By Neta Nwosu and Constaincia Uruakpa
The Lekki shootings have continued to send cold shivers down people’s spines, home and abroad. The world is aghast. It’s incomprehensible. Eleven days gone, but the bare fact of its occurrence is still doubtful. It’s unintelligible to understand that truly soldiers cruelly sprayed the unarmed protesters with bullets at close range. For crying over escalating unendurable injustice of police brutality, extortions, torture and dozens of human rights abuse that have seen many of their siblings, friends and peers dead and maimed, the #EndSARS Lekki Toll Plaza protesters got brutalized with more dead and many injured at the purported directive of those they elected into power.
Nigerians are pained over the brazen injustice purportedly meted by government on the unarmed protesters seeking a just future. The government and its people are at loggerheads over who ordered the shootings at Lekki Toll Gate. The unguarded and inconsistent statements of both the Lagos State government and the Nigerian Army have further fuelled the people’s anger. Barely 24 hours after the bizarre act, the Nigerian Army, took to Twitter on October 21, 2020 to deny reports that soldiers opened fire on peaceful protestors during an incident the previous day.
Despite eyewitness accounts, video footages and several news reports, the army’s Twitter account labeled several local and international publications reporting on the shooting as “fake news.” Regardless of the multiple multimedia evidence, the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu also on same October 21, claimed that no life was lost inspite of the additional fact that these shots were fired at close range. Two days later, the Governor confirmed that two people were killed at the Lekki Toll Plaza. Contrary to Governor Sanwo-Olu’s claim that the deployment of troops was beyond his powers, the 81 Division of the Nigerian Army, spokesperson, Major Osoba Olaniyi, said on Tuesday, October 27, that troops were invited by the Sanwo-Olu government after he imposed a curfew penultimate Tuesday.
“The decision to call in the military was taken by the Lagos State Government after a 24 hour curfew was imposed. “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 LASG requested for the military to intervene in order to restore normalcy,” he said. Despite the long-awaited admission of troops’ presence at the toll gate, Major Olaniyi said soldiers did not fire at peaceful protesters, despite all the videos online.
These denials have continued to trigger outrage as Nigerian citizens both rich and poor lament over too much police and military abuses, hardships and failures of government to protect lives and properties. Nigerians are dissatisfied and would not believe the government anymore. They have lost trust in government that has consistently failed in delivering on their promises. They insist that the culprits must be brought to book. Mr. Femi Falana, a Nigerian Lawyer and Human Rights Activist in his interview with the Arise Television team on Monday, vowed to set up his own independent panel to unravel the Lekki Toll Gate unfortunate incident. “We are setting up our own independent panel. We are going to get to the root of the problem. Not just Lekki Toll Gate saga. We are coming out with facts and figures with respect to the entire killings.”
Of course, there have been so many alleged unscrupulous killings. He recalled a similar alleged massacre in Zaria about five years ago in the current government’s era. “In 2015, under the Muhammadu Buhari administration, soldiers killed civilians in Zaria and what were we told? A traffic offence. They said some people blocked the road, the Chief of Army Staff wanted to pass through that road, and for that reason, soldiers were asked to kill those who were on the highway. “Again, these were Shites. A lot of people said oh, their nuisance is too much and all that. 47 people were learnt to have been killed by the army. According to the authorities, the Shites wanted to assassinate the Chief of Army Staff or General Staff.
“What happened at the end of the day? In the submission of the Inquiry instituted by the Kaduna State Government, it emerged that 347 people, mostly women and children were killed, murdered, and at the end of the day, no autopsy, no post mortem; their bodies were buried in an unmarked grave. “Up till now, nobody has identified, nobody has exhumed the bodies for proper forensic examination. Nobody has come out to let us know who the family members are or the parents; nobody has consoled the family members. It does not happen anywhere in the world.
” “This is the highest crime against humanity.” In the past few weeks, Nigerians have bemoaned extrajudicial killings; they have collectively resolved that ‘Enough is Enough,’ and in very strong and intolerable terms. Falana expressed his standpoint, “So, when the Lekki incident happened, I just felt there has to be a thorough investigation, and we have begun. We are setting up our own independent panel, having regard to the denials stemming from the seats of power. We are going to get to the root of the problem. Not just Lekki. We are coming out with facts and figures with respect to the entire killings.” Investigation into the Lekki Toll Plaza killings has generated mixed feelings with many claiming that as usual, it would frizzle out like other inquiries commissioned in the past.
Several peace and security summits, as well as commissions of inquiry have been instituted in the past, but these yielded little or no result owing to the lack of political will by the government to implement the recommendations. Falana took a swipe at the Lagos State Government for initiating a Judicial Panel of Inquiry. “It’s not the matter for a Judicial Commission of Inquiry. But, please let’s insist. We don’t need to go and set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry. The Lagos State Government has gone beyond all that. Unlike many other States in the country, we have the Coroner’s inquest law since 2007. And what they ask and have done, is to contact the Honourable Attorney General of Lagos State, ‘Can we activate the provisions of this law, to have a scientific examination conducted’ because any unnatural death in Lagos shall be investigated, we will know the killers. And of course, to kill a human being is a very serious matter.
