By Arinze Chijioke
Two years after, families who lost breadwinners during #EndSARS protest struggle for survival in Enugu.
Chinedu Solomon was only six when his father died in 2004.
After his father’s death, his mother, Esther Obi, did menial jobs for survival following the death of Chinedu’s father. Together, they lived in the Abakpa area of Enugu State, south-eastern Nigeria.
When he was 16, his mother sent him to train as an automotive technician for four years. He was her first child and the hope was that after training, he would become his own boss and care for her and his three siblings, a common aspiration of parents in this traditional Igbo society.
He had started making plans to rent a new apartment to elevate their standards.
“Whenever it rains, it beats us and soaks our clothes because the roof is leaky,” Solomon’s mother Obi said of their house. “If the sun gets intense, we leave the room and stay outside because the heat becomes unbearable.”
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Obi, a native of Ezeagu in Enugu State, and her children had visited the hospital several times due to constant exposure to rain. But they did not give up hope that things would get better as they invested expectations in Solomon, who was rounding off his training.
Sadly, their hope of a better life was cut short after Solomon was shot dead by a police officer during the #EndSars protests on 20 October 2020. On that black Wednesday morning, as Obi describes it, they were all together when he got a call from the company he worked for.
“They wanted him to come and do some repairs for them,” a teary Obi said. “He told us that he wanted to complete the work and get some money for the new apartment.”
Hours after Solomon left, his mother got a call from one of his friends who told her that he (Solomon) had been shot in the chest by a policeman and was quickly rushed to Ntasi Obi Ndi Nonafufu, a Catholic Hospital in Trans-Ekulu in Enugu where he was pronounced dead.
Obi said she rushed to the hospital, however she was told he had died. The doctor led her to the morgue and there, she saw her son lifeless.
“He was not even part of those who were protesting, “Obi said as tears trickled down her cheeks. “I don’t know what will become of us with his death.”
The #EndSARS protest and Enugu State panel
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In October 2020, demonstrators, mostly dissatisfied youths, in their thousands thronged Nigerian cities, calling for an end to police brutality in the country and demanding justice for victims of police violence and extrajudicial killings across the country.
Known as #EndSARS, the demonstrations started as a call for the disbandment of Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigerian Police Force that has earned notoriety for its brutality and human rights violations.
Although the government announced structural changes to SARS, the human rights violations and exploitation continued, forcing celebrities and activists to rally for support on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. In a matter of days, protesters lined the streets, calling for compensation for victims of police brutality, retraining of police officers, and trials of indicted SARS officials.
After the demonstrations, the Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, constituted a nine-member Administrative Panel of Inquiry with a mandate to “investigate the loss of lives and/or other grievous bodily injuries to private citizens and security personnel.” The panel was inaugurated at the government house on October 28, 2020.
The terms of reference of the panel, which had sixty days to conclude and submit its report to the governor and, among other terms, to identify private persons and security personnel who lost their lives and recommend compensation that may be paid to their families; identify private persons and security personnel who sustained grievous bodily injuries and recommend compensation that may be paid to them.
Obi and her children heard of the panel and contacted a lawyer who helped them put up a petition and submitted it as required. She hoped to get justice and compensation for the death of her son. After her son’s case was heard and adopted, the panel told Obi that she would have to wait till recommendations are made to the state government.
Sadly, almost two years after the panel concluded its proceedings, Obi has not received any compensation. She wonders how long she will have to wait to get justice for her late son.
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Now, she and her three children struggle to survive. Oftentimes, they depend on neighbours and friends for survival. They still live in the zinc house.
“When we become sick, there is no money to go to the hospital and so, we drink hot water and bathe with it to stay warm”, she said. “I am tired of calling and begging people for money. If Solomon were here, we would not be going through this pain, he made sure we had food on the table. I have not lost hope.”
Her second son, Odinaka has discontinued his training to become a chemist because of a lack of money. Sometimes, she goes to a nursery school to take care of children and wash clothes for people to feed her family.
Killed two weeks after he became his own boss
After Chinonso Onyama’s father died in 2002, his mother, Ukamaka Onyama, started taking care of him. He was only five at the time. When he turned 15, he started learning how to make furniture.
Ukamaka had hoped that upon the completion of his training, he would help turn things around for the family, including his siblings, four of them. He promised to help fix her house in the village.
But he did not live to fulfill the dream. He was shot and killed during the #EndSARS protest of October 2020 on his way back from a restaurant at Ugwueke in the Abakpa area of Enugu State.
It was two weeks after he graduated from his workplace. He had learned how to make kitchen cabinets and bedroom furniture near Timber Shade in Abakpa, Enugu, and was already saving money to start his own furniture business.
“He was like the head of my family,” said a distraught Ukamaka. “He always provided food, paid our rent, and paid the school fees for his younger siblings.”
Chinonso was buried in Ezeagu in Enugu state on November 6, 2020, with the help of his friends, who had also taken his corpse to the mortuary after he was killed.
Like Esther, Ukamaka does not know what has become of the panel’s report. She wants the government to help take care of her children just as her late son promised. She said it has not been easy taking care of her children, four of them, since Chinonso died.
In February 2021, she returned to her village, where she has been engaged in farming with her mother, and with what money she earns, she buys food items and brings them back to her children.
“I weed on people’s farms in the village and earn between N3000 and N5000 on each farm,“ she explained. “I also use the money to pay for my house rent”. “Recently, my last son, Samuel, fell ill, and I had to beg for money to treat him”.
Panel, Enugu govt react
When contacted, the secretary of the panel, Charles Abugu, said that they concluded their report and submitted it to the government in March 2021. He, however said he does not have an idea of when the government intends to implement the findings.
“We did a detailed report and submitted it to the government in 2021 and they are working on it,” Abugu said. “So, families should keep expecting to hear from them”.
Governor Ugwuanyi had promised that the state government would expeditiously and dutifully study the report and accept and implement it as appropriate.
“It is my hope that the findings and recommendations of this panel, as well as the consequential government action, will mitigate the pains of the loss of lives of private citizens and security personnel, their grievous bodily injuries, and destruction of properties of private persons and security infrastructure occasioned by the hijacked #EndSARS protests”, he was quoted as saying.
In his response, Special Adviser to the governor on media, Samson Eze, said that the government was still working on setting up a panel that will review the White Paper/recommendations made by the panel.
“There are other challenges that the government is trying tackle, “he said. “They will look at the #EndSARS report at the appropriate time”.