IT is over one month since the shooting at the Lekki Toll Plaza during the #ENDSARS Protests. The shooting shook the nation, with many people wondering the need for it as the protesters who gathered at the plaza were peaceful. Why fire at a bunch of young, peaceful protesters? The bewildered public asked. The ready made answer was that there was a curfew. So, it was in enforcement of the curfew that soldiers stormed the Lekki-Epe axis on that fateful October 20.
Indeed, earlier that day, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu imposed a curfew on the metropolis following the hijacking of the protests by hoodlums. It was a matter of time before that happened. The protests had begun to drag, with no end in sight as the protesters insisted that all their demands be met before they left the plaza and the Lagos State Secretariat at Alausa, Ikeja, which were then their homes. After failing to get through to the youths despite taking their demands to Abuja for President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval, Sanwo-Olu was left with no choice than to declare a curfew.
The curfew was to start at 4p.m., meaning that nobody must be found on the road by then until 6a.m., the next day, until the restriction is lifted. With the police “overran”, according to military intelligence chief Brig-Gen Ahmed Taiwo, troops were deployed to enforce law and order under phase four of internal security operation. The soldiers, he told the judicial panel probing SARS brutality and the Lekki incident, were deployed by the appropriate authority at the instance of Sanwo-Olu. The governor, he noted, took the correct action in the circumstance because the hoodlums had overrun the police.
But on the night of October 20, as the citizenry watched the unfolding Lekki drama on television nationwide, a shocked Sanwo-Olu appeared on set to say he did not know how the troops got to Lekki. Without mincing words, the governor said he did not invite the military. There is a difference between invitation and deployment. As the governor and chief security of his state, the safety and security of the people are paramount. To discharge this responsibility, he needs the help of the military and the police over which he has no control. Only the President has control over both institutions.
The governor cannot deploy soldiers, but he can request for them, through the President, whenever there is a crisis that is beyond the police. On October 22, he made such request, but on seeing the havoc wreaked on the plaza by soldiers, Sanwo-Olu distanced himself from the military. He said the Justice Doris Okuwobi-led panel, which had by then been constituted, would unravel how the military got to Lekki. The military too, initially kept mum over its presence at Lekki. It said it would not honour any invitation to appear before the panel. It said it could only be summoned by the state. Isn’t the state the panel?
There is no difference between the state and the panel, which derives its power from its establishment by the governor. The military promptly reversed itself and pledged its loyalty to civil authority. In furtherance of its pledge, it appeared before the Okuwobi panel. Its appearance has not been without drama. Gen. Taiwo, Commander of 81 Division, Military Intelligence Brigade, has been telling the panel all he knows about 10/20. On November 14, he said the soldiers went to Lekki with blank bullets. Last Saturday, he said they were there with blank and live bullets. According to him, blank bullets do not kill, but live bullets do.
Is there any possibility that live bullets were fired at the plaza on October 20? Going by the general’s response to a question under cross examination, the possibility is high. “We shoot if pelted with stones. If you are being pelted with stones, the only option is gunshot. You can’t expect us to throw stones back”. Since stones were thrown at soldiers that fateful night, it will be safe to say they shot at those who stoned them. The question then arises: Did the shooting result in a massacre, which some people alleged happened that night? Massacre may be too strong a word to use because if that was what really happened that night at the toll plaza, there would be ample evidence of it in its aftermath.
A clearcut case of massacre is what happened during the Benin Expedition of 1897 during which the British Army captured, burned and looted the ancient city. Massacre is the unnecessary indiscriminate killing of a large number of people as witnessed in Benin Empire over 120 years ago. If such had happened at the plaza on 10/20, would it have been possible for anybody to wipe off the trace? This is why the claims of Obianuju Catherine Udeh aka DJ Switch, the Cable News Network (CNN), Al Jazeera, et al, fly in the face of available facts. This writer believes strongly that some people might have died of gunshot wounds that day or days after the shooting, but what is puzzling is why their families are not coming out to talk.
A case of killing can only be proved with a body. Where there is no body, there is no death. This is not to say that people did not die at Lekki on October 20, but in the absence of their bodies or evidence that they were forcefully taking away by the military it becomes difficult to prove. Even CNN, which did a story titled: How a bloody night of bullets quashed a young protest movement could not produce fresh pictures or videos to back up its inference of massacre. All it got were mostly discredited pictures and videos already in circulation.DJ Switch, who initially gave a death toll of 15 before reducing it to seven, has gone underground to, according to her, save her life.
The government would do well to assure her of her safety so that she can come out and help in the ongoing investigation to clear the row over the actual number of casualties in the Lekki shooting. DJ Switch owes the memory of those who died that duty. If truly there was a massacre and she is keeping quiet and also holding on to proof that can unmask the killers, she is an accessory to the fact. She will come to no harm if she decides to go public with her evidence. With the global stature she has attained, she has become a bone in the government’s throat. She is like a hen perching on a rope. For now, everything says otherwise, except those mouthing “massacre”, “massacre” can bring the proof.