Opinion

Mass Burial And The King Who Wants To Live Forever

By Suyi Ayodele

KINDLY open your Bible and join me to read Isaiah 29:15. It reads: “Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, who seeth us? And who knoweth us.” May the Lord bless the reading of his words in our hearts (Amen). The psalmist says in Psalm 119:89 that the word of the Lord is sure and forever settled in heaven. Nothing can change that. No matter how long a lie thrives, the truth catches up with it and overtakes it. Daylight has a way of revealing the secrets of the dark. It has been like that from the beginning of creation; it remains so, even now, and so shall it be till the second coming of our Lord. Having read the Scriptures, let us see what our forebears taught us about secrets and the fullness of time.

There is a folklore derived from one of the Odu Ifa (Ifa Corpus). I heard the story told several times, while growing up, and its imports are parts of my guiding principles in my adulthood. There was a wicked king, dreaded by his subjects, a lot. He spared nobody in his wickedness, and he was very mean at it. He, however, had a beautiful wife, whom he loved dearly. The Olori appeared to be the only one the king would spare in his wicked deeds. One day, the wicked king decided that he must live forever, and he sought ways of achieving that by consulting an equally wicked medicine man. The medicine man told the king that he must sacrifice the most precious thing to him for the charm of longevity to be potent. The king did not think twice. He knew what was most precious to him, his Olori. So, he lured the unsuspecting Olori to the deep forest, where he had her beheaded. The Olori realised too late what fate awaited her in the deep forest. She tried all she could to dissuade the king, and even tried some of her metaphysics as a member of the ‘aaro meta ti kii d’obe nu’ (the tripod which stabilises the pot- witch). But all failed. As the king raised the sword to deal the deadly blow on her, the Olori made a pronouncement: “Itansan oorun yi o fi o han”(the rising of the sun will expose you). The deed done, the king returned to his throne, set up a search party for the Olori and mourned her disappearance or death at the hands of some wild animals. He had already had the queen’s wrapper soaked in blood and dropped off where the search party could easily find it. The entire kingdom mourned the queen and life returned to normal.

However, a while later, calamities upon calamities began to happen in the town. The rats refused to squeak like rats, birds didn’t chirrup like birds, and the barren used their camwood-soaked fingers to rub dry walls (eku o ke bi eku, mo eye o ke bi eye, agan wa nfi owo osun nu ogiri gbigbe). Everybody was a partaker of the bad situation the same way the Holy Book says when the wicked suffer, the righteous is not spared. The community came together and prevailed on the king to consult the oracle. The two prominent Babalawos of that era were Ikakiigbe (Wickedness does not go unrewarded) and Ooreikiisonu (Good deed is never lost). The Odu that surfaced on the divination board was Oyekulogbe. The two Babalawos asked the king to look through the window into the sky. He did, and what he saw was the fullness of the rising sun. On sighting the sun, he instantly burst into laughter, the uncontrollable one. When the laughter would not abate, the Babalawos had to do what they needed to do. The king was forced to confess as the echo of the pronouncement of his Olori kept ringing in his ears. Then, he was given the calabash of life to open, as custom demanded.

As you are reading this piece, a very expensive, and almost ‘befitting’ burial is underway in Lagos, the Centre of Excellence. Barring any last minute’s change of mind, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu will be spending the sum of N61,285,000 (Sixty-One Million, Two Hundred and Eighty-Five Thousand Naira), to bury the victims of the October 2020 #EndSARS riots, killed in Lagos by mindless soldiers and policemen. Like the wicked king in our story above, Governor Sanwo-Olu and his team succeeded in keeping away the corpses, 103 of them, at least for now, from the public for over two years until the rising of the sun exposed them last Wednesday!

