…Amnesty Int’l, panel member, Southern Nigeria Frontier disagree
The dust raised by the report of the judicial panel of inquiry set up by the Lagos State Government to probe the EndSARS protest has not settled with the federal government insisting that there was no massacre of Nigerian youths at the Lekki toll gate on October 20, 2020.
Recall that the panel headed by a retired Judge of the Lagos State High Court, Mrs. Doris Okuobi, had identified 48 victims of the attack by the police and the army.
Eleven were confirmed dead, four said to be missing but presumed dead while 24 sustained gunshot injuries.
Reacting to the report, the minister of information and culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, said in a statement issued in Abuja yesterday that the leaked report was unverified fake news laced with discrepancies and inconsistencies.
He insisted that nobody was killed at the Lekki toll plaza on October 20, 2020, adding that the panel only wasted taxpayers’ money by coming up with such a nonsensical report, which he likened to ‘Tales by moonlight’.
“Without mincing words, let me say that never in the history of any judicial panel in this country has its report been riddled with so many errors, inconsistencies, discrepancies, speculations, innuendoes, omissions and conclusions that are not supported by evidence. What is circulating in public space is simply a rehash of the unverified fake news that has been playing on social media since the incident of October 20, 2020.
“It is simply incredible that a judicial panel set up to investigate an incident has submitted a report laden with allegations, the same allegations it was set up to investigate in the first instance. Instead of sitting for all of one year, the panel could have just compiled social media tales by the moonlight on the incident and submitted, saving taxpayers’ funds and everyone’s time. That report is nothing but the triumph of fake news and the intimidation of a silent majority by a vociferous lynch mob.”
He maintained that the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigerian Army were not involved in any massacre.
Mohammed noted that the 37 policemen and six soldiers who died across the country during the #EndSARS protests were also Nigerians and should not be forgotten.
“We are saddened that anyone died at all during the #EndSARS protest as the life of every Nigerian and indeed every human is sacrosanct.
“As we have disclosed many times, 57 civilians, 37 policemen and six soldiers were killed across the country during the protests, and we commiserate with their families.
“There is absolutely nothing in the report that is circulating to make us change our stand that there was no massacre at Lekki on October 20, 2020.
“For us to change our stand, a well-investigated report of the incident that meets all required standards and can withstand every scrutiny must be produced and presented to the public.
“We reject the notion that our soldiers and policemen massacred innocent Nigerians at Lekki on October 20, 2020. That conclusion is not supported by the weight of available evidence. Indictment for murder is a very serious issue that cannot be done on the basis of allegations and corroborations,” he said.
The minister further challenged families of those allegedly killed during the incident to speak out.
He said the report was silent on the family members of those reportedly killed, merely insinuating they were afraid to testify.
“Even goats have owners who will look for them if they do not return home, not to talk of human beings.
“Where are the family members of those who were reportedly killed at Lekki Toll Gate?
“If the panel is recommending compensation for the families, what are their identities and addresses? Who will receive the compensations when no family members have shown up to date?
“We also appeal to the families of those allegedly killed in Lekki to speak out. It is untenable to say that some families did not come out because they are afraid.
“Any parent who is afraid to testify about the death of his or her child is not worth to be called a parent,’’ the minister stressed.
The minister further queried the report and asked how a man who reportedly saw the lifeless body of his brother ended up being on the list of the panel’s deceased persons.
He queried: “How can a judicial panel convince anyone that the names of some `casualties’ of the Lekki Toll Gate incident listed as numbers 3 (Jide), 42 (Tola) and 43 (Wisdom) are not fictitious names?
“Why did the judicial panel feel compelled to concoct a ‘massacre-in-context’ as euphemism for ‘massacre’? A massacre is a massacre. What is ‘massacre-in-context’’? he queried.
Besides, he noted that the report threw away the testimony of ballistic experts that testified before it.
The experts, according to Mohammed, told the panel that that no military grade live ammunition (high-velocity) was fired at the protesters at Lekki Tollgate on October 20, 2020 within the timeframe of reference.
He reiterated that the federal government’s rejected the notion that soldiers and policemen massacred innocent Nigerians at Lekki on October 20, 2020.
“That conclusion is not supported by the weight of available evidence. Indictment for murder is a very serious issue that cannot be done on the basis of allegations and corroborations, as the panel did.
“Such allegations must be proved beyond reasonable doubt,’’ he added.
Meanwhile, the country director of Amnesty International, Nigeria, Ms. Osai Ojigho, said the government could not just dismiss the incident without verifying the evidence provided by the probe panel.
Speaking on ‘Politics Today’, a current affairs programme on Channels Television yesterday, Ojigho said, “I think the first thing is for us to establish the fact that there are different layers of government; so, what has been presented to the Lagos State Government, as we all know, is easy for the governments to communicate with themselves across board.
“I think the minister, with his position in government, should liaise with the state authorities to clarify or check information with regards to the panel’s work. That would have been an ideal step…and to allow the state government to carry out its task in this regard.
“It is not surprising for us at Amnesty International that the minister, Lai Mohammed, continues to deny that unfortunate incident that happened on October 20, 2020, at the Lekki tollgate because we have seen in the last one year the constant attacks, the constant narrative that is geared toward gas-lighting the victims, survivors and witnesses, and the create an impression that people are just up to no good,” she said.
She argued that there was a need for investigation into the happenings that occurred, not just only at the Lekki tollgate, but throughout the #EndSARS protests.
Ojigho maintained that people died in protests across the country and wondered why it was difficult for the authorities to address petitions, rather than targeting the human rights defenders, victims and witnesses.
Also speaking, the spokesman for the Southern Nigeria Frontier, Mr. Olufemi Lawson, said the outburst of the minister was not surprising.
Lawson noted that Mohammed had in the last one year done nothing but discredit the #EndSARS protests.
“Worrisome also is the deployment of our commonwealth by Mr. Lai Mohammed to address claims so unfounded and merely sourced from an unsigned social media version of the judicial panel’s report even at a time that President Buhari had earlier asked various state governments to forward the reports of their judicial panels of inquiries to the federal government for consideration.
“The continued brazen denial of the information minister does not in any way undermine the fact that there was a massacre at the Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020, as already revealed by various local and international media investigation and we have no choice but to allow the minister to continually hold on to his assumption over the matter.”
Similarly, a member of the panel, Mr. Segun Awosanya, said the minister’s reaction was one of the reasons why people do not trust the government.
Awosanya stated that the panel followed due process in carrying out its mandate, stressing that it would only respond to the state government, which set it up, and not Mohammed.
While featuring on ‘Politics Today’ Awosanya said the panel would not join issues with Mohammed.
“I often say that I don’t know how to react or respond to issues and I don’t know if it will be necessary to join issues with the minister of information. I don’t know in what capacity he is responding to the report that was submitted to the Lagos State Government and by extension to the national executive council.
“We have done our work and it is important to state clearly here that the panel members are quasi-judicial officers and they are bound in the discharge of the assignment to mirror as must as practicable, the hallowed conduct that befits the officers of justice. That means they must be detached, impartial and avoid joining issues with parties before them,” he said.