She has not been able to sleep for a week and at first wanted just “to stay hidden,” but a survivor of the shooting of Nigerian protesters at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos last week said she realized that she had to speak out.
“I feel like I’m hiding the truth,” said the young woman, whose name has been changed to Clara for her own safety.
The shooting of demonstrators in the center of Africa’s biggest city has unleashed chaos in Nigeria and stirred international outrage.
The bloodshed was watched live on social media by tens of thousands of Internet users.
Amnesty International said that security forces gunned down at least 10 people at the scene.
However, the Nigerian army and police have rejected all evidence of any responsibility.
Tuesday last week was the 10th day that Clara, a 24-year-old financial auditor, had woken up at 6am and joined the crowds at the giant Lekki Toll Gate to demonstrate against police brutality.
The site had developed into a place of protest, partying and prayers as thousands of mainly young people blocked one of the main highways in Lagos.
After days bringing the city to a standstill, the protests had begun to turn violent in numerous districts and the authorities announced a curfew from 4pm.
Clara and some of her friends in the crowd defied the order, despite the threats of a possible crackdown.
“We wanted to make sure it was a peaceful protest,” she said. “We picked up all the stones on the floor, we took away all the sticks lying on the floor, we made sure no one was selling alcohol so it would not alter the mood.”
However, the atmosphere began to darken, despite attempts to keep spirits high.
“I saw people with orange clothes at about 2pm taking CCTV cameras out,” the young woman said. “One of our guys went and asked them what they were doing and they said they were taking off cameras because they didn’t want anyone to steal or break them.”
The company that runs the toll gate has insisted that the cameras moved were those only for scanning vehicle number plates.
However, Clara was adamant.
“They were not plate registration cameras, they were at the top of the toll gate. It’s a lie,” she said.
At the time the curfew was meant to go into force, the demonstrators sat down on the tarmac and began to sing the Nigerian national anthem.
As night set in, Clara realized that the giant electronic billboard over the site and street lights had been turned off.
“It’s just when it started getting dark that we saw there was no light,” she said.
Along with a few others she went to ask workers from the toll gate to turn the illuminations back on, but they told her that it was an order from their boss.
“This is when I started hearing the shooting,” Clara said. “I saw five army vans in total. Two were at the back and three up front, all shooting.”
“Some people brought two injured to us. There were still a lot of shootings and I was trying to call an ambulance,” she said. “A group of soldiers came to us, and we started shouting: ‘Why are you killing us? We are one, we are brothers.’”
After a first wave of shooting “there was blood everywhere, people shouting,” she said. “There were different people on the floor, some were moving, some were not moving.”
“We were just running. I saw a woman begging for help, she was shouting in Yoruba: ‘I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die,’” she added.
Then the break ended and more gunfire began.
“This time there were army guys and other people who seemed to be like police,” she said. “Out of nowhere the shooting started again and I saw tear gas.”
People desperately tried to flee the scene. Some hid in bushes. Others jumped into the nearby water of the lagoon.
Only at about 2:30am did the sound of gunshots stop.
Echoing other witness accounts, Clara said that she saw the soldiers turn back ambulances and load the bloodied body of at least one man into a military vehicle.
“I can’t say if he was dead or wounded, but he was not moving anymore,” she said.
“I don’t know how many bodies they took, all I can say is that I saw this one,” she added.
One week on, Clara said she feels “traumatized.”
The protesters had hopes of a “better Nigeria,” she said.
“For once we put everything aside and came with one voice to fight against police brutality,” she said. “It’s sad that we had a protest to ask to live and they still came to kill us.”
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