ANALYSIS…LEKKI SHOOTING: Deconstructing a pattern of lies, impunity as govt trademark
On a dark Tuesday night in Lagos, Nigeria, what started as a peaceful agitation by citizens calling for an end to police brutality and bad governance turned violent and bloody. To date there are no accurate figures as to the number of people who died that night at the Lekki Toll Gate, or the number of people injured from live bullets fired by soldiers.
The protests under the aegis of #EndSARS had gone on for days. Protesters barricaded the toll gate disrupting social and economic activities in that part of the state. The peaceful protests soon spread to other parts of Lagos and the country. And as it gained grounds government seemed to be getting very uncomfortable and obviously needed to act fast to quell the agitations.
Soon, thugs started attacking the protesters, who still maintained a peaceful demeanor, as they suspected that someone was out to give them a bad name, to give the authorities an excuse to come down hard on them. Government was the major suspect in this regard.
In efforts to reason with the protesters, the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu approached them at the Lekki Toll Gate, but they shouted him down, and would not even let him speak. They booed him, shouting “shame – shame. But when he was able to get a voice in, he said he identified with their complaints and would ensure that what needs to be done would be done, and urgently too.
He noted that they had a right to protest but to try to do so in a peaceful manner, even as he urged them not to disrupt the flow of traffic. The governor, equally assured the protesters that names of victims of SARS brutality were being compiled and that their families were going to be compensated.
However, unable to get the protesters off the streets, and fearing that it may take another dimension, since thugs had come into the mix, the state government announced a curfew in the state to run from 6pm to 8am. But the protesters vowed not to leave their ground, curfew or no curfew, as they had remained on the streets day and night for about thirteen days. Many have said that first night of the curfew will remain a dark spot in the history of Lagos State and Nigeria as a whole, and wonder if the truth of what actually transpired will ever be known.
Soldiers stormed the protest ground at Lekki Toll Gate and live bullets were fired at citizens who mostly sat on the floor reciting the nation’s national anthem! What followed after that were a deluge of lies and contradictions from concerned authorities as to who did what, and what actually happened, giving further boost to arguments in many quarters that governments and those in places of authority in Nigeria have no regard for the sanctity of human lives, nor do they care much for the need to be straight with the people.
Despite video footages that flooded the internet soon after the incident, and outcries from within and outside the country’s shores, concerned authorities preferred to adopt the silent treatment as they neither spoke, nor felt it worth their while to react to what was initially tagged a massacre of Nigerians on a peaceful protest.
The Lagos State governor whose domain played host to the tragedy was the first to speak, seemingly kicking off the trail of lies that many now view as attempts to cover up the shootings. He lamented the shootings, but tried to dissociate himself and his administration from the action of the soldiers. He emphatically stated that he was unaware soldiers were deployed to face the #EndSARS protesters, and even lambasted the men in uniform for employing measures outside their rules of engagement in dealing with a civil protest.
Sanwo-Olu told CNN’s Becky Anderson that it was his wife and cabinet members that informed him about the shooting at Lekki toll gate, and admitted that soldiers were involved, he said “From the footage that we could see, because there were cameras at that facility, it seems to me that they would be men in military uniform. That’s what the footage shows.”
The governor however noted that he had no hand in the deployment of the soldiers, by arguing further that he had no official powers to order soldiers out into the streets of Lagos, nor did he possess any knowledge about the protocols of the military and how they come out of their chain of command
He even condemned the military’s action when he lamented: “I don’t know how the officers got it all wrong because the instruction was that police won’t be out until 10-10:30 p.m. when all citizens should have gotten to their various homes. This is totally against what we stand for.
“The army does not report to me, I have reported the matter to the highest command in the military. It’s not something we are going to gloss over. A judicial panel will be set up to investigate it. I have escalated it to the highest level of the military.”
During a visit by National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the governor again insisted his hands were clean as he assured the former state governor, that he did not order the deployment of the soldiers.
The Nigeria Army however, seemingly threw Governor Sanwo-Olu under the bus, and put a lie to his claims. The Army through its 81 Division, Victoria Island, Lagos, said in a statement that the state governor actually invited it.
