FG Spurns UK Parliamentarians’ Threat of Sanction over Rights Abuse

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Lai Mohammed

•Says legislators’ resolution based on fake news, hearsay, not British govt’s position
•Despite Nigeria’s protest, CNN releases second report on Lekki shootings
•Senate seeks 1% VAT to compensate states affected by #EndSARS protests

By Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Deji Elumoye, Wale Ajimotokan in Abuja and John Shiklam in Kaduna

The federal government yesterday said it was unperturbed by resolutions of the United Kingdom parliamentarians for sanctions against top Nigerian officials and security agents involved in the alleged violation of #EndSARS protesters’ rights as it did not represent the position of the British government.

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, told THISDAY in Abuja that the UK government will not sanction Nigerian officials based on a fake report.

He was reacting to Monday’s resolutions taken after the parliamentarians had considered a petition signed by 220, 000 signatories in the aftermath of the alleged shooting of protesters at the Lekki Tollgate on October 20, calling, among others, for sanction against indicted Nigerian officials.

However, while the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, and the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) hailed the decision of the UK parliament, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) said it was losing confidence in the UK lawmakers.

Also yesterday, there was an uproar on the floor of the Senate as senators demanded the setting aside of one percent of proceeds from the Value Added Tax (VAT) to compensate Lagos State and others affected by the violence associated with the #ENDSARS protests nationwide.

Meanwhile, despite the federal government’s protest over its earlier report on the Lekki Tollgate shootings, for which it demanded a retraction, the CNN yesterday aired a second report on the incident, in which it analysed CCTV footage tendered before the Lagos State Judicial Commission of Inquiry probing the matter, to show that soldiers fired at the protesters.

The UK Parliament’s Petitions Committee had on Monday debated the motion “that this House has considered e-petition 554150, relating to Nigeria and the sanctions regime.”

Petitions debates are general debates, which allow members of parliament from all parties to deliberate on crucial issues raised by one or more petitions, and put their concerns to government ministers.

A member of the Petitions Committee, Theresa Villiers MP, opened the debate, while the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office sent a minister to respond.

However, Mohammed in an exclusive interview with THISDAY said there was no reason for the federal government to be worried by the UK Parliament’s resolution.

The minister stated that what the UK Parliament relied on to arrive at its resolutions were fake news and hearsay.

Mohammed said: “The federal government is not panicky at all. The resolution of the UK Parliament is not necessarily the decision of the UK government.

“And no responsible government will consider sanctioning the federal government based on fake news and hearsay without getting in touch with the government.

“Two issues – the resolution of the UK Parliament doesn’t represent the position of the government of the UK and only the government can sanction and parliament can only make resolutions.

“Secondly, we are very confident that no responsible government, no serious government, is going to consider imposing sanctions on other countries based on fake news and unverified videos.

“They will also do their own painstaking investigations and also ask for the side of the country. So, we have no reason to panic at all because we know that all the evidence before them is fake news- nothing of big news.”

Also reacting to CNN’s second report, the minister said he had watched the video and there was nothing in it to disprove Nigeria’s position that there were no fatalities arising from the Lekki Tollgate shootings as soldiers only fired blank bullets.

He added: “Nothing new – CNN is desperate and they are grasping at straws. I have watched the video. We have asked questions: where are the bodies they are claiming? And it is very important to do that. CNN was never at the gate on 20th October

“The BBC reporter that was there reported that the soldiers did not shoot into the crowd. And then the CNN is being clever by half.

“The same CNN on October 23 on its Twitter handle tweeted that 38 lives were lost. A month later after their so-called intensive investigation, they came out and said only one person was killed.

“And people are not even noticing this inconsistency. The truth of the matter is that CNN has been caught in the glare of its own fake news and misinformation and it is just struggling and you know we have written an official letter to CNN.

“The facts are clear. All the videos they are using, none of them can show us dead bodies. They claimed soldiers went and dumped the bodies elsewhere, so those people have no relations.

