The letter from the Lagos State Public Procurement Agency, dated 19 July, informed the state’s ministry of health that it had ‘no objection’ to the release of N61m ($77,000) to a private funeral company for the mass burial of 103 #EndSARS victims.
Activists say the memo is a testament that several people were shot and killed at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, where the protesters had gathered, a claim the Lagos State government had strenuously denied.
In their response, the state government said the leaked memo was deliberately misinterpreted to misinform the public.
An official of the government, Olusegun Ogboye, said in a statement that the 103 bodies were corpses recovered from across the state during the deadly protest, and not from the Lekki Toll Gate.
“For the avoidance of doubt, nobody was retrieved from the Lekki Toll Gate incident,” said Ogboye, the permanent secretary at the ministry of health.
They just Killed over 103 Nigerian Youths, parked their bodies like thrash and put it in a Mortuary for years and now they want to dispose it as the thrash they think it was. Satan and its Workers of destruction has taking over the Land. Cry for Nigeria— Onyeamama 2 of Igboland. (@DaveTorty) July 25, 2023
Young Nigerians took to the streets in October 2020 calling for the disbandment of the notorious SARS unit of the Nigeria police, after decades of harassment and brutality against citizens.
An attempt by the government to forcefully clear the protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate led to soldiers firing live ammunition at the unarmed gathering, killing several people and injuring others.
A panel of enquiry instituted by the Lagos State government (which became known as the #EndSARS panel) revealed in 2021 that at least 46 unarmed protesters were either shot dead, injured with bullets, or assaulted by security forces at the toll gate.
The panel also said the soldiers used their vans to evacuate bodies after the shooting at night while trucks with brushes underneath were brought the next morning to clean up the bloodstains.
Did the government also tell people that those family members who showed up and [had their] DNA samples [taken], those DNA samples, were they ever tested?
However, the Lagos government pushed back on the committee’s report in a white paper, rejecting the claims that people were killed at the toll gate. The government said there are “fundamental inconsistencies in the findings of the [panel] regarding deaths at the Lekki Toll Gate and particularly because the findings are clearly and manifestly not supported by evidence”.
In the government’s latest dismissal of the toll gate death claims, it stated that in the aftermath of the violence in October 2020, the coroner invited people who had lost or are looking for their relatives to come forward and help with identification of the casualties deposited at state-owned morgues.
Nobody responded to claim any of the bodies, Ogboye said, and after almost three years, the bodies remained unclaimed, adding to the congestion of the morgues.
A lawyer and activist, Dele Farotimi, says the government’s claim that nobody came to claim any of the bodies was untrue.
“Did the government also tell people that those family members who showed up and [had their] DNA samples [taken], those DNA samples, were they ever tested?
“They were never interested in linking bodies to family members,” Farotimi tells The Africa Report.
Families of #EndSARS victims killed by the police forces showed up btw, looking for the bodies of their loved ones, including Pelumi Onifade’s mother.— Rinu Oduala 🔥🔫 (@SavvyRinu) July 24, 2023
They were asked to drop DNA samples. They dropped.
Lagos State government never did any DNA test for the samples collected.
At least 15 families who submitted their DNA samples to the government over the unclaimed corpses neither got a result or response from the pathologist nearly three years after.
According to the government, it was a mass burial for the unclaimed corpses – 103 of them – that the government was referring to in the leaked memo.
A government official tells The Africa Report that although whoever leaked the confidential memo had “a bad intention”, the state has nothing to hide.
“We have been very consistent with what we are saying [that nobody died at the toll gate],” says the official who did not want to be named because the government had already issued a statement on the matter.
“Once you are speaking the truth, if people don’t believe you there is nothing you can do about it.”
Even so, Farotimi, who represented some of the #EndSARS victims at the panel, says the Lagos State government’s decision to hide the memo from the public is suspicious.
“They didn’t publicise the memo, it was one of their own people who leaked it,” he says.
“We would never have known anything about the burial of these 103 people. These are different from the ones they owned up to. These are bodies they never admitted existed.”
While appearing before the #EndSARS panel in 2021, the chief pathologist of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, John Obafunwa, said at least 99 persons were killed during the 2020 protests, including three who were shot by soldiers at the Lekki Toll Gate.
Blood of #EndSARS victims will continue to hurt our leaders, their children children everyone of them that partook on this unforgettable day 20-10-2020 💔— FUTURE💯🇳🇬 ⚡️® (@FutureE28) July 25, 2023
Farotimi says the government’s insistence that nobody was killed at the toll gate demonstrates its insincerity throughout the incident. He says there is sufficient basis to conclude that the 103 corpses scheduled for mass burial are those the military took away after shooting the protesters at the toll gate.
“If the government is the criminal entity in the state, that is not my own fault, but I am on record as having said repeatedly that Nigeria is a criminal enterprise being ruled by criminals,” he says.
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