Despite the differing foreign media accounts, the truth about Lekki tollgate shooting is still largely untold, writes Segun James
The alleged shooting of unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos has attracted reactions both locally and internationally. A month after the incident, the story is now changing. The massacre is indeed the alleged death of one person and another missing with several injured.
This was what the CNN said in its report that came several weeks after the incident, to which the federal government has taken exception, claiming that the international media organisation’s narratives contained several inaccuracies, innuendos, misinformation, disinformation and manipulated social media reports designed to ridicule the government and put it in bad light among the comity of nations.
The government said it might consider sanctions as punishment for alleged false news. CNN has since replied the government saying it stood by its story.
Perhaps, a recap of the facts already in the public domain would do. It was about 6.45pm on that faithful day. The Lekki Toll Plaza served as the meeting point for the #EndSARS protest, since it was where the promoters converged to vent their anger against a police unit that has turned itself into terror.
With music blaring and surplus to eat and drink, the protesters, mostly young men and women, were in the thick of massive fun, when men of the Nigerian Army arrived. And no sooner had the situation degenerated into a stampede than gunshots rent the air. The immediate account from that incident was that the soldiers opened fire on the defenceless protesters, allegedly killing over 78 of them.
In the end, reports of a massacre circulated, a situation, which led to the attacks on both public and private properties. The alleged “massacre” sent a shockwave throughout the civilised world, triggering reactions from both the political and the business world. The rating of Nigeria in the world’s political index plummeted. Nigeria suddenly became a joke.
Nearly a month after, the CNN came up with its alleged investigative report now generating controversy. The CNN amplified what is largely unverifiable or at best, what’s being contested in the public, after piecing together pictures and videos from the social media. It concluded by saying one person died and another missing, which of course diminished reports of a massacre. In all of this, CNN was not at the scene of the incident.
The CNN report, however, contradicted the report by BBC, whose reporter that was at the scene of the event and handed with authority. While the BBC reporter maintained repeatedly that the soldiers shot into the air, she also noted that the only casualty she saw was not as a result of the gunshots but the stampede. She even narrated her experience the day after at different parts of the state, giving credence to her report.
The world is daily reminder of the pervasive and potentially devastating effects of the social media, which is deliberately manipulative with misinformation and disinformation. Their space has also enabled hackers to commit a dizzying array of crimes.
One unintended consequence of the CNN report is that it gives falsehood advantage over the truth. Although the cable network organisation stood by its story, the truth, however, remains that, despite all its faults, the Nigerian government has been consistent on the alleged killing at the Lekki plaza as it challenges anyone to bring out the contrary fact.
The person allegedly quoted in the CNN report, DJ Switch, has reportedly fled the country and her stories have not been collaborated by any other person let alone add up. The other person at the scene of the event at the same time as DJ Switch, by name Onesoul, had a different version, which corroborates the BBC report. This has made the allegation that a massacre took place a joke, even at the most serious moment.
Speaking to THISDAY, a spokesman for the Lagos State government, who pleaded anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the story, admitted that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu did indeed request the presence of the military at the toll plaza as the security situation in the state had degenerated given the hijacking of the protest by hoodlums, but the intention was never to kill.
He insisted that this could be attested to by the fact that the protesters at the State Government Secretariat at Alausa, Ikeja acceded to the government’s plea to leave, while those in Lekki refused. He regretted that the Lekki degenerated to what it has become, but maintained that there is no cover up on the part of the government except that the protesters and promoters wanted to impose their account on everyone else.
While this is in no way condoning the alleged crackdown on peaceful protesters, it must not be lost on everyone that the protest had been hijacked at the time and there was a need for government to restore law and order hence the intervention of the soldiers. The peaceful protesters at the time had lost control.
However, with the judicial panel of inquiry frantically looking into the matter, it is imperative to grant the panel a benefit of the doubt and let them do their job, peacefully.