At the Lekki toll gate, officers of the Nigerian army shot, injured and killed unarmed helpless and defenseless protesters, without provocation or justification, while they were waving the Nigerian flag and singing the national anthem, and the manner of assault and killing could in context be described as a massacre.”
So concludes a judicial report into events at the Lekki tollgate during last year’s #endSARS protests.
But we only know these findings because the report was leaked to the press.
The report states that some of the army officers deployed to the gate were “not fit and proper to serve” and recommends prosecuting certain policemen for their actions.
If as a nation, we are to move on from this, the darkest of days, prosecution of a handful of individuals will not be enough.
In the interests of truth and reconciliation, we need to instigate a cultural shift towards total transparency from our leaders – not least as the report’s conclusions are at odds with the contemporaneous conclusions of leading politicians.
In the aftermath of the event, Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, suggested videos and pictures of the event were likely to have been manipulated, and that offenders may have been “hoodlums” dressed in military uniform. Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, described the incident as “a massacre without bodies”.
We know now that 11 unarmed people were killed, four more remain missing and are presumed dead. A further 48 Nigerians were injured.
It is to the credit of Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu that the inquiry was established at all.
The governor has also promised a “proper response” to the report, stating, “this process will help us start the very difficult process of proper reconciliation, restitution, bringing together of anyone affected.”
Pivotal to that process is total transparency.
Our leaders need to get into the habit of putting as much information and documentation as possible into the public domain, unfiltered and unredacted – even when it makes uncomfortable reading.
As this report has entered the public domain without being officially published is a clear sign that they have nothing to lose from such a move, and everything to gain. Secrecy is illusory in the digital age. Leaders may cling to the mindset of age when the government could stop people criticizing them by shutting down newspapers and seizing printing presses or just keep potentially damaging information secret. But this is not the age we live in now. People will forgive mistakes. They will not forgive attempts to cover up mistakes. And in the social media age, your mistakes will be revealed.
At the digital democracy campaign I lead, we are trying to build the platforms politicians can use to build trust in both themselves and the wider political process through a commitment to transparency.
Our Rate Your Leader app allows leaders to communicate directly – person-to-person – with the people they serve. It also allows verified voters in their areas to communicate with them. Users can even rate their local politicians for transparency and accessibility so their friends, family and neighbors can see that their local leader is worth voting for.
Platforms like Rate Your Leader allow local leaders to be completely upfront with their electorates. This may sound like anathema to some, but the evidence suggests that this is the best way to inspire confidence and trust, both in our democratic institutions and their individual representatives. And that trust is likely to be repaid at the ballot box.
There is significant ground for our political class to make up.
As the UK’s prestigious Guardian newspaper put it, the judicial inquiry into the Lekki tollgate incident follows “a year of denials and contradictory theories offered by Nigerian government ministers”.
When citizens do not know what to believe, they will end up believing no one. That is why the best approach is for our democratic institutions and representatives to publish the unvarnished truth and allow the people to make up their own minds.
The truth is often hard to hear and harder to stomach. But the process of publishing it makes it possible for us to as individuals and as Nigerians acknowledge it, address it and move past it.
We cannot bring back the dead. But we owe it to the fallen to take every step we can to build a Nigeria where this does not happen again.
CEO & Founder – Rate Your Leader App (Digital Democracy)