A remembrance for those who were left behind and a reminder of the battle ahead #LekkiMassacre #EndSARS

In October 2020, many young Nigerians took to the streets in some states of the federation to protest police brutality and call for the end of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a police unit known for killing people without due process and breaking human rights laws.

However, some of the protesters were attacked and killed by the police. Although the government eventually disbanded SARS, it did not stop police brutality.

According to Amnesty International, at least 56 people died across the country during the protests.

At about 6:50 p.m. on October 20, 2020, officers of the Nigerian Army allegedly opened fire on unarmed protesters who converged at the Lekki Tollgate, leading to the death of several unsuspecting citizens.

Amnesty International said in a report after the event that the Nigerian military killed at least 12 protesters.

A day after the incident, on 21 October, the governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-olu, initially denied reports of any loss of lives, but later admitted in an interview with a CNN journalist that “only two persons were killed”.

Two years after the #EndSARS protests, over 40 protesters are still languishing in prisons across Nigeria according to Amnesty International

I still remember the dread I felt when I saw many choosing to remain at the Lekki Toll Gate despite the announcement of a curfew. For a few moments, I questioned why I didn’t feel inspired by the courage of so many who were so convinced about a cause and so unafraid to take up space in the world.

As warnings of armed trucks and military moving to that area began to circulate on social media, I could feel fear so thick I couldn’t sit still. Why were they so heavily armed? These were not terrorists. These were young people fighting for their lives, for their country.

Even in despair, I hoped. We’ve seen protests shut down because the government deemed that the nuisance of its citizens’ complaints was enough. But #EndSARS wasn’t the usual protest. It wasn’t political. It was just many young Nigerians fed up with having to struggle in their country, tired of being hunted by the police.

As hundreds of young Nigerians ran for their lives while the military shot at them, I could only stare at my phone in horror. So many unbelievable and horrific things have happened in this country, but this one broke me. The Nigerian government had made it clear my life did not matter.

Like the stages of grief, denial finally came along. Stories of videos being doctored with no one being shot began to spread. Lives lost were reduced to fake news and “it never happened”. The gaslighting was so intense that people who believed in the cause began to recount it. Months later, to drive home the consequences of daring to be so bold, Twitter was banned.

Now the same government wants our votes to continue the “good work” they’ve begun.

If the tragedy of #EndSARS taught me anything, it is that passiveness and nonchalance about people assuming roles in governance will come back and haunt you.

We’ve wanted better leaders and a better country for a long time, but many people have been looking for that in churches and in wishes whispered here and there or at newspaper stands where intense debates about how worse the country has gotten are had, forgetting that the true decider is at the polls.

We have to move as a nation from “E go better” to “What can I do to make it better?”

The answer is simple. Vote and vote wisely.

The 2023 election is an opportunity to rebuild and reclaim our nation. A better Nigeria starts with the decisions we make concerning who our leaders will be. This is not the time to be distracted by religious or ethnic sentiments. We have played that game for so long and it has gotten us nowhere.

The candidates who have emerged may not tick all our options for who a perfect leader should be, but after #EndSARS, we just need leaders who will be held accountable and won’t send the military to shoot at unarmed protesters. I think that’s the barest minimum.

As we remember those who lost their lives at not just the Lekki Toll Gate but during the entire #EndSARS protest, let us remember that the fight for the Nigeria we want is still ongoing. It’s okay to feel weary and to think that all the fighting you’ve done has amounted to nothing.

The process is slow and tedious, and sometimes you might just want to disengage from all the things that are going wrong in the country.

However, for those of us who still believe this country is worth saving, it’s time to double down. It’s time to get ready to vote and vote wisely. It’s the least our fallen compatriots deserve.

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