By Razak Adeoye
Despite glaring evidence, some individuals and institutions continue to label the Lekki Tollgate shooting a ‘massacre’. Even CNN’s attempt to toe this path through its vaunted special investigation did not identify any youth that was shot dead at the protest ground.
Neither has any family appeared, as yet, at the Lagos Judicial Panel of Inquiry, which was constituted to unravel the events surrounding the incident, to state that they lost a child or their ward.
Some days back, a random Twitter user with the handle, @Akinola70109569, tweeted in poor grammar as is prevalent on the micro-blogging site; “I wake up this morning to wish a friend happy birthday but I just to remember that is among victim in Lekki massacre. May he continue to rest in peace. Hero.”
Avid respondents jumped on the tweet to commiserate with him but some discerning ones, particularly, one with the handle, @Dagenius21, asked for the victim’s name and picture stating; “(The) judicial panel need evidence that there’s indeed a “massacre”.
He’s your friend as claimed so you can assist us with good proof. Thanks.” Another respondent added, “I’m sure you want justice to be done, please, give us evidence and let justice be done. I hope you are not joking about your tweet. Prove his death to us.”
The accuser has, typically, been unable to supply further evidence of his phantom friend’s death but he gleefully termed the October 20 incident at the Lekki Toll Plaza a ‘massacre’. He is not alone in this ignorant and ignoble class where making wild allegations is a sport but to provide evidence is as easy as retrieving a lost item from the Bermuda Triangle.
Indeed, the tweet is emblematic of what has become a common refrain on social and traditional media and beyond whereby people were just pulling off figures from the air to justify the purported massacre. Bibliophiles and lexicographers must be cringing in shock and surprise as young and old Nigerians – some with Ivy League education – have wilfully employed this word to justify an unwieldy narrative.
As you would recall, for about ten days, thousands of young Nigerians took to the streets to agitate for the proscription of the Special Anti Robbery Squad, a unit of the Nigeria Police Force that had gained notoriety for its reckless and high-handed modus operandi.
The Lekki Tollgate, a major gateway on Lagos Island, was the convergence point of the protesters as they prevented other residents from going about their daily activities.
On radio and television programmes, many disgruntled Nigerians called in to express their grouses with the protesters who flagrantly infringed on the fundamental human rights of other citizens. The wave of protests caught global attention as iconic political, business and entertainment figures added their voices to the agitation to end police brutality in Nigeria and proscribe the SARS.
The governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, had addressed the protesters and promised that all their demands would be met and, instructively, on October 19, inaugurated an 8-man Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution to investigate cases of police brutality in the state.
“The panel will in the next 24 hours be joined by two youth representatives and a member of the National Human Rights Commission as we look to provide restitution while following due process.
“In Lagos, beyond setting up this panel, which we hope will serve as a representation of our broader interests, we have established a N200 million fund for compensation to families and individuals who have been victimized by officers of the disbanded SARS,” the governor said.
But the protesters were not swayed by the olive branch extended by the governor. Rather, they got more emboldened perhaps because they were being fed with an assortment of free foods including chops and canapés, and drinks and entertainment round-the-clock by their enablers while Lagos teetered precariously on the brink of anarchy.
By the dawn of Tuesday, October 20th, hoodlums infiltrated the ranks of the protesters, and several police stations and public properties across the metropolis went up in flames. The police became the target and the state government was left with no choice but to declare a curfew initially billed to start at 4 pm but in consideration of those who were already at work, moved to 9 pm.
As the situation degenerated further, the state government invited the Nigerian Army to help restore normalcy and those who know are aware that the order to shoot resides with the Commander-in-Chief, President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Commander of the 81 Military Intelligence Brigade, Brigadier Ahmed Taiwo, acknowledged that at the request of the state government, the Army was at Lekki, Badagry, Ikorodu, Apapa, Alimosho, Epe, Lagos Island, and other areas in the state to douse tension.
He told the Judicial Panel of Inquiry that only blank bullets were fired at the protesters and that no fatalities were recorded by the Army, adding that such blanks can’t cause any serious damage to life as a bullet, which had the power to kill three people with one shot. The Brigadier revealed that immediately after soldiers left, hoodlums took over the scene and attempted to destroy the toll gate. They succeeded and even set ablaze the Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge tollgate.
The intervention of the Army, which, however, left a couple of persons injured and two people confirmed dead by the governor later at the hospital, has now turned ‘massacre’ into a singsong, a fancy lingo for Generation Z and a viral hashtag which has inflamed and kept aflame the embers of the widespread misconception.
The proponents have an ally in CNN, which in the wake of the incident posted on its Twitter handle; “At least 38 people were killed in Nigeria on Tuesday when the military opened fire on peaceful protesters. But the President failed to address the carnage during his speech on Thursday, drawing criticism from protesters who accuse him of failing to show empathy & unify the nation.”
Nigerians and foreigners alike who see CNN as the Holy Grail of news reporting believed that it knew where the skeletons of the ‘massacre’ were buried.
AMNESTY International also first alleged that 52 protesters were killed by the Nigerian Army and the police in different parts of the state but later reduced the number to 38 perhaps in solidarity with CNN.
Therefore, with its global reputation of robust investigative journalism, the world waited with frenzied expectation when CNN announced that it was releasing a special investigative report into the Lekki shooting.
When the documentary aired, however, it fell flat in the face of professionalism and investigative journalism as it turned out to be a mere collage of social media videos and a barely masked attempt to manipulate the evidence that is in plain sight.
How about the people in the high-rises on the expressway that CNN gleefully used their videos to analyse its skewed investigation; considering that they were not in any danger, was there none of their phones that captured the ‘massacre’ and subsequent cover-up?
The CNN showed satellite images of the Army leaving their barracks to Lekki but could not find satellite images of when they were packing bodies and which river they dumped them at.
A second CNN Special titled ‘Analysis of CCTV footage from Lekki tollgate raises new questions about shooting’ only stated,
“The footage corroborates the timings CNN reported for the gunshots fired by the army. It also shows soldiers approaching protesters and firing shots.”
There was no mention of a massacre again, which made the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed declare, “It shows that they (CNN) are desperate. The so-called recent development has been seen before. There is nothing new.
“If there is anything new, it is a contradiction of CNN’s position. What we are asking CNN is that where is your evidence? CNN contravenes the basic principles of journalism – fairness, and balance.”
Indeed, what manner of bodiless and bloodless massacre happened at the Lekki Tollgate?
Adeoye, a public affairs analyst writes from Abeokuta