Soldiers and police brutalised peaceful protesters at the Lekki Tollgate in Nigeria – Panel

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“Officers of the Nigerian Army shot, injured and killed unarmed helpless and defenceless protesters, without provocation or justification, while they were waving the Nigerian Flag and singing the National Anthem and the manner of assault and killing could in context be described as a massacre,”

Soldiers of the Nigerian Army deployed by the military hierarchy to the Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020, “shot, injured and killed unarmed helpless and defenceless protesters, without provocation or justification, while they were waving the Nigerian Flag and singing the National Anthem” thereby committing a massacre, a judicial panel of inquiry set up by the state government has found.

The panel also found that officers of the Nigeria Police Force who were deployed to the toll gate on the night of the incident “shot at, assaulted and battered unarmed protesters, which led to injuries and deaths,” thus aiding the army in the commission of a massacre on unarmed civilians.

The findings of the panel, which was released Monday evening, put to rest repeated denials by the army, the Nigerian government and the Lagos State government that a massacre was committed by the soldiers of the 65 Battalion of the 81 Garrison Division, Bonny Camp, led by Sanusi Ovada Bello, a lieutenant colonel.

The conclusions of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry corroborated, in many instances, the findings of PREMIUM TIMES’ ground-breaking investigation which was published days after the incident.

Following the unaddressed brutality, extortion, kidnapping, and credible cases of extra-judicial killings by a now-defunct police unit named Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), tens of thousands of Nigeria youth in October 2020, protested, calling for a ban of the notorious police unit and far-reaching police reform.

For days, the protests, named #ENDSARS, were largely peaceful until troops were deployed to the Lekki tollgate, the epicentre of the protests, on the request of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to disperse the protesters. On arrival at the venue of the protest, eyewitnesses, and protesters, including a popular entertainer, DJ Switch, said the soldiers opened fire directly at the protesters.

They added that soldiers abducted the bodies of many of their victims, put them in their truck and left the scene of the massacre. They also recounted how police officers, primarily from Maroko Police Station, led by the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of the station, Ganiyu Raji, arrived on the heels of the soldiers, shooting more protesters some of whom were killed and injured.

Thus, the judicial panel of inquiry was set up by the state government to probe complaints of extortion, kidnapping, torture, and extra-judicial killings against SARS personnel.

The terms of reference of the panel also included the investigation of the incident at the Lekki tollgate on the evening of October 20, 2020.

Findings of the panel

In its executive summary, the panel stated that there was no justification for the deployment of soldiers to disperse the young protesters who were carrying out a constitutional guaranteed right of holding their government to account through peaceful protest and subsequently ruled that it was appropriate to describe the killings as a massacre.

“That the Nigerian Army was invited for intervention in the State and was deployed to Lekki Toll Gate on the 20th of October 2020. At the Lekki Toll Gate, officers of the Nigerian Army shot, injured and killed unarmed helpless and defenceless protesters, without provocation or justification, while they were waving the Nigerian Flag and singing the National Anthem and the manner of assault and killing could in context be described as a massacre,” the reported stated.

The panel also found that the soldiers also prevented the protesters from receiving life-saving medical help.

“The Panel also found that the conduct of the Nigerian Army was exacerbated by its refusal to allow ambulances render medical assistance to victims who required such assistance. The Army was also found not to have adhered to its own Rules of Engagement.”

In the same vein, the panel identified police officers, mainly from the nearby Maroko police station, as also culpable of the massacre of the night. It found that the police also tried to hide evidence of their dastardly action.

“The Panel found that the Nigerian Police Force deployed its officers to the Lekki Toll Gate on the night of the 20th October 2020 and between that night and the morning of the 21st of October, 2020, its officer shot at, assaulted and battered unarmed protesters, which led to injuries and deaths. The police officers also tried to cover up their actions by picking up bullets.”

The report indicted the management of Lekki Concession Company, a fully owned Lagos State government company, which manages and collects tolls at the tollgate, for “refusing to turn over some useful and vital information/evidence as requested by the Panel and the Forensic Expert engaged by the panel, even where such information and evidence was by the company’s admission, available.”

