By Rinu Oduola
After a month of silence, troll accounts dedicated to disparaging my work and sowing doubt about my age, occupation and right to express myself as a citizen of Nigeria were reactivated. Their task was simple: target me by releasing fake tweets and turn the public against me. My stand on the reopening on the toll gate remains clear; the state government and the private organisation which operates the toll have not been cleared of collusion with elements allegedly deployed by the federal government to target Nigerian citizens on home soil during a time of peace, without provocation. Justice has not been served, and as a representative of the Nigerian citizenry, my only recourse is to stay the course of justice.
Let me be clear: I chose to honour the invitation to represent my peers and to stand as an example that any Nigerian has the right to demand accountability of elected government officials and that our institutions, however flawed, can still deliver justice.
What I will not do is be part of a cover-up.
I am proud that I took that opportunity because some of the successes the panel has recorded so far have been incredibly powerful for the people. For the first time, SARS victims have had the opportunity to be truly seen and heard by the government, by the public, and by the system that allowed them to be victims in the first place.
The panel allowed victims of police intimidation and brutality to have their day in the light of justice. They got to expose the violence that was meted out, to experience some catharsis from having the government acknowledge its failures and, in some cases, received some compensation, however inadequate for the disruption to their lives. This is further than we have ever come as a nation, and while this same rigour was not applied to the case of the Lekki Toll shootings, we can at least celebrate the wins that our brothers and sisters can finally claim in their fight for justice, and recognise that our collective will is more powerful than any institution.
However, partial wins are not enough for me. I decided to join this fight because I wanted the government to recognise its failures and work to overhaul its security institutions. I did not expect piecemeal acknowledgements and efforts to sabotage vital proceedings.
On 6th February 2021, we were ambushed with a vote to reopen the toll gates. I participated because I do not believe in silence. It was clear where my loyalties lie. But at the end of the day, parties on the panel voted to reopen the toll, citing lost jobs as more important than justice for lost lives. For this reason, I will be stepping down from the Lagos Judicial panel as it is now obvious that the government is only out to use us for performative actions.
We must not forget the purpose of this panel: to address injustice and create accountability for the SARS brutality and for the heinous events on 20th October 2020. When calls for justice are subsumed by commercial concerns and vested interests, it calls into question the legitimacy and integrity of the entire affair and the impartiality of the proceedings. Without a final panel report or actionable steps, we are returning to the status quo.
I might be one woman, but there is so much I can do, outside of this cycle of hand wringing and lies, and I refuse to be manipulated into gaslighting the people and attaching my name to a rubberstamped, foregone conclusion.
I have held the government accountable even when my life was threatened, and I will continue to do so. There are trolls at every level that must be countered with facts and victims that are affected by the actions of this government, even if they don’t have the words to articulate their suffering. I hope to spend the next three months reconnecting with these people, documenting their stories, and empowering the children and family of the deceased SARS victims who are not alive to fulfil their dreams.
For anyone tired of hearing me demand better for my country: the only way to convince me to back down is to do your part to make Nigeria work. I will be doing mine, in the communities where it matters, with the tools at my disposal. I fear for myself, my family, and my friends; but so did the young men and women whose blood taints the Lekki Tollgate. It is from them I draw inspiration to continue my fight.
May we all see the Nigeria we deserve.