Trainee soldiers deployed to engage #EndSARS protesters at Lekki toll gate – Army Commander

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The Nigerian Army revealed yesterday that the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, ordered the deployment of trainee soldiers from military schools to Lekki toll gate where some unarmed #EndSARS protesters were killed and others wounded on the night of October 20.

The commander of the 81 Division, Military Intelligence Brigade, Victoria Island, Brig.-Gen. Ahmed Taiwo, revealed this at the ongoing Lagos Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and Other Matters.

He said since 81 Division was short of troops, the Chief of Army Staff gave an extraordinary order that all Army schools should be shut down and everybody should be brought to the operation.

He said incidentally he had only a day before, as an examiner of the Nigerian Army Intelligence, taught the trainee soldiers about internal security techniques, adding that he pointed out to them on the operation day how it was unbelievable that only a day after learning the rules, they were going for an operation in internal security.

He said he believed that inviting the army was the best decision the governor could have taken given the burning of police stations and looting of firearms and ammunition; killing of policemen, blockage of roads and extortion of money from innocent citizens by hoodlums, who, he said, hijacked the #EndSARS protest.

Taiwo said since the police had been overrun, the intervention of the army was justified, but he said the Army frowned upon Sanwo-Olu’s denial of calling on them.

The general, who testified before the panel using a projector, had shown graphic images of policemen being lynched, police stations being looted and burnt, as well as citizens resorting to cannibalism by eating the burnt flesh of the corpses of lynched police officers.

“Many of us have lived through the 70s to the 2000s, and one thing I have said is that once a peaceful protest goes beyond three days there are hoodlums waiting in the wings to hijack it and cause mayhem and this was no different.

“This state of affairs continued until October 20 and even I was caught up in one of such mobs. The hoodlums I met are not the #EndSARS protesters we have come to see.

“It is the task of the armed forces to intervene when the security task overwhelms the police and other paramilitary services.

“Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu asked the army to intervene which was the correct thing to do.”

Playing a video of the siege to the palace of the Oba of Lagos, Rilwanu Akiolu, by hoodlums, Taiwo said the monarch and his family had to be rescued by the Nigerian Army.

“Both the Oba and his family were ferried to safety by the Nigerian Army.

“The business district areas were looted and offices were ransacked and destroyed. The hoodlums attempted to invade the Government House, but it was repelled.

“They attempted to break into the Ikoyi Prison and it was repelled. The 81 Division had to support the Correctional Services and the Police.

“They also burnt down the Igbosere High Court. The inmates had burnt part of the Ikoyi Prison, they all did this at the same time because they had gotten information about what was happening on the outside.

“They burnt Shoprite and Spar Lekki were looted. What was shocking and saddening to me was that mothers were taking their children to loot,” he added.

Taiwo defended the invitation of the army saying it was the best decision the Lagos governor could have taken.

However, he condemned the state governor, Mr. Sanwo-Olu for denying that he did not invite the army.

He said in trying to seek military intervention, Sanwo-Olu first called the Commander of the 9 Brigade, who told him that he had to follow the correct procedure by contacting the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, and the General Officer Commanding.

He said Sanwo-Olu subsequently called Buratai, the GOC and the Chief of Staff to the President.

“I spoke with the governor and said the Army was unhappy that he said he did not ask for Army’s intervention. But I am sure that after you watched everything (video footages); you saw he had more than enough grounds to ask for Army’s intervention. Perhaps, it was the way everything went.

“He called the Chief of Army Staff, following which 81 Division, Nigerian Army was ordered into Phase four of internal security operation. The call was in the afternoon, before 4pm.”

He also added that the Army was unhappy that the governor said two persons died from the military engagement.

He said the army did not kill any protester as the troop used expended bullets despite that some miscreants challenged the soldiers and hurled missiles at them.

“Blank expended ammunition contains only gunpowder, which just makes noise and a flash,” he said.

He stated that if live bullets were used, many of the protesters would have died, as one live bullet shot at a close range would kill at least three persons.

“If it hits you in the head, it will deposit the brain on the ground and go out. The entry hole is thin while the exit is wide, if it hits you in the chest or the bowels, the intestines (will) come down.

“I am an expert in ammunition, having stayed so long in the Army. Blank ammunition is slower and can do no damage to the flesh and you have nothing to fear except you take a rifle, put it against your eye and fire.

“Even if you put it against your skin and fire you will only have burn marks to show for it,” he added.

He accused a popular disc jockey, DJ Switch, who said she counted no fewer than 15 dead bodies at the tollgate, of being one of such persons.

“Some people take delight in misrepresenting Nigeria and particularly the Nigerian Army to the international community and our fellow Nigerians. This, I believe, is done for pecuniary gains.

“Quite recently, a Nigerian, Catherine Umeh, also known as DJ Switch, claimed the Nigerian Army was looking for her. There is nothing farther from the truth.

“My Lord, we have bigger fish to fry; and that is how to stabilise Lagos. We can’t be bothered chasing one or two people. Where she got that from, I do not know.

“We have those who constantly seek to drive a wedge between us and the citizens, forgetting that the result of a hated Armed Forces and hated security agencies is anarchy.

“We have seen it happen in Nigeria before; the Boko Haram crisis started as a quarrel by Boko Haram against the Federal Road Safety Corps over the use of helmet.

“Some citizens were supporting Boko Haram; it graduated to attacks on the police, then it went on to attacks on the Armed Forces and the Army and they were happy; yes, we are attacking the police; we are attacking the Army.

“Where do we find ourselves now? The same Boko Haram is attacking and killing innocent civilians. I am sure they regret their support initially.”

The Punch reports that Taiwo was thereafter cross-examined by counsel for the Lagos State government, Mr. Abiodun Owonikoko.

Owonikoko: Who made that call? Is it a military decision or decision of the governor of the state? Who made the call that ‘we were now at Phase 4, guys move?’ The decision of the governor is to say this thing is out of our hand; the police are overwhelmed; the threat is real and we need additional force. It is a request; he made a request. Is that not so?

General Taiwo: Yes

Owonikoko: Mr. President makes the decision whether that request, as at that time, was warranted. Is that not so? You have confirmed here that the governor tried to get the President and the Chief of Army Staff.

General Taiwo: I didn’t say Mr. President. I know he (the governor) spoke to the Chief of Staff to Mr. President, he spoke to the Chief of Army Staff and the GOC, 81 Division. Also before then, he had spoken to the Commander, 9 Brigade but the commander does not have the power to deploy troops in that manner.

Owonikoko: I am very happy with what you said. Now, with all these calls, Mr. Governor has no …. power to who…whether his request made sense or not. Am I right sir?

General Taiwo: I don’t know….

Owoniko: Please General, let’s not dabble into politics and constitutionalism. You know I asked you before that when the President made an order in terms of security in the state, the governor has no right to veto it. He must comply. What I am saying is that, the request to deploy armed forces by a governor is just what it is – a request. The decision whether that will be done is left to the Commander in Chief and his team of security officers. That is simple; it’s obvious.

General Taiwo: What you are saying is that when the governor called for intervention, we should ….. pack off.

Owonikoko: No, that is not what I am saying. I am saying that he has to do that because he has no right of command over the forces so he went to the higher authorities and said, ‘look this is where we are, we need it.’ Then the authorities made an informed judgment based on facilities and intelligence…..So what I am trying to find out from you, sir is that if Mr. President considered that it was unnecessary for the military to be deployed that day, would the governor be in a position to direct you to go out?

General Taiwo: Obviously no.

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