Military: No comment because matter before judicial panel
By Kingsley Nwezeh
The military fired live bullets at #EndSARS protests at Lekki Tollgate, Lagos, contrary to its denial, a report by Cable News Network (CNN) said yesterday.
The CNN, in the report watched by THISDAY, detailed the events before and after the shooting and countered claims by the Nigerian Army that its troops did not shoot at the protesters.
The report also established that many protesters were still missing while bodies of slain protesters were yet to be accounted for.
The report titled: “They Pointed Their Guns at Us and Started Shooting,” showed analysis of videos obtained and geo-located by the news organisation depicting bodies, including that of one Victor Sunday Ibanga, drenched in a pool of his blood and wrapped in the Nigerian flag.
The Defence Headquarters (DHQ), however, decline to speak on the issue, saying the matter is already before the judicial panel set up by the Lagos State Government, to probe the incident.
A senior officer, who spoke anonymously told THISDAY, said: “The military is already at the Lagos panel. We do not have two positions.”
Military officers from the 81 Division of the Nigerian Army that appeared before the panel have insisted that soldiers only shot in the air and not at the protesters, adding that they fire blank, and not live bullets.
But the CNN, in the report, said it obtained and geolocated a photograph and videos of bodies, including that of Victor Sunday Ibanga, lying in a pool of his blood and wrapped in the Nigerian flag, one of the same flags gripped by fellow protesters earlier in the evening as they sang the country’s national anthem.
A member of Ibanga’s family confirmed the photograph was that of his brother.
The CNN report also showed the body of the deceased in a pool of blood wrapped in the Nigerian flag.
The report said: “The Ibangas are one of several families yet to locate the bodies of their missing loved ones, protesters at the toll gate, who dozens of eyewitnesses say were shot at, first by members of the Nigerian army and then hours later by the police.
“Eyewitnesses told CNN they saw the army remove a number of bodies from the scene.
What happened on October 20, and into the early hours of October 21, at the eight-lane Lekki toll gate, a key piece of Lagos’ road network, has stunned the country.”
It stated that the protesters who were present told CNN that “it was a ‘massacre’ with multiple people killed and dozens wounded. But local authorities have downplayed that account.”
CNN said calls to the Nigerian Army were not returned.
But on November 14, during a judicial inquiry into the shooting, army representative, Brigadier Ahmed Taiwo, said: “There’s no way officers and men will kill their brothers and sisters. I repeat no way. We have those who constantly seek to drive a wedge between us and between the citizens of Nigeria…”
The army also said at the hearing that it was Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who called soldiers to intervene because the police were overrun.
The governor has denied this, saying he does not have the authority to call in the army.
But the CNN report into the disputed events cast doubt on authorities’ shifting and changing statements.
“Evidence of bullet casings from the scene match those used by the Nigerian Army when shooting live rounds, according to current and former Nigerian military officials.
“Verified video footage, using timestamps and data from the video files, shows soldiers who appear to be shooting in the direction of protesters”, CNN said.
Accounts from eyewitnesses established that after the army withdrew, a second round of shooting happened later in the evening, the report said.
The report noted that since Elisha Sunday Ibanga learned of his brother’s death, he has been visiting hospitals in a desperate search for his remains.
“My mother, my sisters, all my family are in prayer, just to see if we can find out and know where my brother’s dead body is,” he said.
The bodies of other protesters are nowhere to be found.
Peace Okon, 24, hasn’t seen her younger brother Wisdom, 18, since he went to the protest the night of the shooting.
“He just came back from work on that Tuesday, ate his food and went there,” Okon told CNN.
She started worrying when he didn’t arrive home that night. By the next morning, Okon was out searching for him.
“I’ve gone to hospitals, I’ve gone to police stations, I’ve gone to everywhere. I can’t find him,” she said.
Her brother had only moved to Lagos a few weeks before the protest. Okon had helped him find a job as a cleaner at a bank.
She said he didn’t know anyone at the protest and had never been to one before.
Okon said she wants the Nigerian authorities to tell her if her brother is alive and detained or dead.
Testimony from dozens of eyewitnesses and family members interviewed by CNN and a forensic examination of hours of video and dozens of photographs captured before, during and after the two shooting incidents showed how the protest ground allegedly turned into a death ground.
Less than three hours after the original curfew time came into effect, army trucks left the Bonny Camp barracks on Victoria Island and headed towards the toll gate plaza and the protesters, according to videos reviewed by CNN.
Two eyewitnesses told CNN they saw soldiers arriving in a Toyota Hilux pickup truck with “OP Awatse” written on it — the name of a joint military task force that operates in Lagos State.
Videos examined by CNN showed the army trucks approaching the protesters from both sides of the toll gate — barricading them in.
DJ Switch, a local musician whose real name is Obianuju Catherine Udeh, was streaming live on Instagram when it all happened and the shooting began.
“Please explain to me how, in which part of the world, do you go to a protest with live bullets.
“There was a guy that was running, and he just… he fell, and we looked at him. He was shot in the back,”
DJ Switch, 29, told CNN.
