Controversies have trailed the approval of N61.2m by the Lagos state government for the mass burial of 103 victims of the 2020 #ENDSARS protest in the state.
The #EndSARS was a decentralised social movement and a series of mass protests against police brutality in Nigeria.
The slogan calls for the disbanding of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian police with a long record of abuses.
The #EndSARS protest, which lasted two weeks, was peaceful until it was hijacked by hoodlums, who looted public and private-owned warehouses, burnt police stations and destroyed property.
The Lagos state government and the military faulted the report of the Lagos State Panel on Restitution for Victims of SARS-Related Abuses and Other Matters which admitted that there was a massacre at Lekki Toll gate when members of the Nigerian Army on October 20, 2020 opened fire on unarmed protesters.
However, Daily Trust, yesterday, sighted a letter dated July 19 by the Lagos State Government Public Procurement Agency titled: Letter of No Objection – Mass Burial for the 103, the Year 2020 ENDSARS victims, where the state government engaged the service of a private firm, Messrs Tos Funeral Ltd, at the cost of N61,285,000 to bury 103 victims from the protest.
“Following review of your request and based on the information provided therein, the agency has “No Objection” to the award of contract to MESSRS TOS FUNERALS LIMITED at a total cost of N61,285,000 (Sixty-one million, two hundred and eighty-five thousand Naira only) for the mass burial for the 103, the year 2020 Endsars victims,” noted the government in the letter.
The letter has generated reactions from some activists who maintained that it is an admittance on the part of the government that a massacre took place, despite denial from the authorities.
However, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Dr Olusegun Ogboye, in a statement issued last night, claimed that none of the 103 bodies was recovered from the Lekki Toll Gate incident.
“It is public knowledge that the year 2020 #EndSARS crisis that snowballed into violence in many parts of Lagos recorded casualties in different areas of the State and not from the Lekki Toll Gate as being inferred in the mischievous publications.
“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,” he said.
He added that the bodies were approved for mass burial because three years after the Chief Coroner of the state invited members of the public who had lost loved ones or whose relatives had been declared missing during the #ENDSARS protest, nobody responded to the call.
“It is important to state categorically that nobody responded to claim any of the bodies.
“However, after almost three years, the bodies remain unclaimed, adding to the congestion of the morgues. This spurred the need to decongest the morgues – a procedure that follows very careful medical and legal guidelines in the event that a relative may still turn up to claim a lost relative years after the incident,” he added.
However, Daily Trust had in November 2020, reported how family members looking for their loved ones, who went missing during the #EndSARS protest, besieged the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Ikeja and the Mainland Hospital, formerly known as Infectious Disease Hospital, IDH, Yaba in response to the announcement made by the Lagos State Chief Coroner, Hon. Justice M. A Dada.