Sonnie Ekwowusi argues that the denial of killings at the Lekki toll gate is unfortunate

Last week the Cable News Network (CNN) released what it terms “a carefully and meticulously researched” report on the Lekki Toll Gate murder. The report contained in a video footage, which is still making its rounds, heavily indicts the Nigerian authorities in the murder of unarmed young peaceful protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on 20-10-2020. The footage shows an army truck being driven from the military’s Bonny Camp to Lekki Toll Gate (in fact the CCTV footage of the shootings which was played last Saturday by the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry showed that not less than seven military trucks were deployed to Lekki Toll Gate by the Nigerian military on 20-10-2020). The CNN report also shows mutilated corpses lying in the pool of blood; soldiers opening fire on protesters who were yelling, taking cover and scampering for safety; Nigerian flags splashed with human blood and some weeping protesters granting interview in corroboration of the shootings.

First, the military dismissed the Lekki 20-10-2020 murder as fake news. Federal Attorney-General Abubakar Malami SAN said that the murder might have been committed by hoodlums in army uniform, not the military itself. Initially Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu authoritatively announced to the whole world that no protester was killed in the shooting. But when he spoke to the CNN, he retracted and admitted that only two fatalities were recorded except that he was not the person who invited the military to shoot and kill. Upon hearing this, the same military which earlier dismissed the Lekki murder as fake news, turned round to say that it was Babajide Sanwo-Olu who invited them to Lekki to do the shooting except that the military never shot live bullets at the protesters. The Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai said the army is a professional and never operated outside the rules of engagement (ROE). Hon. Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed, lambasted the CNN and said that its report fell short of standards. He alleges that the Nigerian soldiers fired blank bullets in the thin air, not at the young protesters as alleged. In its response to the above, the CNN maintains that it stands by its report. It says its report is not based on hearsay but on the testimonies of CNN staffers and dozens of witnesses and verified footage of soldiers shooting in the direction of the protesters. “They pointed their guns at us and they started shooting”, said Sarah, a protester told the CNN.

The manifest contradictions in the above concocted testimonies of the Nigerian authorities testify that they are trying to cover up the murder. But the truth of the matter is that the murder was transmitted live, and, most Nigerians watched it live. I watched it live. I must confess that I was simply flabbergasted by the sporadic shooting and wailing that had engulfed the Lekki Toll Gate on that 20-10-2020. So, the shooting and murder are notorious facts requiring no proof. We don’t even need a CNN report to convince us of what we already know about the Lekki Toll Gate murder. Therefore a denial of the shooting and murder by the Nigerian authorities does not make sense at all. There are certain facts you don’t deny in public except you want to make a fool of yourself.

If the military only fired blank bullets in the air as Lai claims, how come there were mutilated corpses lying in the pool of blood after the shooting? If the military didn’t shoot at the protesters, why were the Nigerian flags carried by the protesters smeared with human blood? If the military didn’t fire live bullets, why was the scene of the crime littered with bullet casings and pellets? If the military did not fire live bullets at the protesters, why were the protesters who suffered bullet wounds admitted to the hospitals? If the military did not fire live bullets that killed some protesters, why are the parents of the murdered protesters still crying till date and refusing to be consoled by anyone? If the soldiers didn’t open fire on the protesters, why did Chizoba Francisca Agu, a 27-year-protester who was badly shot in the face by the soldiers at Lekki Toll Gate, die of gun wounds on 4th November 2020? The sad aspect, as revealed by the ongoing Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry probing the Lekki murder, is that the soldiers who were deplored to Lekki Toll Gate were not professional soldiers but training soldiers at the military schools. Small wonder they opened fire on the protesters.

Contrary to Buratai’s testimony, the Nigerian Army, with the greatest respect, lacks professionalism. The Nigerian army does not observe ROE. The Nigerian army has developed a somewhat strange proclivity for shooting and killing unarmed protesting civilians. Or, simply put, killing unarmed protesters is in the DNA of the Nigerian army. How? Following the attack by the army on the Shia Muslim community ostensibly to rescue the Chief of Army Staff from alleged assassination, about 300 unarmed protesting civilians (most of whom were young people) were shot at and killed in Zaria on or around 12th December 2015. Till date no justice for the victims of the Zaria massacre. Then on February 9, 2016 the Nigerian soldiers were deployed to shoot and kill countless unarmed young pro-Biafra protesters who were peacefully holding prayers inside the football field of Ngwa High School, Aba in Abia State. No justice for the victims of that barbaric murder till date despite popular outcry. Then during the Biafran Day celebration on May 30, 2016, the Nigerian soldiers were again dispatched to fire bullets that killed and injured over 30 unarmed civilians at Nkpor-Agu, Niger Bridge, Onitsha and Asaba respectively. As we speak, killer-soldiers have been deployed to Obigbo, Rivers State to be killing unarmed civilians there. The number of protesting youngsters killed at the Lekki Toll Gate is negligible compared to the number of unarmed civilians murdered at Obigbo, Rivers State. The International Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law reports that the army has killed over 60 defenceless civilians and injured over 100 civilians in the Obigbo massacre.

All said, the Lekki 20-10-2020 tragic murder has cut deep into the heart of the nation. No dirty politics or pseudo-rationalization can erase the murder from our collective memory. All over the civilized world soldiers do not open fire on peaceful protesters except in Nigeria. It is probably only in Nigeria that trigger-happy men in uniform can shoot and kill innocent civilians anytime and get away with it. Can you imagine a police aide attached to the Speaker of House of Representatives opening fire and killing an innocent street vendor last Thursday? By opening fire on peaceful protesters and killing them, the Nigerian soldiers fragrantly violated section 217(2)(c)(d) of the 1999 Constitution. With overwhelming concrete, compelling and weighty evidence at the public disposal, the culprits should be brought to justice.