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24 hours later, Nigeria’s president says nothing about Lekki massacre

Throughout this crisis, as government response drifted without clear leadership, the president has not said a word to the Nigerian people.

• October 21, 2020
snapshot from footage of soldiers shooting the Lekki protesters.
A snapshot from footage of soldiers shooting the Lekki protesters

It is now more than 24 hours since soldiers shot dead unarmed protesters at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos. The massacre has shocked the world and drawn reactions from the US Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden, the UK and the EU. But Nigeria’s own president Muhammadu Buhari has not directly said a word to the Nigerian people.

The president’s aloofness during a crisis is not new. In June, people revolted in his home state Katsina when armed groups freely roamed the state killing people. 20 people were killed in one incident alone. The president did not say a word to the Nigerian people.

Ibrahim Magu was arrested and later removed as EFCC chair for alleged corruption in August. A purportedly corrupt person leading Mr. Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign threw the whole campaign in disarray, and then the man was being expelled during a turf war with justice minister Abubakar Malami. Yet, the president did not say a word to the Nigerian people.

Nearly seven out of 10 Nigerians lost their job during COVID-19 lockdown between March and May. Ordinary Nigerians and their families struggled with pay cuts, job losses and business setbacks as unemployment rose to 28% and the nation’s GDP shrank by 6.10% in the second quarter of 2020. 

While other heads of state have made regular addresses to their press or their citizens directly, the Nigerian president has not spoken to the press or addressed the Nigerian people directly about COVID-19’s impact since April.

The current #EndSARS has been going on for about three weeks, and the country has looked on as a small demonstration in front of the Lagos parliament has turned into a deadly uprising in which dozens have died nationwide. Throughout this crisis, as government response drifted without clear leadership, the president did not say a word to the Nigerian people.

In the meantime, other top government figures have tried to fill that void left by the president. On October 18, Senate President Ahmed Lawan and Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila appealed to #EndSARS campaigners to halt demonstrations in order to give the government time to execute their demands.

The speaker said after their meeting with the president, “[Reform] is a process and the important thing is that the government has heard you loud and clear.”

Many people in the world were horrified last night as they watched, live on social media, Nigerian protesters fleeing from their own soldiers and counting dead bodies at Lekki – draped in bloodied Nigerian flags.

However, Lagos governor Babajide Sanwoolu said in a TV broadcast this morning that no one was killed in that incident.

Amnesty International has said security forces killed 12 protesters in that incident and in Alausa yesterday.

Mr. Gbajabiamila was the first top federal government official to admit that protesters were killed in Lekki.

He said this afternoon, “After sixty years, our democracy should have grown beyond the point where conflicting visions of nationhood result in violence on the streets and blood on the ground.

“It is unavoidably and painfully clear that there [was] a number of casualties as a result of gunfire at the Lekki Toll Gate.”

A statement by presidential spokesman Femi Adesina said today that “President Buhari’s commitment to extensive Police reforms should never be in doubt.” The massacre in Lekki is not mentioned in that statement.

There is still chaos in the country as #EndSARS campaigners reluctantly step aside and violence increases in states like Lagos. Without clear leadership and effective communication from the top, a prolonged crisis appears probable. 

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