By Michael Olorunwa
Days after the Lekki toll-gate bloodshed, an incident which spawned a widespread global outrage, the Nigerian Military has come out to exonerate its officers from any unlawful activity, insisting its troops acted within the confinement of the law and upon request by Lagos State Government.
Reacting to controversies adjoining some of its officers, a statement by the Acting Deputy Director, 81, Division Army Public Relations, Major Osoba Olaniyi, which provided more clarity on the troop’s deployment during the protests, disclosed that the State Governor had actually requested the assistance of the Military in dousing the high rate of violence which trailed the EndSars protest.
This, however, contradicts earlier statements by the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who, on frequent occasions of enquiries, had insisted that the deployment of soldiers to the Lekki venue of the protest was without his approval.
According to Major Olaniyi, “decision to call in the military was taken by the Lagos State Government (LASG) after a 24 hours 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 to restore normalcy”.
Recall that the Nigerian Army during the Lekki attack denies any involvement, even tagging videos evidence showing its officers at the scene of the incident as fake.
The statement reads further,” The intervention of the military followed all laid down procedures for Internal Security operations and all the soldiers involved acted within the confines of the Rules of Engagement (ROE) for Internal Security operations.
On the alleged genocide at the toll-gate, Major Olaniyi stated, “Headquarters 81 Division Nigerian Army reiterates that the Nigerian Army in the discharge of its constitutional responsibilities did not shoot at any civilian as there is glaring and convincing evidence to attest to this fact. This allegation is the handwork of mischief makers who will stop at nothing to tarnish the image of the Nigerian Army. The general public is hereby enjoined to discountenance this allegation as there is no iota of truth therein.”
The Lekki toll-gate incident is one which may never be easily forgotten in Nigeria’s history in a very long while. A group of EndSars protesters, who were pushing for a complete modification of Nigeria’s policing system, were attacked by some military personnel who fired live rounds at them, reportedly killing at least 12 people, and leaving several other injured.
Immediately after the Lekki shooting, Governor Sanwo-Olu had denied seeking the support of the Military. He at several points, during the widespread condemnation, attributed the troops’ deployment to “forces beyond my control”. This stand he maintained even on National Television and during an interview with a CNN journalist.
The state government immediately issued a statement rebuking the military interference, while also stating that the deployment was not his doing. His statement, “The army does not report to me, I have reported the matter to the highest command in the military. It’s not something we are going to gloss over. A judicial panel will be set up to investigate it. I have escalated it to the highest level of the military.”
This revelation by the Nigerian Army has now thrown the embattled Governor on a stormy edge due to the sprouting inconsistencies in his previous claims. A particularly damaging timing for Sanwo-Olu it is, especially coming after the setting up of an investigating judicial panel that already is being criticized for its alleged imposition of an “oath of secrecy” on its participants.
A communal thought that the Lekki toll-gate gruesome directive was carried out to protect the investment interest of former Governor of Lagos State; Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is another fueling issue generating more controversies.
Just like the state governor, Tinubu denied any involvement in the troop’s deployment, but that was coming too late as barely few hours after the incident, Lagosians witnessed a high level ruthless and coordinated attack on some investments and structures in the state.
Television Continental, a fast-rising TV station belonging to Tinubu, was completely razed to the ground along with the facilities in it. Also, the aggressors did not end there as they also torched the operating building of The Nations Newspaper, Oriental Hotel and a lot of other companies believed to have a link with the former governor. There were reports of massive lootings of businesses in various parts of the state, as well as attacks on some private properties.
While Nigerians await the outcome of the Sanwo-Olu judicial panel, all eyes are also on the Governor over what defence he will put up as a rejoinder to the statement by the Nigerian Army.
The questions begging for and answers from the Lagos State Governor are;
- Did the governor actually unleash the troops on the peaceful #EndSars protesters as posited by the Nigerian Army?
- If the answer to above is “yes”, did the governor specify his areas of concern to the military?
- If the answer to 2 is “yes”, did the governor highlight the mode of operation and limitations to guide against abuse of power by the requested troops?
- Going by the position of the Military, did the governor initially lie to Nigerians on both local and international media in an attempt to exoneration?
- Would the Governor deem it necessary to recuse self from the set up judicial panel to allow for an undiluted and fair outcome?
- Since the IG of Police, Adamu, already announced the deployment of the Special Anti-Riot Team nationwide, under what other circumstance or contingency did the governor feel the military should rather be consulted?
- Will the governor be willing to accept the fact that the violence that sprang up in various parts of the country was owing to the Lekki toll-gate incident?
- Will the governor be ready to accept responsibility for the nationwide violence that trailed the Lekki toll-gate incident?
The Governor at this point is in a dilemma of either validating the statement by the Army Major Olaniyi, an acceptance which will further demonize him in the public view, or maintain his earlier stand and allow the discussion to further degenerate.