WHO SENT SOLDIERS TO LEKKI TOLL GATE?

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Lagos must be stopped from further burning, writes Kayode Yusuf

#ENDSARS protest began on Thursday, October 8 with youths taking to the Lekki Tollgate, Lagos to protest the wanton harassment, extortion, brutality and killings of the police. For nearly two weeks, the youths maintained their voice and presented their grievances to the government. This was via the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who addressed them in the earlier days and took their five-point demand to President Muhammadu Buhari at Aso Rock Villa.

· While Sanwo-Olu was eager to address the protests, the federal government was slow to gain the trust of the youths beyond issuing out promises which the youths didn’t buy. And with every passing day the legitimate protests grew organically across the nation just as hoodlums started infiltrating it. Slowly, the protests were hijacked in pockets of places. But last Tuesday, October 20, 2020, Nigerian soldiers arrived at the Lekki Tollgate and shot at the harmless Nigerian youths as the whole world watched via social media the melee. It was a Black Tuesday.

· By the next morning, The Punch newspaper reported that 49 persons died across the country. And, Sanwo-Olu in his state broadcast last Wednesday admitted soldiers shot at the youths at Lekki, apologised, ordered the Nigerian flag to be flown at half-mast and promised a probe into the atrocity. The governor said initially no one died but the shooting triggered anger and more burning, looting and killing continued across the country. In Lagos, the house of the governor’s mother in Surulere was looted and torched. Fake news hinted at former Lagos governor and a leader in the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as complicit. Twitter threats flew that his properties and person are targets. And TVC and The Nation newspaper, where Tinubu has interests, were torched. But that wasn’t all. Miscreants also took to the streets and had a field day, burning BRT buses, police stations, the courts, fire stations, Nigerian Ports Authority building and looting and killing. Civilians and security officials were casualties. Also, fake stories pointed accusing fingers at Biafra agitator, Nnamdi Kanu, as responsible for instigating Igbos to sack the Oba of Lagos’ palace and burn properties belonging to Yoruba in Lagos.

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In his interview with Arise TV on Thursday, Sanwo-Olu spoke like a man that a fast one was played on. As chief security officer in his state, he was in the dark about who ordered soldiers to the Lekki Tollgate on October 20, 2020, a date which will not be forgotten in Nigeria. In the interview, Sanwo-Olu admitted that the situation had started getting out of hand and by last Tuesday, when he saw images of police stations and a local government council being sacked, he consulted with the State Commissioner of Police and his security council and decided to impose a 24-hour curfew from 4pm. Realising the need to ease movement, especially as protesters who refused to leave the Lekki Tollgate, the governor asked that the start of the curfew be extended to 9pm. But by about 7:30pm, Nigerian soldiers arrived at the Lekki tollgate and shot harmless Nigerian youths.

At this point in the interview, Sanwo-Olu disclosed his shock at the carnage.

“And the events that happened about 7(pm), 7:30(pm), it was just a total shock to me and to everyone around me,” he said.

“I do not know how we got into that kind of a situation and it was just something completely unbelievable when the first call, it was actually one of my cabinet members that was with me. It was the wife that called us and said they were hearing shooting. ‘I said shooting, where, what? He said around Lekki. I said, no, it’s not possible. And we made phone calls around, nobody said they had sent anybody down because the instruction is that police would not be out until 10, 11pm when we believe that almost every of our citizen would have gotten home. So, I don’t know how they all got it all wrong. But it was just something that I couldn’t even explain. Who gave orders, who gave instructions for military to be there is still something that we are investigating and we have escalated this to the highest level in the military formations. And it’s something that our government has totally condemned. Personally, this is not what I stand for. This is not what I believe. I’m a part of the youths and the protesting youths from day one. I was the very first chief executive of a state to have joined the protesters on Monday. I was with them on Tuesday. You saw all the process and things that I’ve done to ensure that we can hear them, bring them in and continue to engage ourselves with the protesters. It’s rather very unfortunate and completely condemnable. It’s something that we do not stand for as a state and it’s something that everybody needs to continue to condemn at this point in time.”

· According to Sanwo-Olu, the Chief of Army Staff and the Chief of Defence Staff had called him following the shootings and offered assistance in restoring law and order. But the question of who ordered the soldiers to Lekki tollgate lingered. After the shooting, the Nigeria Army Headquarters had dissociated itself from the ‘rogue’ soldiers.

· For a fact, by the time the protest was about seven days old, some hoodlums had attacked the protesters in Lagos and Abuja but they were repelled. However, as the days progressed and while the president kept mum, tensions escalated. It was however, the day following the shooting of the Lekki Tollgate protesters that things got out of hand. It was then the looting, burning and killing went into full-swing. Put directly, the shooting at Lekki Tollgate was the trigger that led to the burning of Lagos and spread more violence across the country.

· But when President Buhari spoke on Thursday, it was a vacuous and uninspiring speech. Buhari remembered the dead security officials. He remembered that hoodlums attacked the palace of the Oba of Lagos. But he forgot to empathise with the shops and business owners that had their properties looted across the country, especially in Lagos. And it is distressing that Buhari failed to mention the shooting incident at the Lekki tollgate even when that was the epicentre of the #ENDSARS protest. It was at that spot that Nigerian soldiers opened fire on young Nigerian protesters.

· However, I find it strange that the Federal Government has not debunked what Sanwo-Olu said that he didn’t know anything about the soldiers that came to shoot the Lekki Tollgate protesters.

· Overall, the federal government’s response to Lagos’ throes has been cold despite the state government and federal government being controlled by the same political party. It is disappointing that Lagos was particularly treated this way given that it is the most economically viable state in the country. But Lagos must not be allowed to continue burning.