No responsible government can deny that people were killed or when you have not conducted an investigation.” Since there was a Coroner’s inquest law on ground in Lagos since 2007 why did the Attorney General of the State still opt for a Judicial Panel of Inquiry? Is it that the government and judiciary are not aware of the laws they put in place? The fact that Nigerian Constitution, statute books and other legal enactments aimed at providing backbone to governance are still confronted with obvious challenges is not in doubt. The increasing unconstitutional involvement of the army in civil matters is assuming a worrisome dimension.
Governments have a duty to protect their citizens against external aggression and internal violence. The first is usually the responsibility of the military while the latter falls on the police. But most times, governments’ deployment of the military is not wellthought out. Many have questioned the involvement of the military in purely civilian matters especially in the face of stiff evidence of military professionalism. A good number of Nigerians have presented complaints of how soldiers intimidate and coerce civilians. There have been many complaints on how soldiers have continued to subject civilians to psychological and emotional abuse.
Falana related a situation when the current APC government was in opposition and kicked against the deployment of military in civil matters as he also recollected an incident in November last year, when various groups and notable persons yesterday rose against the bid by the Nigerian Army to get all citizens identify themselves in a planned exercise tagged Operation Positive Identification, OPI. “When the APC government was in opposition, they filed about three cases up to the Court of Appeal. I mean from the High Court to the Court of Appeal where both the Federal Court of Appeal and the High Court of Appeal ruled that soldiers in Nigeria have no business to get involved in elections. “Last year, Nigerian Army wanted to subject all Nigerians to what they call identification exercise.
Everybody was asked to produce their identity cards, their driving licenses, passport, and so on and so forth. I said come millions of Nigerians do not have any means of identity because of the negligence of the government. “So, we are going to have a civil war in our hands when soldiers have to go to the street and be searching everybody. I said no. I went to court. I went to the Federal High Court. What did the army do? What happened? The army organized some laundering elements in Abuja, sponsored them to demonstrate against me. It was covered in the media.“Oh, Falana leave the army alone; go and solve your problem with the army,” some people told me. Public affairs analysts have continued to claim that government has no respect for the rule of law and are quick to break laws even under flimsy circumstances.
The Human Rights Activist reiterated that peaceful protests are backed by the law and holding rallies is not unconstitutional. The country is bedeviled with so many challenges because of government’s inability to respect law. The popular view is that #EndSARS killings occurred strictly because Government didn’t take cognizance of the law in its action. If Government can’t respect the law, why should anyone else. And of course, the people rebelled through violence. The Nigerian constitution avail citizens the right to assemble and express their views through responsible protests. Falana further stated that people seeking permission to hold rallies is unconstitutional.
“Look, our problem is that our government has no faith, no fidelity in the rule of law. Once a judgement of a court has been delivered, section 287 of the constitution provides that, that judgement shall be obeyed by all authorities and persons in the country. “Yes, you are right. In fact, it was General Muhammadu Buhari as it then was, that led the leaders of the ANPP to brief us to challenge police permit for rally because they have a rally in Kano on the 22nd of May, 2003, under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. “The rally was violently dispersed, people were tear-gassed. In fact, one of the leaders couldn’t survive the trauma because he was asthmatic.
Now, what happened thereafter? The police appealed. We went to court; we won the case in 2006. The police appealed. We won the case in 2008. We then went to the authorities. I don’t want to be accused of having allowed people to have unrestricted freedom.’ The scholarly lawyer spoke further on promotion of thuggery by government and politicians to the detriment of the country. According to him, the office of Amnesty International was occupied by thugs for weeks at a point in time. He also spoke on how thugs were allegedly deployed to scuttle the #EndSARS protests prior to the engagement of the army. “I had to write a letter to the President, pleading, this is an international organization, if you have problem with their figure, take it up with the management in London, but we cannot allow thugs to seize the office of an international human rights body.
Again, shortly thereafter, the thugs were withdrawn. In this particular instance, and I have never seen it anywhere in the world where in the federal capital of a country, where you have all the embassies, you have unmarked people taking thugs round, and it was being felt. “And the thugs were being ferried by officials of the government. And at the end of the day, we were simply told, ‘Oh, it wasn’t the State Security Service. In Lagos, ‘Oh, it wasn’t the Nigerian Army that shot.’ That is such denials. It does not portray us as a serious country because it is the duty of the government, anywhere in the world, to trace criminals, and ensure that they are brought to book. “Assuming without considering that the State Security was not involved in the show of shame in Abuja, it’s not enough to deny.
The faces are clearer by now. Those guys who set out to put the government in unbelievable embarrassment ought to have been arraigned in court, so that the government can distance itself from criminality. That was not all. Some of the boys who were arrested by the protesters in Abuja clearly admitted, confessed that they were given money at Jagrin Market to go and attack protesters. It was the same thing in Lagos; in Alausa,` some people went there in buses to attack protesters. “Now, once there was a free reign of thuggery in town, other criminal elements took advantage, including political entrants, including ex-convicts who wanted to bailout their colleagues, and the country is in trouble too. We must now go back to the drawing board. How do we manage crisis? How do we reduce riots? Yet, these are the issues,” he said on a final note.