Amid widespread condemnation of his persistent denial of casualties in the October 20, 2020 Lekki Toll Gate shooting incident by the military and police personnel during the EndSARS protests, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has referred to the report submitted by the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on the EndSARS protests as ‘fake.’
The minister has also been under pressure following calls by both national and international bodies on President Muhammadu Buhari to terminate his appointment since the report of the panel was made public, penultimate Monday, to the Lagos Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
It would be recalled that the Lagos Judicial Panel of Inquiry (JPI) on EndSARS submitted its report to the State Government, penultimate Monday, in which it clearly established that the Nigerian Army fired live ammunition at peaceful protesters at the Lekki Tollgate on October 20, last year.
The panel chaired by Justice Doris Okuwobi submitted two reports of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for victims of SARS related abuses and other matters to Mr Sanwo-Olu on Monday at the Lagos House, Ikeja.
The two reports submitted by the Panel to Lagos State Government are on investigation on petitions on several abuses and killings by the Nigerian Police, especially the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and the October 20, 2020 Lekki Toll Gate shootings during the EndSARS protests hijacked by hoodlums.
The panel in its reports also found the security operatives culpable in the shooting incident on account of the ‘deliberate absence of officers of the Nigerian Army who were present at the Lekki Toll Gate and who were summoned by the Panel was a calculated attempt to conceal material evidence from the Panel.’
The panel was inaugurated on October 19, 2020, to look into complaints of citizens against human rights abuses by the police, on the heels of the outrage that trailed the shooting of peaceful protesters who had converged on the Lekki Toll Gate to protest highhanded and professional misconduct of security operatives attached to the now-disbanded Special Anti- Robbery Squad (SARS) Unit of the Nigeria Police.
Terms of Reference of the Panel was expanded to cover that Lekki shooting incident.
The Panel sat for well over one year and took testimonies of petitioners, witnesses, experts and lawyers.
The panel listed 48 names as casualties of the incident.
According to the report, 9 protesters were confirmed dead, while four were presumed dead, even as about 20 sustained gunshot injuries, while 13 others were assaulted by the military.
The 309-page report established that the protesters were allegedly killed by policemen and soldiers.
However, reacting to the panel’s report, in a statement issued after a press briefing in Abuja, Tuesday, Lai Mohammed called the report ‘fake,’ even as he insisted that the casualties listed by the panel contained unverifiable names.
According to Mohammed, ‘even goats have owners if they do not return home not talk of human beings?’
“The report threw away the testimony of ballistic experts who testified before it. The experts said, inter alia, in their testimony: ”The Team finds that from the medical data examined, including the timeline of arrival at medical facility and the nature of the injuries sustained by the Victims, who were taken to the 5 medical facilities, that no military grade live ammunition (high-velocity) was fired at the protesters at Lekki Tollgate on 20th October 2020, within the timeframe of reference (18.30- 20.34hrs). That the GSW (Gun Shot Wounds) injuries (4 in number between 19:05 and 19:45 hrs), which were examined by the Team, can be safely identified as being discharged by either low velocity caliber and/or artisanal/12-gauge firearms (artisanal firearms are locally-fabricated weapons). What is however certain is that had the military personnel deliberately fired military grade live ammunition directly at the protesters; there would have been significantly more fatalities and catastrophic injuries recorded. This was clearly not the case.’’
“The same panel that said it deemed as credible the evidence of the Forensic Pathologist, Prof. John Obafunwa, that only three of the bodies on which post mortem were conducted were from Lekki and only one had gunshot injury went on to contradict itself by saying nine persons died of gunshot wounds at Lekki!
“The man whose evidence (that he counted 11 bodies in a military van where he was left for dead before he escaped) was found to be crucial by the panel never testified in person. Rather, the video of his ‘testimony’ was played by someone else. It did not occur to the panel to query the veracity of the testimony of a man who said he was shot and presumed dead but still had time to count dead bodies inside a supposedly dark van at night!
“The panel said trucks with brushes underneath were brought to the Lekki Toll Gate in the morning of Oct. 21 2020 to clean up bloodstains and other evidence, but still found bullet casings at the same site when it visited on Oct. 30th 2020. It said soldiers picked up bullet casings from Lekki Toll Gate on the night of Oct. 20th 2020, yet claimed that policemen came to the same spot to pick the same bullet casings on Oct. 21st 2020!
“The panel was silent on the family members of those reportedly killed, merely insinuating they were afraid to testify. Even goats have owners who will look for them if they do not return home, not to talk of human beings. Where are the family members of those who were reportedly killed at Lekki Toll Gate? If the panel is recommending compensation for the families, what are their identities and addresses? Who will receive the compensations when no family members have shown up to date?
“How did a man who reported seeing the lifeless body of his brother himself ended up being on the list of the panel’s deceased persons?
“How can a Judicial Panel convince anyone that the names of some casualties of the Lekki Toll Gate incident listed as numbers 3 (Jide), 42 (Tola) and 43 (Wisdom) are not fictitious names.
“Why did the Judicial Panel feel compelled to concoct a ”massacre in context” as a euphemism for ”massacre”? A massacre is a massacre. What is ”massacre in context?”