The #EndSARS riots, which first broke out in Benin City on October 8, 2020, spread to other cities like the proverbial harmattan conflagration. For 12 consecutive days, youths across the major cities of the nation, congregated at city centres to protest what they termed police brutality and extortion. Lagos became the epicentre of the protests as the aggrieved youths introduced the Lagos razzmatazz of “Eko for Show” into their protests. They took over popular centres, organised musicals and got notable Nigerians, mostly youths, to address them. They shared food items, drank water, and cleaned up the spaces of any dirt. It was the most organised protest ever, far more coordinated than the 2012 anti-subsidy removal protest at Ojota. One such centre in Lagos was the popular highbrow Lekki Tollgate. Governments at the federal and state levels tried to destroy the unity of the aggrieved youths but the youths maintained their positions. Even when notorious Lagos urchins, obviously backed by the government, tried to provoke the protesting youths, the street urchins and their paymasters were disappointed as the youths remained calm. When the government could no longer bear the audacity of the protest, it did the unthinkable. On October 20, 2020, while the youths were singing the National Anthem, and waving the Nigerian flag, a killer squad of soldiers was sent after them. The lights at the Lekki Tollgate, managed by Lekki Concession Company (LCC), believed to belong to the incumbent President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, were switched off. And using the cover of the night, the killer soldiers opened live bullets on the harmless protesters. The videos of the incidents were as gory as they were inhuman. The murderous gang sent after the youths were vicious as they blocked all routes through which the protesters could have escaped. The injured were also prevented from seeking immediate medical attention. It was a sad day for the nation and humanity!

The public outcry that greeted the barbaric act of the government was deafening. Everyone who has blood running in his or her veins condemned the act, which is recorded in history as “#EndSARS Massacre”. The reaction of the Lagos State Government was what the iconoclast, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, termed “government magic”. A panel, the “Lagos Judicial Panel on Restitution for Victims of EndSARS and Other Related Abuses”, headed by Justice Doris Okuwobi, was set up. Prominent Nigerians were included in the panel. The panel sat for over a year and submitted a 309-page report to the government on November 15, 2021, where it admitted that there was “massacre in context” at the Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020. Among other findings, the panel submitted that 48 protesters were either killed or injured, or assaulted; found Governor Sanwo-Olu, the Army, the Police and the LCC culpable and awarded N410 million as compensation to about 70 victims of the event.

What was the Lagos State Government reaction? The very government which empanelled the Justice Okuwobi board, rejected the reports, and insisted that nobody was killed at Lekki Tollgate. Abiodun Owonikoko, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who represented the government at the panel, claimed to have discovered “40 discrepancies” in the report. Owonikoko (Money is the ultimate), argued that the Justice Okuwobi panel erred by making its findings public. “By law, the findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the panel were not supposed to be made public”, the senior lawyer told a bemused nation. In other words, the report would have been submitted secretly for the government to issue its “White Paper”. Governor Sanwo-Olu himself, on October 21, 2020, after his initial denial that nobody died at the Lekki Tollgate shooting, admitted that one person died because of “blunt force trauma.” He dismissed the death as an isolated case.

The controversies over the reports were endless. Like every other issue before it, the Lekki Tollgate “massacre” ‘died’ a natural death, and Nigerians moved on to some other engagements. In a piece titled: “Lekki Massacre: The real dead men”, published on November 23, 2021, as my reaction to the denial of any death by the Lagos State Government, I concluded thus: “…I make bold to submit here that the real “dead” are the individuals, who are still in self-denial of the massacre. Those who said nobody died in the Lekki Tollgate shooting of October 20, 2020, are the very dead and missing victims of their inhumanity. A man must be truly dead, but not yet buried, to believe that after soldiers fired live bullets at National Anthem-singing and flag-waving harmless Nigerians, everybody went home and like the Israelites told Moses in Numbers 31:49: “Your servants have counted the men of war who are under our command, and there is not a man missing from us”. Lie can travel as fast as it can and as long as it likes, it takes a split second for truth to overtake it.” The truth of the matter, like the Olori predicted that the rising of the sun would expose the wicked king, came to the fore on Wednesday, July 19, 2023.

In a five-paragraph memo dated July 19, 2023, authored by the Lagos State Public Procurement Agency, with the subject: “Letter of No Objection Mass Burial for the 103 Year 2020 ENDSARS Victims”, the agency stated that it had no objection “to the award of contract to MESSRS. TOS FUNERALS LIMITED at a total cost of N61,285,000.00 (Sixty-One Million, Two Hundred and Eighty-Five Thousand Naira) only for the mass burial for the 103 year 2020 EndSARS victims.” The memo was addressed to the Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Health, who had in a July 13, 2023, memo, with “Ref No: LSMH/G/NS/013-1/23”, sought the agency’s consent to award the N61.2 million contract for the mass burial of the 103 ENDSARS victims to the mentioned undertakers. The Nigerian social media made a feast of the memo. The entire secret, which the Sanwo-Olu government in Lagos had hidden from the public, came to the open, effortlessly.