It also stated that the company also manipulated video footage of the incident on the night of the massacre.

The panel stated that the protest was so peaceful that prominent federal and state government officials, including the state governor, visited the tollgate and there was no reported clash among protesters.

“The protest at Lekki Toll Gate according to eyewitnesses that testified and from the video footages submitted by witnesses and LCC was very peaceful on all the days including the 20th of October, 2020 until the arrival of men of the Nigerian Army.

“Protesters had cleaners to clear the environment of debris, stones and any other dangerous object. The Panel finds that the modus of the protest was that they had tents, some brought their cars and some other slept on the bare grass. The protesters had cordial relationship with LCC personnel and gave them food in their various offices.

“Panel finds that the gathering at the Lekki Toll Gate was not that of hoodlums and cultists. They were vigilant against petty thieves and miscreants who they apprehended and handed over to Policemen.

“They had private security men and bodyguards, they also had ambulances to attend to health issues, they had welfare officers who took care of feeding the protesters and they had an effective sanitation team that cleared the protest ground daily through consistent sweeping with zero tolerance for dangerous items and weapons such as stones, sticks, guns, machetes, etc. They also had an effective crowd control mechanism,” the report stated.

The report wondered why troops were deployed at the Lekki tollgate, which was peaceful, and no such deployment was done in troubled areas of the state like Orile and Mushin. It also wondered the need for the deployment as the government had already opened dialogue with the protesters.

“The presence of protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate did not threaten the territorial integrity of Nigeria and could not be considered as a civil insurrection to warrant the intervention of the Nigerian Army

“Some top officials of the Lagos State Government met with the youths at the Lekki Toll Gate around 12-1 pm of October 20, 2020, seeking selected representatives to discuss an urgent matter with them with a view to persuading them to leave the Lekki Toll Gate,” it stated.

Attempts at cover-up

The panel also listed desperate measures taken by the soldiers, police and officials of the Lagos State Government to cover up evidence of the massacre.

It noted that the soldiers “removed many bodies and corpses of fallen protesters which they took away in their vans.

“One of the protesters who was shot and taken for dead, Olalekan Sanusi, who eventually escaped to narrate his ordeal and experience stated that 11 corpses were in the van, where he was placed in and presumed dead. Miss Dabira Ayuku also corroborated the above by stating that she saw about 7 dead bodies placed in one of the military trucks at the Lekki Toll Gate on the night of 20th October 2020.”

“It was alleged and corroborated that soldiers picked bullet shells on the night of October 20 and policemen followed up in the morning of October 21 to pick bullet shells.

“Several unidentified bodies were removed by security agencies and LASEHMU (Lagos State Environmental Health Monitoring Unit) and deposited at various hospital mortuaries in Lagos State,” it stated.

Contrary to the claim of Mr Sanwo-Olu, that no drop of blood was found on the ground of the protest, the panel found that:

“Three (3) trucks with brushes underneath were brought to the Lekki Toll Gate in the morning of October 21st October 2020 to clean up the scene of bloodstains and other evidence.

“There was abundant evidence before the Panel that the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) indicated in its Twitter handle that it had effectively cleaned up the Lekki Toll Gate scene immediately after the incident of October 20, 2020.”

It stated that many victims of the Lekki tollgate massacre were overwhelmed with fear of persecution and harassment and thus unwilling to be identified publicly.

“Immediately after the protest, there was palpable fear that the Army and Police were visiting hospitals to ‘finish up’ the protesters to the extent that some of them could not return home immediately. Some of the protesters received threats and some were being trailed by unknown persons,” the report stated.

The report concludes that “the cases of death or injured protesters (w)as credible and uncontroverted.”

The Panel of Inquiry was chaired by Doris Okuwobi, a retired judge. Members of the panels include Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, a senior lawyer, Fredrick Taiwo Olakanu, a retired deputy inspector general of police and Patience Udoh.

Other members of the panel include Segun Awosanya, Oluwatoyin Odusanya, Lucas Koyejo, Temitope Majekodunmi.

Babajide Boye is the secretary to the panel while Jonathan Ogunsanya is its legal counsel.

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