By Olasunkanmi Akoni, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Gabriel Ewepu & Luminous Jannamike
The Presidency said Thursday Amnesty International does not run the country and was wrong in its report on the movement of soldiers from their barracks to Lekki Toll Gate, where peaceful #EndSARS protesters were shot at on Tuesday, October 20.
Consequently, the Presidency, which rejected the report, alleging that it was skewed, also said the global rights body cannot have more facts about things happening in the country than the President.
However, some civil society organisations, CSOs, has asked the Presidency not to be in a hurry to dismiss the Amnesty International report.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has given ministers a one-week ultimatum to submit reports of consultations with their constituents on the #EndSARS protests which was hijacked by hoodlums in different parts of the country, causing a breakdown of law and order.
Recall that President Buhari had at last week’s Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting told the ministers to go back home and interface with their constituents in a bid to stop the looting and burning of government and private properties by hoodlums, in the aftermath of the protest against police brutality.
Mr. Femi Adesina, Special Adviser on Media & Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari, said these on Channels TV breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, while responding to claims that military high-handedness towards the protesters at Lekki Toll Gate led to hoodlums looting and burning public and private properties across the country.
Also exonerating the military, Adesina said the Lekki Toll Gate incident didn’t precipitate the arson and looting spree that spread across the country.
Vanguard had reported that Amnesty International, on Wednesday, released a report, entitled “Nigeria: The Lekki Toll Gate massacre — new investigative timeline”.
In the report, the rights group chronicled the movement of soldiers from a barracks till they got to the toll gate, where flag-waving and the National Anthem-singing #EndSARS protesters were shot at.
It had also earlier claimed that about 12 persons were killed in the shooting and separate incident at Alausa which it argued precipitated the looting spree across the country.
Looting, arson started before Lekki shooting — Adesina
However, pointing out that killing, looting and burning of properties had started before the Lekki Toll gate incident, Adesina said: “You are falling for the narrative of Amnesty International, and Amnesty is wrong. Anarchy had broken loose before even Lekki. The prisons in Benin and Oko had been broken open before Lekki. Orile police station had been burnt before Lekki.
“Many policemen had been burnt before Lekki. So, you cannot say it was Lekki that precipitated all those things. Look at the timelines, look at all those things. You will discover that they had happened before Lekki. So, you are falling for the gambit of Amnesty International.
“Amnesty International does not have all the facts, they don’t run this country, they shouldn’t know beyond what they have been told. They shouldn’t know more than you and I should know as media people as watchers of developments.
“Amnesty International should do its job. But it’s the duty of Nigerians to look at what they have said whether it’s justifiable or not.”
‘Amnesty always made unsubstantiated reports’
Asked if it was the President’s thinking that Amnesty’s report was wrong, Chief Adesina alleged that Amnesty International was in the habit of making unsubstantiated reports about Nigeria.
“Many times, the military has come out to dispute facts brought out by Amnesty,” he said.
When asked whether President Buhari approved the military’s action in Lekki as Commander-in-Chief, the presidential spokesman said he would not want to undermine the work of the panel of inquiry looking into the matter. The panel was set up by Lagos State Government.
Speaking on directives to ministers by the President to visit states to douse tensions in their respective states, Adesina said: “I can tell you, because there was another Federal Executive Council meeting yesterday (Wednesday), the President asked for briefs from ministers who went out. Only two had their reports ready as at yesterday because some others were still in their respective states, still carrying out their assignment.
“So, the President said all of them should turn in their reports through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in the incoming week.”
Asked what to expect on the reports, Adesina said: “Well, it can only be positive. One, it will help us to establish the truth to some things because there are a lot of conjectures, colourations, outright falsehoods, fake news and all that.
“The ministers can come with what is near-authentic, based on the consultations they are going to make.”
Greed, not poverty ignited looting — Adesina
On the looting of warehouses and shops by hoodlums, Adesina said it was not caused by poverty but greed.
He insisted that the looting spree which occurred days after the #EndSARS protest was propelled by greed and criminality.
He said he completely disagreed with the idea that the pandemonium which accompanied the #EndSARS protests is a true reflection of the people’s hunger and anger.
“I wouldn’t agree completely with that (that the looters are hungry) because criminality is criminality. Would you justify armed robbery because the man was poor?
