for all of us there. You know, I mean when you sing the national anthem and wave your flag, your Nigerian flag, and the shots don’t stop, you don’t ‘Just have one thought, “she said.

Shortly after the shooting, DJ Switch says she had to flee Nigeria, fearing for her safety, and has not returned since.

“Justice is waiting to be served, who is going to do it? Young people call to account every day, who is ready to be responsible – to take responsibility,” she said.

Now Adesola picks up the pieces after the death of her eldest son.

When asked what she would say if she could speak directly to the Nigerian government, she replied, “I will tell them the same as I tell you.

“I can’t lie about my child’s death. I’ll show them his grave.”

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