March 31, 2021

EndSARS Protest: US govt faults claims that Nigerian Army killed protesters at Lekki Tollgate

Lekki Tollgate incident was a massacre — Lagos ENDSARS Panel

A file image of the #EndSARS protesters at Lekki Tollgate, before the gunfire.

A file image of the #EndSARS protesters at Lekki Tollgate, before the gunfire.

*Acknowledges formation of Judicial Panels afterwards

The United States government has exonerated the Nigerian Army of any killings during the #ENDSARS protests in Lekki Tollgate, Lagos State on October 20, last year.

According to the just released US Department of State’s 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Nigeria, it noted that the US government did not believe that Nigerian soldiers killed protesters at the Lekki Tollgate incident.

Following the Lekki incident, some Nigerians on Social media had falsely claimed that the Nigerian Army had opened fire on unarmed protesters who had gathered at the Lekki toll gate, killings several protesters.

The Nigerian army rejected these claims, stating that soldiers only fired blank bullets, and not live bullets into the crowd of protesters.

However, despite evidence from the Nigerian Army that it had fired only blank bullets, many critics kept up the narrative with sensational hashtags like #LekkiMassacre #LekkiGenocide.

The US report also rubbishes the claims by several international media and organizations like Amnesty International and Cable News Network (CNN) that many had died during the Lekki tollgate incident.

The US government also acknowledged the formation of the Judicial Panels to investigate cases and complaints of SARS and police brutality. Following the #EndSars protests, the National Economic Council chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had recommended the establishment of state-based judicial panels of inquiry to also ensure justice for victims and families affected.  Eventually more than 30 States including the FCT set up such panels and some redress already being put in places.

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In the section titled, “Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings”, the report gave a background to the Lekki incident, but stated categorically that “no other organization was able to verify the claim” that some persons had died during the incident.

The report read, “On October 20, members of the security forces enforced curfew by firing shots into the air to disperse protesters, who had gathered at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos to protest abusive practices by the Nigerian Police Force’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Accurate information on fatalities resulting from the shooting was not available at year’s end.

“Amnesty International reported 10 persons died during the event, but the government disputed Amnesty’s report, and no other organization was able to verify the claim. The government reported two deaths connected to the event. One body from the toll gate showed signs of blunt force trauma. A second body from another location in Lagos State had bullet wounds.  The government acknowledged that soldiers armed with live ammunition were present at the Lekki Toll Gate. At year’s end the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution continued to hear testimony and investigate the shooting at Lekki Tollgate.”

The US report added that, “demonstrations were largely peaceful, but some protests turned violent after criminal elements infiltrated the protests and security forces fired at protesters at the Lekki Tollgate on October 20.”

Vanguard News Nigeria