Scores of protesters had peacefully blocked the toll gate for days to get the government’s attention to their demand for an end to brutality by members of Sars, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigerian police.
Global human rights watchdog Amnesty International claims at least 10 people were killed in the shooting, although Nigerian authorities have disputed the figure.
News of the shooting was carried by local and global media, including a story by Sahara Reporters headlined: “Nigerian Military Open Fire on Peaceful #EndSARS At Lekki Toll Gate”. The subhead added: “Police, Army Massacre Peaceful Protesters In Nigeria”.
But on 21 October the Nigerian Army posted a screenshot of the Sahara Reporters story on its verified Twitter account, with the words “No soldiers were at the Scene” stamped on it in red and the comment, “Fake News!”
Eyewitnesses told journalists that soldiers had opened fire at the toll gate. But were there, in fact, “no soldiers at the scene”?
‘Army deployed to Lekki toll gate’
Several government officials have contradicted the army’s claim – including an army spokesperson.
The day after the shooting, Lagos governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu made a statement on national TV, later posted on his verified Twitter account.
“It is imperative to explain that no governor controls the rules of engagement of the army,” he said. “I have nevertheless instructed an investigation into the ordered and the adopted rules of engagement employed by the men of the Nigerian Army deployed to the Lekki Toll Gate.”
For clarity, it is imperative to explain that no governor controls the rules of engagement of the army. I have nevertheless instructed an investigation into the ordered and the adopted rules of engagement employed by the men of the Nigerian Army deployed to the Lekki Toll Gate.
— Babajide Sanwo-Olu (@jidesanwoolu) October 21, 2020
A few days later, Sanwo-Olu said in an interview on CNN: “From the footage that we could see because there were cameras at that facility, it seems to me that they would be men in military uniform. They should be Nigerian Army or something ... Yes, they were there, that’s what the footage shows.”
Lagos govt asked army to intervene – spokesperson
On 27 October Major Osoba Olaniyi, the acting deputy director of army public relations and the 81st division Lagos, issued a press statement that admitted soldiers were on the scene of the shooting – although he said they were there at the Lagos government’s request, and did not open fire.
“The decision to call in the military was taken by the Lagos State Government (LASG) after a 24 hours curfew was imposed. This was a result of the violence which led to several police stations being burnt, policemen killed, suspects in police custody released and weapons carted away,” the statement reads in part.
“It was at this point that LASG requested for the military to intervene in order to restore normalcy. The intervention of the military followed all laid down procedures for Internal Security operations and all the soldiers involved acted within the confines of the Rules of Engagement (ROE) for Internal Security operations.”
He added that “the Nigerian Army in discharge of its constitutional responsibilities did not shoot at any civilian as there are glaring and convincing evidence to attest”.
But by the army’s own admission, soldiers were on the scene when the shooting started at the Lekki toll gate. – Lanre Olagunju
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