Predictably, the Lagos State Government came out with another denial. In a press statement issued on Sunday, July 23, 2023, and endorsed by Dr. Olusegun Ogboye, Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Health, the government said that the 103 corpses were not those of the Lekki Tollgate massacre, but dead bodies picked up by the Lagos State Environmental Health Unit (SEHMU), at different locations in Lagos during the EndSARS and other riots. Hear him: “For the records, the Lagos State Environmental Health Unit (SEHMU) picked up bodies in the aftermath of #EndSARS violence and community clashes at Fagba, Ketu, Ikorodu, Orile, Ajegunle, Abule-Egba, Ikeja, Ojota, Ekoro, Ogba, Isolo and Ajah areas of Lagos State. There was also a jailbreak at Ikoyi Prison. The 103 casualties mentioned in the document were from these incidents and NOT from Lekki Toll-gate as being alleged. For the avoidance of doubt, nobody was retrieved from the Lekki Toll Gate incident.” Really? How many of the 103 bodies were those of EndSARS riots? How many people died during the “jailbreak at Ikoyi Prison”? When people died during “community clashes”, were there no relations to pick up their dead for burial? Is Dr Ogboye saying that the entire communities perished in the “community clashes”. He was never specific in the demographic distribution of the 103 dead bodies to his numerous ‘causes’! Ogboye claimed in his press statement that “there was not a single finding in the report or ensuing white paper attributing the death of any named citizen listed in the autopsy to the Lekki incident.” The question to ask here is who is lying between the Permanent Secretary and Governor Sanwo-Olu, who over two years ago, admitted that one person died because of “blunt force trauma?”

Truth be told, it is becoming obvious by the day that those we saddled with the responsibility of managing our affairs are people of very low mental aptitude and completely absent moral latitude. How on earth would a government, which initially denied that anybody died during the #EndSARS riots come up with the argument that it picked up corpses at different locations after the riots. Yeah, the keyword Sanwo-Olu and his handlers would want to avoid till they meet their makers is Lekki Tollgate. That is understandable, because admitting that the mauling soldiers who went after the harmless protesters, killed any of the youths, would amount to indicting the godfather. But for how long can they hold the truth down? The subject of the procurement agency is very clear. It has no ambiguity in it. A ministry requested for procurement of a contract to bury 103 #EndSARS victims. The agency replied by saying: “Letter of No Objection Mass Burial for the 103, the Year 2020 ENDSARS Victims”, and a permanent secretary somewhere is telling us that the dead bodies included those “picked up”, like common snails, from the streets of Lagos. If the Lagos State Ministry of Health knew that the 103 corpses were not those of the EndSARS victims, exclusively, why did it not include the other victims in its request to the agency? Is there no end to wickedness? And come to think of it, who are those not allowing “the hapless families of the unclaimed loved ones a deserved closure”, if not the very government which denied the existence of “massacre in context” at the Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020, as submitted by the government panel. To say the least, the latest denial of the cause of deaths of “the 103, the Year 2020 ENDSARS Victims”, as stated by the Lagos State Public Procurement Agency, by the Sanwo-Olu government is not just wicked, it is incurably inhuman. Dr Ogboye can tell his tale of “jailbreak” and “community clashes” to the lords of Alausa and owners of Lekki Tollgate. Nigerians, home and in the Diaspora now know the truth. Indeed, the words of the Lord are forever settled in heaven and Ifa remains the Awise that He had been from ages past. The ‘CIA’ detector, who discovered the hidden camera of the LCC, can keep it and its contents for all that we care. Nigerians, who knew the truth about the Lekki Tollgate massacre can now rejoice because itansan oorun ti fi won han (the rising of the sun has exposed them).

As the Good Book says in Isaiah 5:20, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter”! May the souls of the heroes and heroines of the 2020 ENDSARS riots all over Nigeria rest in peace.

(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Tuesday, July 25, 2023)

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