“They have no parents, and a month after they can’t come out and say my son and daughter went to the tollgate and did not come back. CNN was unprofessional, unfair and reckless.”

Afenifere, ACF, PANDEF Differ on Threats of Sanctions

In their reaction to the parliamentary decisions, Afenifere and PANDEF hailed the resolutions to sanction Nigerian government officials.

The National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, told THISDAY that Afenifere welcomes the decision to impose sanctions “on those with bloody hands to show that enlightened humanity is not impressed with their conduct and they are ostracised by decent people.”

According to him, “Listening through the parliamentarians’ debate was some therapy to the horror we are going through in Nigeria which fascists unleashed on the polity and the Lai Mohammeds dancing on the graves of our young ones murdered in cold blood.

“The debate was a mark of honour for our shared humanity and a serious indictment of our rulers without any milk of humanity for human lives. Those who protect cows with all they have and even confess to paying a ransom to Fulani who lost cows in Kaduna years after having no tear for our massacred young ones and continue to malign them in death as if there is no God who rules in the affairs of men.”

PANDEF’s spokesman, Mr. Ken Robinson, expressed the hope that the action of the British parliamentarians would serve as a warning to the federal government.

He said: “The decision of the British Parliament is understandable. It has been said that no country is an island on its own. Nigeria is part of the global community, whatever happens in this country, good or bad, could directly or indirectly, affect the whole world.

“Therefore, the global community cannot afford to sit idle and watch things go wrong in Nigeria, and indeed any other country.

“There is no gainsaying the fact that the handling of the EndSARS protest was awful; things could have been done better. This is a democratic government and citizens have the right to express their disaffection peacefully.

“That’s what the young Nigerians did in the peaceful #EndSARS protests but unfortunately, they were brutalised and are now being demonised.”

He added that the hiring of armed thugs to unleash terror on the peaceful protesters and the deployment of the military and police against the demonstrators were unnecessary.

But on its part, ACF said it was beginning to lose confidence in UK Parliament and will not want to make any comments on its deliberations about Nigeria.

Speaking in a telephone interview with THISDAY yesterday, the spokesman of the ACF, Mr. Emmanuel Yaweh, said the allegation against the former military Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd), by a member of the UK Parliament made ACF lose confidence in them.

“We at the ACF are beginning to lose confidence in the UK lawmakers.

“Only today a member of UK Parliament by name Mr. Tom Tugendhart took a swipe at our respected former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, by accusing him of stealing half of the money in Nigeria’s central bank, the CBN, and taking it to the UK.

“Until the UK Parliament substantiates such wild claims, it will not serve any purpose discussing any of their proposals.

“The ACF is convinced that Gen. Gowon is the cleanest former Nigerian leader surviving.
“Where is the money this UK Parliamentarian has alleged he stole and kept? In which bank and under what name is it kept?

“Raising such wild allegations without substance in the UK against all Nigerians has become a hobby to its leaders. May be they want to recolonise us and steal our wealth as they did before and created a kingdom where the ‘Sun never set’.

“If not barefaced theft, what were they doing all over the world, holding innocent Africans as slaves and plundering the weather of India.

“Gen. Gowon resided in UK as a student at Warwick University. All those who knew him said he lived modestly. He has no property in Nigeria or any other place in the world.

“He is today in Nigeria living modestly. Until the UK Parliament provides evidence that Gowon stole half of the money in Central Bank of Nigeria when he was deposed, we at the ACF see the comments of their member as racially motivated to destroy African leaders, no matter how honest they may be.

“We at ACF have no time to discuss with such bigoted people.”

Senate Seeks 1% VAT to Compensate Riot-ravaged States

There was an uproar on the floor of the Senate yesterday as senators debated a motion seeking to compensate states wracked by the violence associated with the recent #ENDSARS protests.

The Senate, after the debate asked the federal government to reserve one per cent of VAT proceeds for Lagos and other states badly hit by the violence.

However, the two senators from Lagos State, which was the most affected by the violence, Senators Oluremi Tinubu and Olamilekan Adeola, did not contribute to the debate.

