By Onozure Dania – Abuja
A United Kingdom-based forensic expert, Dieye Willie-Harry, has denied claims that Nigerian soldiers shot at #EndSARS protesters with live high-velocity projectiles last October 20.
Willie-Harry told the Lagos State judicial panel enquiry that from his investigation, he was “99.999% sure” that the bullets fired by the military were blank bullets.
He said the results of his forensic study showed that no live high-velocity projectiles were fired at the protesters at Lekki tollgate on 20th October 2020 between the hours of 18.30 and 20.43 when the Army were on ground.
Willie-Harry noted, nevertheless, that live, military-grade ammunition, may have been fired at some point after the military had left, by persons yet to be identified.
Willie-Harry, the director and senior consultant of Oxygene Consulting UK Ltd, testified on Tuesday, September 28, via Zoom link.
There are no fewer than 14 petitions relating to the alleged shooting incident, out of the 235 petitions received by the panel between October and December 2020.
The petitioners alleged that soldiers from the Army’s 81 Division, Victoria Island, Lagos fired live bullets on peaceful demonstrators, injuring and killing some.
But the army, which appeared thrice before the panel, denied the allegations, saying soldiers fired blank bullets in the air to disperse the crowd.
It, however, shunned repeated summons by the panel requiring it to respond to petitioners’ further questions and protesters’ evidence challenging its claims.
The witness while giving oral testimony also submitted a flash drive containing two reports,
He stated that his organisation was engaged by the Lagos State government to conduct a forensic and ballistic investigation of the Lekki tollgate incident of October 20th 2020.
The investigation was conducted by his organisation in December 2020 and the report was compiled in February 2021 and submitted.
Willie-Harry said the conclusion that the military did not fire live high-velocity projectiles at EndSARS protesters on the said day was due to the obtained medical data of the victims who were admitted and treated at five medical centres, time of arrival and the nature of injuries sustained.
He also stated that four of the victims who sustained gunshot injuries were discovered to be projectiles from low-velocity firearms which is not associated with the military or any of the security agencies.
The witness said the low-velocity projectiles from which the four identified patients were treated are common with locally produced firearms.
However, Willie-Harry admitted that his team during the course of investigation were unable to ascertain how, by whom, where and when the gunshot injuries were sustained by the victims.
He noted that it might not be unconnected with the breakdown of law and order on the 20th October 2020 in the state, including at the tollgate.
The witness said the rifles shown as being carried by men in military gear who were at the Lekki tollgate protest ground from footages and videos obtained were Russian made Kalashnikov AK 47 rifles and that if the rifles had been shot with live bullets at protesters, that the damage would have been catastrophic because an AK 47 rifle, when fired within a range of 50-100 metres, has the capacity to kill 2-3 persons or more at a single shot.
In his summary of the investigations conducted by his team, Willie-Harry said: “in conclusion, from the examination and research surrounding open-source imagery and news reporting (including social media), along with the individual injuries and medical reports, we are of the opinion that “live” military-grade ammunition, may have been discharged at some point at the Lekki Toll Gate on 20th October 2020, after 21:00 hours and possibly aimed, at the road surface in front of protesters, which ultimately caused the projectiles to ricochet resulting in the core breaking out of the jacket and hitting the majority of the victims in the lower limbs at much reduced kinetic energy but with enough energy to fracture the long bones without exiting the victims’ bodies.
“These injuries are clear to see following the 21:30 hours time stamp on medical records.
“The Team has identified the firearms carried by the military officers, during the alleged incident, as Kalashnikov AK-type variants including Chinese Type 56, some with (foldable bayonet) extended.
“The direction of the muzzles of the Nigerian military firearms, as seen in various videos, recorded during the incident, varies predominantly from pointing towards the ground to directly skywards on discharge.”
“We have not viewed any footage, which definitively shows a muzzle aimed towards any individual and at the same time being fired with the effect thereof, with what we can freely assess to be firing live ammunition (no flailing or falling injured victims).
“However, given the injuries sustained from 21:00 hours and further, we believe, that live, military-grade ammunition, was fired at some point, by persons as yet to be identified.”
When asked under cross-examination to authenticate his assurance that the military didn’t fire live ammunition at the EndSARS protesters but rather fired blank bullets into the skies with images of muzzle flashes, the witness affirmed that by his training and that of his team members, he was 99.999% sure from his investigation that the bullets fired by the military were blank bullets.
In the media report presentation of the investigation, the witness also explained that the videos and footage alleged to be massacre of #EndSARS protesters were not reflective of the reality as they were misleading and inaccurate representations of the fact.
However, the witness admitted that the timeline between when the incident occurred and when his organisation embarked on the investigation was one which would not have allowed for facts and materials relevant to the investigation to be preserved as they were like to have been lost and some victims injuries healed or some victims absconding from accessing treatment from where they could be monitored.
Willie-Harry also affirmed that in a normal situation when such an incident occurs, it is appropriate to preserve the scene, but that this was not done and it affected his investigation that he had to rely on only what he was able to get and presented with.
He also said that the team reviewed 19 ballistic-related injuries, non-law enforcement grade ammunition-related injuries, and 23 medical injuries classified as non-ballistic, non-fire arm-related injuries.
After his testimony, the expert witness was cross-examined by different lawyers representing the police, LCC, #EndSARS protesters, and the Nigerian Bar Association.
At 6:15 pm, the Chairman of the panel, Justice Doris Okuwobi, adjourned the proceedings.
She said the panel would retire to consider its ruling on the Lekki tollgate shooting and communicate to parties later when the ruling is ready for delivery.