“The report never mentioned cases of police personnel who were brutally murdered or the massive destruction of police stations, vehicles, e.t c during the Endsars protest. Does this mean that the panel didn’t consider policemen and women as human beings?
“The report didn’t make any recommendation on the innocent people whose businesses were attacked and destroyed during the protest in Lagos. I think it was too busy looking for evidence to support its conclusion of ‘massacre in context’.
“It is clear, from the ongoing, that the report of the panel in circulation cannot be relied upon because its authenticity is in doubt. Besides, the Lagos State Government, being the convening authority, has yet to release any official report to the public.
“Neither has the panel done so. The cowardly leakage of an unsigned report to the public is not enough. “Assuming the report in circulation bears any iota of genuineness, it is basic knowledge that the report of such a panel is of no force until the convening authority issues a White Paper and Gazette on it. It is therefore too premature for any person or entity to seek to castigate the Federal Government and its agencies or officials based on such an unofficial and unvalidated report,” Mohammed said.
On the claims by the CNN of a massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate, the minister said the news platform ‘apparently didn’t even read the report before rolling out the drums in celebration.’
“By that action, CNN has celebrated prematurely and has now committed a double faux pas: First, by relying on unverified social media stories and videos to carry out an investigation of the Oct. 20th 2020 incident at Lekki, where it did not have a correspondent on ground. CNN goofed in its report on the findings of the panel, which fell below the main standards of journalism. Secondly, CNN rushed to the air to celebrate an unsigned and unverified report that is riddled with inconsistencies, errors, discrepancies, innuendoes. That’s double faux pas by a news organization that is eager and willing to compromise standards just to claim vindication.
“Sadly, a section of the Nigerian media has also joined the lynch mob. Honestly, in an attempt to vilify government at all costs, they have done themselves a great disservice. How can any news organization worth its salt write an Editorial validating this kind of report? Are they not seeing what others, including journalists and lawyers, are seeing? In a shocking twist, a Nigerian newspaper chose to hail what it calls ‘’detailed investigative report’’ by CNN, even when the news channel did not even cover the incident of Oct. 20th 2020! It’s a classic case of cutting your nose to spite your face.
The Minister concluded that the report by the Lagos State EndSARS judicial panel failed to make any recommendation on the innocent persons whose businesses were attacked and destroyed during the protest in Lagos.
“The report in circulation does not meet those requirements. We also appeal to the families of those allegedly killed in Lekki to speak out. It’s untenable to say that some families did not come out because they are afraid. Any parent who is afraid to testify about the death of his or her child is not worth to be called a parent.
“We reject the notion that our soldiers and policemen massacred innocent Nigerians at Lekki on Oct. 20th 2020. That conclusion is not supported by the weight of available evidence. Indictment for murder is a very serious issue that cannot be done on the basis of allegations and corroborations, as the panel did. Such allegations must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The report incirculation is calculated to embarrass the Federal Government and its agencies without foolproof evidence. The Federal Government has never condoned the abuse of the rights of Nigerians by security agencies under any guise, hence it disbanded SARS and encouraged states to set up the panels to investigate reports of human rights abuses allegedly committed by the disbanded SARS personnel
“The 37 policemen and six soldiers who died across the country during the Endsars protest are also Nigerians and should not be forgotten.
“Those who have engaged in premature celebration of the report in circulation should now go back and read it thoroughly and tell Nigerians whether it can pass any serious scrutiny.
“We are saddened that anyone died at all during the Endsars protest as the life of every Nigerian and indeed every human is sacrosanct. As we have disclosed many times, 57 civilians, 37 policemen and six soldiers were killed across the country during the protest, and we commiserate with their families,” said the minister.
It would also be recalled that Justice Okuwobi, said part of the recommendations of the panel is establishment of a body to take over human rights abuses in Lagos.
Justice Okuwobi, who disclosed that the panel awarded a total of N410 million to 70 victims of police brutality, said 235 petitions were received with only 14 of them being on the alleged Lekki shooting incident.
Since the submission of the report, members of the panel as well as witnesses who testified it have come under heavy and violent attacks by hoodlums in Lagos, with death threats trailing them.
Since the submission of the final report, some members of the Judicial Panel have since raised an alarm that their colleagues are being attacked by suspected agents of the government.
A member of the Lagos panel, Mr. Ebun Adegboruwa, disclosed this in a statement last Thursday, urging State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to call all agents of state to order and to keep to his promise to us to release a White Paper within two weeks.
Also, a witness who testified before the Judicial Panel, Ms Dabira Adeyinka, received a death threat, Monday, less than 24 hours after another victim of the Lekki shooting incident, Ms Kamsiyochukwu Ibe, was attacked and dealt serous machete blows, in what was clearly an attempted murder, as reported by her counsel, with very disturbing photos, last Sunday night.
Last week, United States-based Cable News Network (CNN) had told Lai Mohammed to put aside his pride and tender an unreserved apology on behalf of the Federal Government to it ‘if he has any integrity left’ for falsely accusing the news platform of propagating ‘fake news.’
Also, the House of Representatives Minority Caucus called for the immediate sack of Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed.
Minority leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, said in a statement, on behalf of the group, last Thursday, that the report by the Lagos Judicial panel setup to investigate the Lekki toll gate shooting of unarmed protesters was enough reason for the resignation/removal of Mohammed.