ON Monday, the United Kingdom parliament called on the British government to immediately commence investigation into alleged human rights abuses by the Nigerian government and security agencies. It demanded that the government should consider imposing sanctions, including visa bans and assets freezing, on any officials found culpable. The parliament condemned the alleged killing of peaceful protesters at Lekki toll gate on October 10 and called on the Nigerian government to uphold the rule of law. Leading the debate, Theresa Villiers, a member of parliament and petition committee, averred that the petition stemmed from the disturbing violence in Nigeria over recent weeks. Members at the chamber then took turns to condemn the inhumane treatment of civilians, asking that those responsible be held accountable for their crimes against humanity.
It is indeed salutary that the events of October 20 are receiving necessary international attention. Sadly, though, there seems to be very little to cheer about here in Nigeria, especially given the insistence by the government that the #EndSARS protest was targeted at regime change. The fact that members of the Nigerian Army, called upon to maintain law and order during the protest, allegedly took the law into their own hands and shot at protesters would remain a sore point in Nigeria’s democratic history. Nigerians have been left both perplexed by the antics and narratives by the Army since the unfortunate incident. At first, the army denied that its men were at the scene of the incident, but it later owned up in the face of mounting evidence. Next, it said that its men fired only blank bullets, only to later admit that its men carried both live and blank ammunition.
On November 21 while being cross-examined by the counsels for some of the victims of the shooting before the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry probing the incidents at Lekki Toll Gate, the Nigerian Army’s witness, General Ahmed Taiwo, tried to rationalise the army’s presence at Lekki toll gate. According to Taiwo, Commander of the 81 Division, Military Intelligence Brigade, Victoria Island, “the army denied being at the tollgate because we didn’t have full facts of the incidence at hand. I am not on Twitter and I am not privy to the Twitter account you quoted. Nobody was sent to the tollgate to break up or attack any protester.” This is, to say the least, unfortunate. How can the nation ever trust a military that cannot get its story straight?
Taiwo also claimed that with the benefit of hindsight, the army would not have taken a different action if presented again with a scenario similar to the October 20 shooting incident. He said: “After every operation, we usually do an After Action Review and come up with lessons learnt. I have looked at the tollgate issue with the same set of facts. We wouldn’t have acted differently.” Pray, does this mean that soldiers would shoot at protesters next time?
Justice must be done in this matter. Even if there was an emergency situation at the toll gate on the night of October 20 that warranted the intervention of the military, that situation could not have justified the obvious flouting of civil order. The military cannot hide under the claim that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu invited its men to the toll gate. Civil authorities frequently call upon the military to intervene in cases of perceived threats, but it is incumbent on the military to conduct that interference with utmost respect for the laws of the land. Besides, it is disingenuous for the military, which apparently was not the only security agency called upon by the Lagos State government to maintain law and order during the protests, to be citing the violence unleashed by hoodlums in the state after the Lekki shooting as evidence of the need for its action.
We urge the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry to get to the root of the matter and ensure that the culprits get their just deserts.
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