While Tinubu sat all through the time the debate lasted, Adeola, left the chamber and didn’t return until deliberation on the #EndSARS motion had ended.

The Senate in its resolution called on the federal government to set aside one per of VAT proceeds as compensation for Lagos and other affected states.

It also asked the government to set up a visitation panel to evaluate the extent of damage in the affected states.

It mandated its Committee on State and Local Government Affairs to ensure compliance by the panel.

The Senate resolutions were sequel to the adoption of two motions moved by Senator Olujimi Abiodun and Senator Gershom Bassey calling on the National Assembly to compensate states affected by the crises.

In their arguments, the two senators disclosed that large-scale destruction of public and private property, including police stations and other public facilities, and the residence of a serving and former lawmaker in Lagos and Cross River States, occurred during the violence.

Olujimi lamented the extent of destruction suffered by the South-west and Lagos State in particular.

She said private and public assets destroyed by hoodlums in Lagos were estimated to be over N1 trillion by the state Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

Bassey also lamented the crisis in Cross River State, saying that “it is unfortunate that what started as a peaceful protest was hijacked by hoodlums, unleashing terror on innocent citizens.”

However, the debate took a different dimension when Senator Sani Musa (Niger East) said the compensation should include states suffering from banditry and Boko Haram attacks.

Musa, in his contribution, said: “Any intervention by the government should be holistic and not restricted to Lagos State or Calabar.”

Other senators also said their states should be compensated.

Senator Abdullahi Adamu said any legislative motion on #ENDSARS will be prejudicial to the outcome of the judicial tribunals set up by states.

He suggested that the Senate should wait for the outcome of the tribunals.

On his part, the former Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, stated that the nation has not done enough to create jobs for the youth.

Senator Christopher Ekpenyong noted that politicians, especially the executive and the legislators, are fond of using the youth during electioneering and abandoning them after the election.

In his remarks, the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, said there was a need to do more to provide better economic conditions for youth employment.

He added that the Senate needs to support security agencies to ensure the enforcement of law and order.

CNN Airs Second Report on Lekki Shootings

Despite the federal government’s protestation, the CNN yesterday broadcast a second report on the Lekki Tollgate shooting.

In the follow-up report, the international news channel said it obtained the CCTV footage of the October 20 incident submitted by the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) ahead of the judicial panel sitting.

The footage shows soldiers allegedly shooting at unarmed protesters on October 20.

The fresh report also showed the Commander, 81 Division, Brig.Gen Ahmed Taiwo, admitting, for the first time, before the judicial panel in Lagos that his men took live ammunition to the tollgate.

The CNN report also highlighted the fact that Taiwo’s claim is at variance with the minister’s who had claimed last week that the army fired blank bullets.

The fresh report also showed protesters running as soldiers opened fire.

In its analysis, CNN said the footage reviewed at the panel sitting corroborated the timings it reported for the gunshots fired by soldiers but that it did not capture everything that happened.

“The footage corroborates the timings CNN reported for the gunshots fired by the army. It also shows soldiers approaching protesters and firing shots. What is perhaps most notable is what’s missing.

“At 6:47 p.m., the moment when CNN has video of the army appearing to fire directly at protesters, the surveillance camera pans away from the area.

“The surveillance camera pans left and tilts up before reframing and struggling for focus. It is unclear if the camera pans away deliberately or whether the pan away is a poor choice by the CCTV operator,” it stated.

In its report, CNN quoted Taiwo as admitting that soldiers carried live ammunition to the protest ground.

“For the protection of the force, we carried live bullets in case they were attacked. But the soldiers who formed the firing team, who fired as you could see in the video […] carried magazines charged with blank ammunition,” he said.

The Nigerian government had tagged the CNN investigation as fake news, threatening to sanction the broadcasting station for “irresponsible reporting.”

On Monday, in a letter addressed to the Vice President Communications at CNN, Jonathan Hawkins, Mohammed said the report “did not just fall short of journalistic standards but reinforces the disinformation that is going around on the issue.”