Shortly before the release of the White Paper on the reports by the EndSARS Panel of Inquiry set up by his government, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced that he will be embarking on a Peace Walk as part of efforts to herald the healing of Lagos residents and bring closure to last year’s protest against police brutality and the shooting of unarmed protesters by soldiers and police personnel at the Lekki toll gate on October 20, 2020.
The Governor stated that he would lead the Peace Walk which, according to him, is meant to engender harmony in the State amid prevalent misunderstanding and trust deficit trailing the recent leak of a report by the Judicial Panel of Enquiry on the #EndSARS debacle, particularly the killings at the Lekki tollgate epicenter of the protest.
The Governor called on popular EndSARS campaigners like Seun Kuti, Folarin Falana popularly known as Falz, Debo Adedayo alias Mr Macaroni among others to join him in the walk as “Lagos is currently faced with the hard choice of restoring harmony or doing itself great harm”. He further told the activist entertainers that “Our state deserves true healing after the disturbances that trailed last year’s protests against police brutality. It is only the sustenance of harmony that can guarantee the realization of aspirations of all residents,” Sanwo-Olu said while briefing the press.
This appeal took cognizance of the mood of Lagosians following the official attack on the report of the Justice Doris Okuwobi-led Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for victims of SARS related abuses and other matters. The leaked report has been fiercely discredited by officials of the Lagos government and the Federal Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, who described the same as “nothing but the triumph of fake news”. But EndSARS activists believe that the judicial panel’s report bears semblance with what they experienced during their peaceful campaign against police brutality. They also accepted the recommendations, which they’ve been piling pressure on the government to act on.
It is against this backdrop that one can situate the youth’s frustration with the Lagos State Government calling for a Peace Walk rather than acting on the crux of the reports by the Justice Okuwobi-led judicial panel of inquiry which substantially favoured their position. In an apparent response to why his government won’t go that route, Governor Sanwo-Olu would urge Lagosians “to reject those fueling anarchy and suspicion, clinging to the unsubstantiated belief that carries no weight of verifiable evidence and choosing emotion over hard facts”.
There is the feeling that the Lagos State Government is sacrificing the judicial panel of inquiry set up by it to align with the APC-led Federal Government which has all along denounced what Nigerians strongly believed have happened at the Lekki toll plaza that fateful night. Sanwo-Olu would insist that “it is far too easy to take sides and choose emotion over fact, even when the truth is to be found in shades of nuance… Today, I stand before you to declare that I reject this path; and I invite you all to do same”.
However, in the White Paper on the reports by the Judicial Panel of Inquiry, the Lagos State Government accepted 11 recommendations made by the panel, rejected one, accepted six with modifications, and forwarded 14 to the Federal Government for consideration out of the 32 recommendations made by the Justice Okuwobi-led Judicial Panel of Inquiry. This notwithstanding, some entertainers of note have distanced themselves from the planned Peace Walk.
While rejecting the invitation to join the Peace Walk, popular skit maker, Mr Macaroni, asked the Lagos State Government to begin the peace process by first ensuring justice through the implementation of the recommendations of the #EndSARS panel, stressing that “anything contrary to that takes us back to square one”. He said further, “It’s not about a walk of peace, you won’t find me there because we are not at war. What we are saying is that the government should come to terms with the people. People have died, lives have been lost, people have been beaten, dehumanised and I’m also a living testimony so I’m shocked that you are calling me for a walk now.”
Human rights activist and EndSARS campaigner, Rinu Oduala, on her part, used her Instagram page to post a picture of the Governor with the caption, “Mr Gov. You will walk alone”. She maintained that “no justice no peace” and charged the Governor to “do the necessary and stop performative actions”. In the same vein, Falz tweeted on @falzthebahdguy, “This suggestion of a ‘walk for peace’ sounds like a joke and a very disrespectful one at that. People were murdered in cold blood and absolutely no iota of justice has been served more than a year after. How can there be peace without justice?”
Nigerian youth can now stand on the strength of their convictions. While Governor Sanwo-Olu’s Peace Walk is not entirely a bad idea, the timing is wrong and reeks of putting the cart before the horse. We laud the EndSARS activists who would rather see justice done to victims of EndSARS incident than participate in a phantom closure to what created a deep hurt in most Nigerians. No doubt, peace and harmony are critical to the survival and advancement of any society, but justice reigns supreme when it comes to guaranting a peaceful society.
Governor Sanwo-Olu’s Peace Walk exercise to heal the wounds of Lagosians who were affected by the October 2020 unrest is good but he should engage more to get the buy-in of principal EndSARS campaigners. Since the Lagos State Government’s White Paper on the Judicial Panel of Inquiry has adopted some of the recommendations within its remit, we call on the Sanwo-Olu government to immediately go for the low-hanging fruits like the issuance of public apology rather than carrying out a Peace Walk which may be counterproductive.
The fact that rights activist, Mr. Segun Awosanya, aka Segalink, Lagos State students and youth groups are ready to Walk for Peace with Governor cannot make up for the apathy of major champions of the EndSARS protest. It is indeed incumbent on the Lagos State Government to ensure that it is truly a Peace Walk by getting all stakeholders on board. The government will be well advised to meet the traumatized youths halfway by implementing the reports of the judicial panel report which are very particular to them. This will be more beneficial than papering over cracks as if to create the peace of a graveyard which Lagos cannot afford!
Governor Sanwo-Olu’s quest for the restoration of peace and harmony in the nation’s commercial capital will be handled in such a way that a slightest provocation won’t re-open the wounds of the EndSARS and Lekki tollgate incidents seared in the heart of Lagosians. We also hope that with this Peace Walk, the government won’t be paranoid to militarize Lagos State when on October 20, 2022, youths organize themselves to mark the second anniversary of what the judicial panel of inquiry agreed was Lekki tollgate massacre. Having wisely placed civic engagement over and above the peevishness and arrogance typical of constituted authorities in Nigeria, we encourage Governor Sanwo-Olu to go the entire hog in healing this hurt of Lagosians