The manifest ambiguity that characterised the stance of the American government on the controversial #EndSARS Lekki shootings is driving a new level of ambivalence among the Nigerian populace.
The hotly-debated subject, which came to be on the night of October 20, 2020, had polarised the country with majority believing there were fatalities at the protest ground when the military visited, armed. It has also been established at the judicial panel set up by the Lagos State government that live shots were fired by the armed officers while enforcing the curfew declared by the state government to arrest the spiralling protest, trailing public disaffection with police brutality, extrajudicial killings and government’s perceived inertia, despite nationwide cries.
While concluding that the available facts on the ground were not adequate to establish protesters were killed, the controversial United States report was not also categorical about whether protesters were shot at.
The report simply concluded that available facts did not support the popular opinion of a massacre.
Representatives of both federal and Lagos State governments have been celebrating the perceived exoneration on social media, where the alleged killings also trended for weeks, last year.
Presidential aide, Bashir Ahmed, simply said, “That is common knowledge,” to a snippet of the report on Twitter, giving the military that had been under harsh criticism an all-clear.”
The social media handler of President Muhammadu Buhari, however, came under a hail of criticism from his followers, for believing the conclusion of the American government against the live stream of the alleged incident by popular disc jockey, DJ Switch, who is now on asylum in Canada.
Media aide to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Gboyega Akosile, also joined the train, taunting those who had believed the fatality theory. Joining #LekkiLies to promote the vindication of the authorities by the Department of State, Akosile said he promised his daughter to say the truth as demanded by her.
He said, “A trying time. An opportunity to know true friends, family, colleagues etc. My daughter stood up to me, to ask a direct question, “Dad, tell me the truth! Painfully, I told her, ‘if I lie to other people in the world, I won’t lie to you’ she believed me. That was enough.”
However, Twitter users who disagreed with him went into the archives to fish out a tweet by his boss, posted the day after the Lekki incident, to further cast a pall of doubt on the conclusion of the United States.
The tweet reads: “This is the toughest night of our lives as forces beyond our direct control have moved to make dark notes in our history, but we will face it and come out stronger. I have just concluded visits to hospitals with victims of this unfortunate shooting incident at Lekki. It has taken me this long to make a statement because I have to prioritise the welfare of the victims of this very sad incident.
“There are currently 10 patients at the General Hospital, 11 at Reddington and four at Vedic; with mild to moderate levels of injuries while two are receiving intensive medical care. Three patients have been discharged and we will continue to monitor and ensure all patients get the best care.
“As the governor of our state, I recognise the buck stops at my table and I will work with the Federal Government to get to the root of this unfortunate incident and stabilise all security operations to protect the lives of our residents. I will give a state broadcast in the morning.”
The governor and military highest authority of the time vehemently disagreed over who invited the armed soldiers. Minister of State for Labour and Engagement, Mr Festus Keyamo, a senior advocate, also celebrated the vindication, this way; “A lie can travel round the world while the truth is just putting on its shoes. But once the truth straps its boots, it catches that lie with one step.”
While some of his followers aligned with him, some insisted that the Lekki Concession Company Limited (LCC) must make public, the content of its CCTV camera for the said night. Despite the exoneration on the Lekki shootings, the United States report still roasted the Nigerian military for impunity, saying “impunity remains a significant problem in the security forces, including in the police, military and the State Security Service (SSS). They are also susceptible to corruption, allegations of human rights abuses and operate with widespread impunity in the torture of suspects”.
Gbenga Olorunposi, flowing with #DJSwitchLied, said: “the only fools today are those that believed DJ Switch. You know yourselves.”
He was roundly excoriated by his Twitter followers.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International in Nigeria has insisted there were fatalities during the shootings, calling the reliability of the United States report to question.
Peoples Gazette quoted the Country Director, Osai Ojigho, as saying America concluded on the matter in a haste. Insisting that soldiers fired live bullets into the crowd of protesters, she said: “Amnesty International stands by its initial findings that in October, we released based on the information that we were able to independently verify as at that time and we have continued to encourage the state government and the Federal Government to do justice by the people.
“Amnesty International had asked for independent and transparent investigations into what really happened at the Lekki toll gate and we still haven’t seen that and that is what is really worrisome, especially because a lot of people will not be able to move on, until justice is served.
