MUYIWA OYINLOLA writes on the need to set the records straight for a balanced version of what happened at the Lekki Tollgate amidst narratives in favour of different camps and interest groups
The pen they say is mightier than the sword, but when a pen relies solely on false accounts the promoter and medium which peddle out a report form such (pen) is said to have lost its soul for a pecuniary need or other ulterior motives and tagged a ‘fake news’ media outfit. Hence the need for a balanced version of what happened at the Lekki Tollgate, Lagos. For now, it is glaring that diverse interest groups continue to push their respective agenda via the media.
It is no longer news that the #EndSARS protest last month degenerated into mindless violence after it was hijacked by hoodlums and Lagos State, the nation’s economic hub was the worst hit in what many now tag the “Lekki Massacre” while other groups tagged it “Lekki Massacre Without Blood’’. The fact is that on the night of 20 October, 2020, Lagos State was left devastated. However, the city was ravaged by hoodlums in the days after the #EndSARS protest, leaving many parts of the state with burnt buildings, looted shops and destroyed properties.
The hoodlums, who carried out attacks in different parts of the state, in the days following the #EndSARS protests, seemed undisturbed by security agents, as they carried out arson, destruction of properties, and looting of valuables in the state, buildings, including police stations, media houses, government secretariats, and the court were attacked and left in ruins.
However, the long list of destroyed public and private property in Lagos are Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Government secretariat; Palace of the Oba of Lagos; Lagos High Court, Igbosere; Oyingbo BRT terminus; Ojodu Berger BRT terminus; Vehicle Inspection Office, Ojodu Berger; Lagos State Public Works Corporation, Ojodu Berger; Lagos City Hall and Circle Mall, Lekki; numerous luxury shops in Surulere, The Nation Newspaper, TVC and Shoprite in Lekki.
While awaiting the judicial panel report, it was reported that six soldiers and 37 police officers who were breadwinners of their families were killed amidst the breakdown of law and order. Recall that Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, accused members of the proscribed Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB) of killing six soldiers and four police officers during the #EndSARS protests in his state.
Taking record of the properties destroyed by the arsonists, Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said the level of destruction in the state is akin to a war zone. He was badly shaken when speaking on the level of destruction across the state but was optimistic that the state must recover from the destruction that has overwhelmed him.
According to him, “Our beautiful city has seen a level of destruction almost akin to a war zone. It was a shocking and very sad spectacle. Our land took a beating and these hurt. Historical buildings, cultural centres, private malls, government holdings and private businesses were pillaged and burnt.”
CNN more or less impeding the work of the judicial panel
Prior to the setting up of the judicial panel to investigate allegations of police brutality, a reporter with the BBC’s Pidgin Service, Damilola Banjo, who was at Lekki Toll Gate protest ground that night during a live video was quoted as saying soldiers were indeed at the Toll Gate but they shot ‘’sporadically into the air’’ and not at the protesters.
While a recent CNN report also said that it has verified that bullets fired at Lekki toll gate are from live ammunition and the one used by the military was manufactured in Serbia in 2005, and is currently in use by the Nigerian Army, a top military source told LEADERSHIP that the Nigeria military has its own military company Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) that produces military wares from AKM, OBJ-006, Berly, side gun, ballistic vest. Also, he said they produced a 7.62mm x 51mm softball cartridge.
Recall that the Nigerian Army had confirmed that soldiers were deployed at the venue where peaceful #EndSARS protesters had gathered on October 21 but it insisted that nobody was killed.
While the army has continued to insist that no live ammunition was fired at the protest ground, stressing that only blank bullets were used to disperse the demonstrators, CNN in its report said a forensic probe of the bullet casings recovered from the scene of the incident revealed that live bullets were fired at the protesters.
Also, the minister of information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed while reacting to the CNN report said, ‘’ Like everyone else, I watched the CNN report. I must tell you that it reinforces the disinformation that is going round, and it is blatantly irresponsible and a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organization.
Amidst the uproar caused by the conflicting report, a Coalition of Civil Society For Human Rights and Good Governance Africa (CSHRGGA) in a statement jointly signed by Prof. Bankole Amuda, Prof Uzodima Anakwe, Balarabe Hassan Ningi, and Mr Grace Osaze condemned in its entirety, the CNN report describing it as “fake, repulsive, and a concocted piece of deliberate falsehood by an otherwise reputable international cable network.”
The statement corroborated the stance of the Nigerian Army to the effect that no protester was killed on the said day, as only blank ammunition was used by soldiers to restore normalcy.
CSHRGGA also warned CNN against attempts to package falsehood in the guise of truth, to satisfy a pre-conceived agenda to destroy Nigeria.
It further said that Nigeria is not a banana republic, where cases of provocation and incitement against a constitutional government will be allowed or tolerated
The statement reads in part: “We condemn CNN and all their evil collaborators for the fake report of the alleged massacre at the Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020, as nothing can be further from the truth.
“We are of the firm view that the CNN only relied on fake videos posted on the Internet by enemies of the state, to draw a conclusion of a massacre, that only exists, or existed in their fertile mind and that of its collaborators – local and international.
“We recognise the right of CNN to carry out exclusive investigative activities around the world, in a bid to expose corruption, human rights violation and other ills perpetrated by governments or groups/individuals, as the case may be.
“In the face of this, however, we hasten to warn against attempts to package falsehood in the guise of truth, to satisfy a pre-conceived agenda to destroy Nigeria.
“May we warn CNN and the like, that Nigeria is not a banana republic, where cases of provocation and incitement against a constitutional government will be allowed or tolerated.”
The coalition added that its position was based on thorough investigations conducted by a crack team of independent forensic experts and warned the CNN and its ‘’co-travellers against deliberate attempts to undermine Nigeria’s sovereignty,’’ and even as it called on the federal government to remain firm and apply the full weight of the law against local and foreign saboteurs.
Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has also faulted the investigative report by Cable News Network (CNN) on the Lekki shootings, saying the report left more questions than answers and a discomforting suspicion of its intention.
The publicity secretary, Lagos State Chapter, Seye Oladejo, insisted that the report by CNN amounts to throwing spanner in the works of the judicial panel already constituted by the Lagos state government on the order of President Muhammadu Buhari to look into the issue.
While describing the CNN report as a ‘piece of fiction’ fuelled by rumours, Oladejo said it contrasts sharply with the balanced reportage by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) which had correspondents at the scene of the incident.
Oladejo said, “I guess a time like this represents a period when silence is eloquently golden. The judicial panel of enquiry is still at work trying to dig out the facts and put the pieces together. I am just too sure the panel would not rely on media reports to form an opinion on what actually transpired.
“It’s interesting to note the two contrasting reports of two reputable international media brands, the BBC and CNN, on the same incident. While the BBC had correspondents on ground for professional and ethical coverage, the CNN put its controversial reports together a month after the incident relying on eyewitnesses, rumours and the deployment of technology from the comfort of their London studio to piece their fiction together.”
Corroborating the APC, a group of legal professionals, Dedicated Lawyers Forum, in a statement signed by Damola Akinlaja, said CNN owes the Nigerian government an apology by relying only on social media reports to form its opinions and for describing the #EndSARS protest as a massacre.
The group said while CNN is entitled to its opinion, it is disheartening for Nigerians to be “celebrating the report as if it is the final authority on the matter.”“We support the position of the federal government on this matter that CNN should be sanctioned for spreading fake news on its platform all in the name of investigative journalism. Their report on Lekki is a direct opposite of what investigative journalism represents,” the group said.
The lawyers added that CNN has apologised for making mistakes in the past and they are sure the same will happen on this issue.