“Just as you can’t justify armed robbery because a man was poor and then he took a gun to rob another person, you can’t also justify the looting going on. It is pure criminality.
“It is not everybody engaged in that looting that is hungry, that is the truth. It is pure greed and criminality,” Adesina said.
He added that a situation was created for anarchy in the country, adding that this created room for criminality and looting.
“Criminality will always be criminality and mere anarchy promotes criminality. What has happened in the last two or three weeks led to what has happened now. If there was cohesion and tranquillity in society, this wouldn’t happen.
“Therefore, it was a corollary to the mere anarchic situation that came on the country because of the protests. If you didn’t have people burning police stations, killing policemen, burning private and public property, you wouldn’t have this spate of looting,” he said.
Soldiers fired blank bullets in Lekki, says Usman, ex-Army spokesman
Reacting to the Lekki shooting on Arise Television yesterday, former spokesman of the Nigerian Army, Brig. Gen. Sani Usman, retd, said soldiers fired blank bullets at the Lekki protest ground, and not live ammunition as widely claimed.
He said contrary to reports that many were killed in the incident, the blank ammunition used was not capable of killing anyone.
General Usman said there was enough ground to involve the military in the protests, citing reports of violence in parts of the state as a justification.
He accused various persons and organizations, including Amnesty International — which had fingered the army in the reported killings — of politicising the issue and lying against the military.
“People have decided to denigrate the military and turn the military as the fall guy but evidence on ground does not support that assertion.
“Yes, there was the deployment of the military; to what extent and all that, it will be determined by the commission of enquiry.
“If you look at the canisters, they were blank ammo and blank ammo don’t even kill. At a close range, maybe 100-metres, it will have some pigmentation on your skin. Let’s leave the commission of enquiry to do its job.
“But it is very dangerous for anybody to politicise security in this country. The military is a symbol of national unity and national power; they should be insulated from all these politics,” said Usman who retired from active service last year.
‘Commend military, says Usman’
He added that the military should be commended for avoiding “serious collateral damage” during the shooting.
“Remember the military are armed and by the nature of their training, they are trained to kill and I think the military in its wisdom, instead of using live ammunition, decided to use blank armour, which is meant for training.
“I think they should be commended for that, otherwise there would have been serious collateral damage, but they were professional enough to have done that,” said Usman.
No surprise Buhari’s rejecting Amnesty report — CDNDC
Reacting, the convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, CDNDC, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said: “It is not surprising to any discerning Nigerian that President Buhari has decided to reject the Amnesty International’s report, but I think the President can do better by looking at the consistency of AI, the inconsistency of the Nigerian military and other agencies of government who have reprobated and aprobated on this issue.
“For instance, after several denials, the Nigerian military has come to accept that they actually partook in the saga of Lekki shooting. So it is not surprising to anybody.”
Investigate, don’t reject report — CISLAC
Similarly, Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, Auwal Rafsanjani, said: “Government should not be in a haste to reject citizens’ monitoring of this incident. They should carry out investigation to know if this report is really authentic, rather dismissing it.
‘’It should take advantage of the various report to investigate to know whether the claims can help in identifying officers involved in the incident. This is important and already, Lagos State governor has contradicted himself.’’
Also reacting, Country Director, Global Rights Nigeria, Abidoun Baiyewu, said: “It is very unfortunate that they (government) didn’t even review the report that was sent to them. So why won’t they listen to the timeline of the events and call for forensic evidence of the shooting? The CSOs on several occasions have called on them for independent investigation.’”
Pattern of lies — Adeyanju
Convener, Concerned Nigerians, CN, Deji Adeyanju, in his reaction, said: “The same government lies so easily and this same government lied when they killed Shi’ites in Zaria, when they shot at unarmed IPoB protesters in the South-East at the peak of the agitation, you can see the pattern of lies at the Lekki Toll gate shooting.
‘’The Nigerian people should not give up in demanding for what is right and total overhaul of the Nigerian Police Force.”
In his reaction, Executive Director, Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD, David Anyaele, said: “It is not in the interest of this government to reject any report on Lekki Tollgate shooting, in particular Amnesty International report.
“Rejecting Amnesty International report is a form of giving credibility to their findings and recommendations. It is also an expression of weakness on the part of the Federal Government.
