By Yinka Ajayi
The October 20, 2020 Lekki Toll Gate incident cannot be forgotten in a hurry. It was an event which later led to wanton destruction of lives and property in Lagos and other states across the federation.
The true account of what really happened at the Lekki Toll Gate might have been distorted due to the variation in the account of eyewitnesses, Lagos State government, the Federal Government, and most especially social media platforms.
For instance, many videos and pictures had trended in the wake of the incident, showing those who were purportedly shot at the scene.
Tweets alleging the death of no fewer than 69 protesters had also trended giving life to claims that people were massacred at Lekki Toll Gate.
Given the destruction of lives and property that followed the misinformation, the true picture of what transpired that night couldn’t be ascertained.
For Lagos and federal governments, the events necessitated a careful investigation before what truly transpired could be established.
Perhaps, this helped in sustaining the false narrative about the state government. As the situation becomes calmer, we have come to realise that there was nothing like Lekki massacre as was alleged. But that does not mean there couldn’t have been any fatality.
Many of those alleged to have been killed in the Lekki protest have since come out to debunk such reports.
For instance, a photo of a young corps member shot in the stomach which went viral on social media, claiming that he died was debunked by the young man himself who said the picture was taken on a movie set.
In fact, the setting was a drama that was staged in Uyo during Nigeria’s independence anniversary.
Similarly, persons paraded as victims such as a certain Steve Abbey and Nollywood star, Eniola Badmus, have all come out to deny claims that they were killed.
As the truth naturally unravels, one is surprised that some are still blaming Lagos State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, for nothing.
Just a few days ago, CNN came up with their account based on an investigation of what really happened, corroborating the popular accounts of many Nigerians.
It was alleged that soldiers did open fire on protesters who had gathered to make their voices heard in their agitation against police brutality in the country.
While the rest of the nation continue to await the conclusion of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and other Matters on its current investigation of the issue, it is imperative that we take a closer look and objectively analyse the role played by Sanwo-Olu as the chief executive of Lagos and the men of the Nigerian Army.
For the state government, its role has consistently come under scrutiny, especially by those giving life to the false narrative about the governor.
However, it is a known fact that no responsible government watches while anarchy reigns freely in the society.
The 1999 Constitution even put it succinctly that security and welfare of the society are the primary responsibilities of government.
It is in agreement with this golden obligation that the state government acted to save Lagos from imminent destruction.
This may not have gone down well with those who hardly know that governance is all about making hard decisions for the common good.
In view of this, the Nigerian Army, last week, said Sanwo-Olu had enough grounds to seek its intervention in the wake of massive destruction that had descended on the state.
Instructively, it suffices to emphasis that seeking assistance in such a chaotic situation wasn’t an invitation to kill.
According to the account of Sanwo Olu, the state government, after it had announced the imposition of curfew in Lagos, had sent the usual security communication to all security agencies to ensure compliance with the government’s directives.
This was a necessary and standard operational procedure.
The communication was to all security agencies operating in the state, including the Army, Police, Department of State Security Service,DSS, and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Security Corps, NSCDSC, among others.
The standard practice is that these agencies, having received the security communications, will make necessary contacts with their various leaderships from where they will receive their operational security briefs concerning their subsequent deployments.
The governor as a civilian authority is not responsible for the mode of operation or conduct of the security operatives in the discharge of their lawful duties.
His role was within the limits of his constitutional mandate as the chief security officer of Lagos.
This is perhaps what Sanwo-Olu meant when he described the actions of the army against the protesters as “acting on orders beyond his control”
No civilian authority or government will instruct security agents to shoot and kill unarmed peaceful protesters.
This must be viewed against the backdrop of the fact that this same governor had with all humility identified with the protesters. He had visited them and took their complaints and demands to President Muhammadu Buhari.
It is assumed that all security agents, including members of the armed forces, must have acquired the necessary training and skill to manage civil unrest.
The action of the Army at the Toll Gate cannot be blamed on the governor’s supposed invitation.
The blame for whatever shooting that may have taken place must be put squarely where it belongs and that is on the officers of the Nigerian Army who were at the Toll Gate on the night of November 20, 2020.
Sanwo Olu is not and cannot be culpable in this sad and regrettable incident.
The truth can never be hidden, it will certainly be revealed. And when it happens, there will be no place for the real culprits to hide.