“There have been other reports by other organisations and also shared on social media attesting to the fact that different people who were located at the Lekki toll gate at the time of the incident were reportedly killed.
“CNN carried the report about a young man that died and when the younger brother called the phone number and people picked the call and they claimed that ‘this is not your brother, your brother is dead.’
“There are still a lot of unclaimed bodies in many of the Lagos State hospitals and it raised the question, ‘who are those people?’ ‘Would they be allowed to be investigated? Check whether these are people who suffered gunshots for example how long they have been there in order to rightly pinpoint the time they were in.
“If you look at the Amnesty report, we were able to use satellite imagery and information which were picked through verified accounts to show the movement of officers to the Lekki toll gate. The issue now really is not about government just giving a blatant denial but about how they need to carry out investigation without any fear.
“Right now, people are still careful to be publicly identified and this is what has been used by many that they haven’t seen anyone come forward on what really happened.”
She added that the United States “could have taken more time before evaluating the situation,” while admitting that she had no control over the way American diplomats in Nigeria choose to do their jobs. Ms Ojigho said her group would exercise further patience for facts from the Lagos judicial panel and medical facilities where injured protesters were taken to make final conclusion.
“We’ll retain our call that everything must be open, transparent, and families have the right to know the truth. The system needs to work for the people and not only for the government of those who are in the office.”
American authorities had listed AI’s report on the incident as an insufficient standalone claim and Ojigho rejected the claim. Leading rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, was unsparing of the report, tagging it prejudicial, contradictory and misleading. In an electronic response to Nigerian Tribune, he said, “The report has attempted to cover up the brutal killings at Lekki and other parts of Lagos from October 20 to 27, 2020. It is a very contradictory report.
“On the one hand, the report claimed that the members of the security forces were enforcing curfew by firing into the air to disperse protesters at the toll gate. On the other hand, the report stated that some protesters had turned violent after criminal elements infiltrated them and so the security forces fired protesters at the Lekki toll gate.
“The report did not mention the detachment of the Nigerian army which perpetrated the mayhem. Do soldiers shoot into the air to enforce curfew in the United States? The media should stop treating our people like colonial subjects by celebrating a foreign report that is subversive of the rule of law in Nigeria.
“How can the United States government be allowed to treat the proceedings before a properly constituted Judicial Panel of Inquiry so contemptuously? The report is prejudicial in every material particular. It should be ignored by the Judicial Panel as it is designed to pre-empt the evidence being adduced by the survivors of the barbaric attack.
“The report did not acknowledge that the Nigerian army which initially denied that soldiers were present at the Lekki toll gate later turned round to admit that they were there but fired only blank bullets. The Americans should update the report by explaining how casualties and amputees were recorded when the soldiers only shot into the air.”
Saluting the local media for doing a better job in chronicling the event, the senior lawyer said, “Fortunately, more credible reports on the Lekki killings compiled by the progressive media outfits in Nigeria including The Punch, The News, Sahara reporters and Premium Times have been published. To their credit, these media bodies have published detailed stories on the killings.
“Apart from the confirmation of the cold murder of two people by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, a senior surgeon from the Reddington hospital has given evidence of the protesters that were treated for gunshot wounds. Is the United States Government not aware of the fact that some amputees who lost their legs as a result of the shooting have appeared before the Lagos Judicial Panel of Inquiry?”
Raising more posers for the Americans, Falana noted, “Following the dumping of scores of corpses from October 20 to 27, 2020, did the Lagos State government not invite people whose family members were missing to identify the corpses at the Lagos State mortuaries? Did the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond ASCAB not disclose that there were 98 corpses dumped in the mortuaries? From the information at my disposal, three of those corpses have been traced to Lekki.
“I also know a lady who disclosed that her adopted son died of gunshots at Lekki toll gate. My law firm has taken up the case of a 28-year-old lady who collapsed at Lekki with head injury and later, died at a hospital in Lagos. The names of the casualties and amputees will be revealed at the appropriate time. “Even President Buhari told the meeting of former leaders that 69 people, including 51 civilians, 11 police officers and seven soldiers had been killed in the unrest. The President did not say if the figures included the protesters allegedly killed by Nigerian Army in Lagos.
“Did the United States report probe the breakdown of the official figures? So, why should I rely on the very unreliable report compiled in Washington on the genocide attacks on unarmed protesters by soldiers from the barracks who were illegally deployed by the immediate past Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai?”
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