“There is no need to set up panels across the country, if government’s intention is to discriminate against reports from some quarters.
“The government must demonstrate to Nigerians and the international community that it should be trusted. Part of the reason the protest lasted for more than one week was due to trust deficit.
“Therefore, by discriminating against reports from sources that are demanding for accountability is a pointer that the government may be hiding something from the public, and may not like to take responsibility. It is unfortunate.”
It’s wrong to open fire on unarmed protesters — CACOL
Also reacting, Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, CACOL, Debo Adeniran, said: “Amnesty International is a Non-Governmental Organization, NGO, that has global spread which monitors violations of human rights where they operates from.
“Most of their reports are based on observations of their representatives in those respective countries, including Africa. It’s possible for their representatives to have monitored the movement of the soldiers from their base to Lekki Toll Gate. What they can’t establish is if those soldiers who shot were actually the ones who left the base.
“But Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had come out to say the military was only called in to enforce the curfew and never expected them before the curfew time of 9 pm. More so, he had no authority to give orders or directives to shoot at the protesters.
“Thus, from all intent and purposes, Amnesty International could have seen the soldiers when they were firing but did not show us the corpses of those killed. By so doing, it has not given us adequate evidence on the claim of number of deaths.
“Under the criminal justice system, nobody can be criminally culpable without adequate evidence. There must be adequate evidence that the crime was actually committed. If anybody has died, it is the pathologists who will confirm the victim actually died as a result of a particular incident or cause. In this case therefore, Amnesty International may be wrong.
“However, it is not right for any armed personnel to open fire on defenceless, harmless protesters for any reason. If they must disperse the protesters, lethal weapon should not have been applied against them. The Amnesty International must have relied on the report of their representatives here in Nigeria but the report leaves much to be desired.”
FG missing good chance — Effiong
The Legal Counsel to #RevolutionNow Movement, Inibehe Effiong Esq., said: “It doesn’t lie in the Presidency’s position to either accept or reject the AI report. The document was released into the public domain and not submitted to the President.
“It’s unfortunate that the Federal Government appears to be missing the opportunity presented by the report to deepen its inquiry into the massacre of innocent Nigerian protesters.
“The report is there in the public space for anyone to go through and draw inferences as to who is telling the truth between the Presidency and Amnesty International.
“We consider it shameful that the government has not realized the masses take their self-contradictory explanations about what transpired on ‘Black Tuesday’ in Lekki with a pinch of salt.”
We’re not surprised — YIAGA Africa
Also, the Programme Director, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, while speaking on the development, said: “We were not expecting the Presidency to accept either the Amnesty International report, or that of the various judicial panels of inquiry that have so far been set up at different levels.”
She challenged the Federal Government to come clean with the whereabouts of the panel reports that indicted the military of severe human rights violations, particularly the mass shooting and burial of the Shi’ites in Zaria five years ago.
Mbamalu also said: “Yiaga Africa is more concerned with monitoring the proceedings of the various panels set up to investigate the Lekki shooting with a view to advocating for unconditional implementation of the reports that would emerge for the inquiries.
“In controversies as this, we expect the National Assembly to checkmate the executive arm of government with a view to ensuring that people are made to account for the extra-judicial killing of unarmed protesters, those found culpable are prosecuted, while the victims and their families are compensated as a healing process.”
‘FG tone-deaf to masses’
Speaking in a similar vein, the convener of Centre for Liberty, Raphael Adebayo, said, “The Presidency’s rejection of the AI report is inconsequential because, as far as we know, the investigative timeline was built on facts which are universally sacred.
“So, Adesina’s remarks simply reinforce the belief in some quarters that the government is ‘tone deaf’ to the yearnings and aspirations of the masses.
“But what matters most in this scenario is that justice is not only served, but actually seen to be served. Shooting dead, unarmed protesters who were waving the Nigerian flag and singing the national anthem by suspected military personnel amounts to an act of treason.
“So, President Buhari must realize that the buck stops at his desk as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces to protect and defend the sovereignty and integrity of the nation.
“The onus lies with him to tell Nigerians who desecrated the symbols of our nationhood. If the Presidency is denying the AI report, it must then tell Nigerians who ordered the Lekki massacre.”