By Owei Lakemfa
LAGOS State Governor Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, 55, a surveyor-turned-banker was wide awake and at his duty post when the COVID-19 pandemic broke. At that time, the Federal Government was dozing. Not a few praised him for helping to combat the pandemic and saving many lives.
A few months down the line, he is being associated with the bloody attacks on peaceful anti-police brutality protesters. This may be more because he is not dining with the Buhari regime with a long spoon.
When the protests began 19 days ago, he was seen running round to assure the protesters of their safety and that their demands would be addressed. He even personally conveyed those demands to President Muhammadu Buhari who was ensconced in the Aso Rock Presidential Villa.
The peoples’ suspicion of Sanwo-Olu began on Thursday, October 15, 2020 when thugs armed with new machetes, clubs, knives and guns, attacked the protesters in Alausa, Lagos. Videos by witnesses who streamed the attack live, showed the armed thugs getting off BRT buses owned by the Lagos State Government. Several protesters at the scene also confirmed this.
What was expected of the Sanwo-Olu government was to promise to investigate the issue. Rather, it made the ridiculous claim that those seen alighting from the buses were normal commuters! How could armed thugs be normal commuters?
Then in what was seen as an attempt to stifle the protests, he suddenly declared a curfew round the clock, giving this state of 20 million people a few hours notice to comply. When people pointed out that this was impossible, he extended the commencement by five hours.
In justifying the curfew, he cited some disturbances, including armed robberies, rape, looting and arson, claiming without offering any proof, that these acts of criminality were “… unfolding, with the help of respected civil society leaders and some concerned parents”.
Using the Sanwo-Olu curfew declaration as excuse, armed soldiers under the cover of darkness, advanced on the unsuspecting protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate who were singing and dancing, and opened fire on them. The unprovoked shootings led to the death of a yet to be ascertained number of protesters with dozens injured.
The Governor reacted to these criminal shootings by blaming the victims. In his state-wide broadcast after the murderous assault, Sanwo-Olu said: “Unfortunately, while many of the protesters in Alausa dispersed peacefully ahead of the start of the curfew, many of our youths at the Lekki Toll Gate insisted on continuing with the protests.”
First, this narration negates the truth because the soldiers commenced their criminal attacks on the protesters at 7.10pm, that is about two hours before the commencement of the 9pm curfew. Secondly, his analysis tilts towards blaming the protesters for the tragedy that befell them, and by extension, the country.
After visiting 25 protesters recuperating from gunshot wounds in three hospitals, Sanwo-Olu made a claim that he might regret saying in future. He said: “… While we pray for swift recovery for the injured, we are comforted that no fatalities were recorded as widely circulated on the social media.” This was false as there were deaths(he later admitted two deaths).
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It is difficult to say where he got this piece of misinformation; from the marauding soldiers who, witnesses said left with some of the bodies, his health officials or families that have declared their loved ones missing? The Amnesty International reported that at least 12 persons were killed in the operations by the Nigerian Army and the Police.
While seeking to distance himself from the murderous soldiers, Sanwo-Olu said: “For clarity, it is imperative to explain that no sitting 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 officers and men of the Nigerian Army deployed to the Lekki Toll Gate…”
It is clear that the governor is not only trying to exonerate himself, but also claiming ignorance of the military actions and covering up for the Buhari regime. But the latter threw the governor under the bus by keeping silent on the deployment of the army and then letting the Nigeria Army officially deny Sanwo-Olu’s claims that its men and officers were involved in the operations. In other words, calling the governor a liar and indirectly accusing him of carrying out the Lekki shootings.
The Nigeria Army Spokesman, Colonel Sagir Musa, tried to rubbish Sanwo-Olu’s assertion that the army carried out the Lekki shootings. He claimed that protest was a civil matter in which the army did not involve itself. The Nigeria Army backed this assertion up with a declaration on its official Twitter handle @HQNigerianArmy that soldiers were not at the Lekki shooting. It screamed: “Fake News!! No soldiers were at the scene.”
Major General John Enenche, Coordinator, Defence Media Operations, DMO, claimed the videos of the attack were either photoshopped or cropped. While admitting that the military is carrying out internal security operations codenamed: ‘Operation MESA’ in states like Lagos, he claimed that it is under the control of the respective state governments. He added that: “… These operations are still standing and running and I am aware that the state governments are using them in all these capacities, that is internal security.”
The insinuation is that these are the troops that might have been used in Lekki without the knowledge of the military command.
On Thursday October 12, 2020, the Governor said on Arise Television that the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin and the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, called him a day after the shootings “to say that if indeed I require for the military to come out, they will deploy them”. Given this claim, the question is, what troops were used in Lekki if the military had not been previously deployed?
I am clear in my mind that the soldiers who murdered protesters in Lekki – with two of their commanding officers named – were not fake, ghosts or rogue elements. The truth about who deployed the soldiers with the command to shoot innocent youths, is tucked between the Sanwo-Olu and Buhari governments.
Both are from the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and neither can be trusted to set up an investigative panel that would reveal the truth. Both have moral deficits, and until they divulge the truth, bring the murderers to book, adequately compensate the injured and the families of the murdered, neither would have the moral authority to continue governing any part of this country.