Acting Deputy Director, 81 Division Army Public Relations, Major Osoba Olaniyi said in the statement that “…The decision to call in the Military was taken by the Lagos State Government after a 24-hour curfew was imposed,” adding, that “this was as a result of the violence which led to several police stations being burnt, policemen killed, suspects in police custody released and weapons carted away…. The situation was fast degenerating into anarchy. It was at this point that Lagos State Government requested the Military to intervene, in order to restore normalcy.
“The intervention of the Military followed all laid down procedures for internal security operations. And all the soldiers involved acted within the confines of the Rules of Engagement, ROE for internal security operations.”
This however came after the same military had vehemently denied reports of involvement in the shootings that took place against #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate. The Army via all its verified social media accounts had boldly stamped ‘FAKE NEWS’ across several reports that soldiers shot at the protesters.
Also, the Army had noted that the protest was a civil matter and that the army had nothing to do with the attack. Director of Information, Nigerian Defence Headquarters, Maj. Gen. John Enenche claimed that video footages from that night circulating on social media were untrue and ‘photoshopped’.
Speaking on Arise News, Enenche said, “These videos were cropped and photoshopped.
“If not that I am not permitted I would have forwarded it to you. Up till this morning, I got analyst to analyze the video and they said it was cropped and put together.”
After admitting that it’s troops were deployed to the Lekki Toll Gate, the Army now followed up by insisting that no shots were fired at endSARS protesters. But its former spokesman, Brigadier General Sani Usman (rtd), seemingly put a lie to this in efforts to defend the soldiers when he told Arise TV that blank ammunition was used during the shooting of protesters at the Lekki tollgates on October 20.
He said, “If you look at the canisters, they were blank ammo and blank ammo don’t even kill. At a close range, one to maybe 100-metres – maybe it will have some pigmentation on your skin.
“Remember the military are armed and by the nature of their training, they are trained to kill and I think the military in its wisdom instead of using live ammunition decided to use blank armour which is meant for training.
“I think they should be commended for that otherwise there would have been serious collateral damage, but they were professional enough to have done that”, Usman said.
The military has not officially reacted to this claim, as it of course contradicts previous official claims.
The Lekki Concession Company (LCC) the firm in charge of the toll gate which many had thought would shed light on events of that Black Tuesday night dashed such hope when it failed to produce the CCTV footage of the actual shooting, for the world to see what actually happened.
After the bloody incident of that night, the Lagos State Government has set up a Judicial Panel of Inquiry to investigate cases of police brutality and the Lekki Tollgate shooting. Abayomi Omomuwasa, Managing Director of LCC, when he appeared before the panel to testify, said the CCTV stopped working at 8pm on the night the shooting took place due to network issues, and as such did not capture the actual shooting.
He told the judicial panel that LCC uses automatic plate number recognition, which helps the company classify cars and recognise plate numbers and surveillance camera called PTZ.
“Because we operate an electronic tolling system, we power it with different types of devices,” he said.
Social commentators have marveled at the deluge of lies pouring out from concerned authorities over the Lekki shooting and regret that government has learnt nothing from the issues that threw up the #endSARS protests in the first place. They contend that government officials, and indeed many individuals in the corridors of power in Nigeria care little for the people, and that acts of impunity, which have characterized government dealings with the people are still very much ongoing.
Alade Ogundipe, a lawyer and social commentator lamented that such acts of impunity and insincerity on the part of government officials is “because they know for a fact that nothing comes out of these things. The system has been structures in such a way that many people get away with many bad things”.
“This is what led to the endSARS protests in the first place. Using official covering people commit offences, dehumanize Nigerians, sometimes maim and kill using official covering; go outside laid down rules, acting with impunity, yet nothing happens to them. Sad as it may seem, this issue (Lekki shooting) may end up as another of such cases that triggered the protests. Because of course no one has so far been indicted, and the way things are going, no one is likely to be. Not even a fall guy to appease the sensitivity of Nigerians. It’s sad indeed”, he lamented.
A number of other commentators who echoed the same view, note that such circumstances have made the people lose confidence in government, and that the deep seated anger and distrust were evident in the number of youths who willingly, joined the #endSARS protests, and the scale of violence that erupted during the unrest following the Lekki shooting. Many fear that government, rather than regain the people’s trust, may just be further growing the mistrust, and settling down to business as usual, in which the people are ignored and treated as only tools to election victories.