DJ Switch said she wanted people to see what was happening which is why she started broadcasting.
“I didn’t want anybody to come on and twist the story. I wanted people to see. So, I just went live.”
At one point during the broadcast, there were attempts to resuscitate a man in red clothing who had passed out.
Later, DJ Switch could be seen helping to extract a bullet lodged in another man’s thigh as he screamed in agony while someone in the crowd said that “you will live, you will not die.”
As the live broadcast ends, people were still trying to apply CPR on the man in red, while DJ Switch could be heard saying, “this guy is dying.”
DJ Switch told CNN that protesters lifted bodies with bullet wounds and put them at the soldiers’ feet.
“I said, why are you killing us? Why are you doing this,” she said. “He expressly told me: ‘I am acting on orders from above.’”
From multiple videos, CNN has pieced together a timeline that shows that shooting by the army lasted from 6:43 p.m. until at least 8:24 p.m.
One eyewitness, Sarah, whose last name CNN declined to give for security reasons, said the soldiers shot in the air but also directly at the protesters.
“They pointed their guns at us and they started shooting.
“They were shooting in the air, they were shooting at us, they were shooting everywhere,” she stated.
Some chanted: “We are peaceful protesters” and “End Sars, we no go gree [pidgin for we will not agree, or give in].”
“They’re shooting, they’re shooting,” another person screams in one of the videos. Cries of “Na lie, na lie [exclamations of disbelief in pidgin]” can also be heard.
In several of the videos, reviewed and verified by CNN, some of the protesters can be seen carrying bodies, the flashlights on their phones the only thing illuminating the darkness as the sound of ambulance sirens wailed in the background. It is not known whether these were dead or injured protesters.
In another, there are several injured people, some on the ground bleeding while defiant protesters continued to wave Nigerian flags.
Injured people whom CNN has confirmed were present at the toll gate started arriving in local hospitals, carried by civilians, from 7:19 p.m. while the shooting was still ongoing, according to videos analysed by CNN.
One of the protesters, Mathew, said he was injured when the army opened fire at at them.
Using metadata, CNN geolocated the image to the protest location at 6:50 pm.
CNN also verified footage from one man who used his car as a makeshift ambulance and transported people to hospital.
Executive Medical Director at Grandville Medical Centre, Dr. Ayo Aranmolate, told CNN he and his colleagues received around 15 injured people that night with various gunshot wounds and cuts. None of the people they treated died, he added.
“We referred some for treatment to other hospitals. One of the victims had to have his leg amputated,” he said.
The army has denied that anyone was taken to hospital with gunshot wounds, and that they only shot into the air.
Multiple eyewitnesses told CNN that ambulances were prevented from reaching the scene by the authorities.
A video filmed at 8:49 p.m., according to metadata, showed ambulance workers in a van at the scene saying they were unable to get through.
When contacted by CNN to share the findings of this investigation, a Lagos State government spokesman declined to comment.
“Talking about that subject now will be subjudicial since the matter is already before a panel of inquiry. Until the panel concludes its investigation, the subject will not be open to any discussion or comment by any state official,” the spokesperson said.
CNN has examined bullet casings found at the scene and confirmed with current and former Nigerian military sources that the bullet casings match those used by the army. Two ballistics experts have also confirmed with CNN that the shape of the bullet casings indicated they used live rounds, which contradicted the army’s claim they fired blanks.
CNN has verified that bullets fired at Lekki toll gate are from live ammunition. This one was manufactured in Serbia in 2005, and is currently in use by the Nigerian army.
And working with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, CNN established that several of the bullets from the Lekki toll gate originated from Serbia. Export documents CNN saw showed that Nigeria purchased weaponry from Serbia almost every year between 2005 and 2016.
After the army withdrew from the scene, members of the police, including the SARS police unit — disbanded by authorities on 11 October — moved in, according to multiple eyewitnesses CNN spoke with.
In a video obtained by CNN and geolocated to Lekki toll gate at 2:36 a.m., one eyewitness, simply identified as Legend, was seen with the Nigerian flag around his head saying, “…my hand is broken, my leg is broken, and police are still shooting at us.”
“I couldn’t count how many dead because I was running for my life.”
“They are shooting anything that moves outside…Stay safe through the night. And if I don’t make it through the night let it be known that I died fighting for our freedom, for what we believe in.”
Legend, who survived, told CNN his father was a police officer and that he recognised the SARS uniform. About 200 protesters remained at the toll gate when witnesses said police and SARS arrived, he added.
“I couldn’t count how many dead because I was running for my life,” Legend said. “If I stood my ground five more seconds, I would be dead.”
While CNN has not been able to independently verify that SARS members were present, multiple eyewitnesses said they saw police officers, accompanied by officers from the unit, at the scene after the army left.
A Lagos State police spokesman declined to comment because of the ongoing panel investigation. But police have denied any use of force against protesters on Twitter, saying, “….our police officers never resorted to use of unlawful force or shooting at the protesters.”
Some of the activists told CNN they were offered money to recant their initial testimonies.
CNN said it saw some of the messages received, though it is unclear who sent them.