The federal government has described the report of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution to Investigate Cases of Police Brutality and the Incident at Lekki Toll Gate as a rehash of the unverified fake news that has been playing on social media since the incident of October 20, 2020.
This is even as the federal government also appealed to the families of those allegedly killed at Lekki Tollgate to speak out even as it rejected the notion that soldiers and policemen massacred innocent Nigerians at Lekki.
Minister of information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, disclosed these in Abuja during a press conference on Tuesday, saying it’s incredible that a Judicial Panel set up to investigate an incident has submitted a report laden with allegations, the same allegations it was set up to investigate in the first instance.
Mohammed said instead of sitting for all of one year, the panel could have just compiled social media ‘tales by the moonlight’ on the incident and submitted, saving taxpayers’ funds and everyone’s time.
He added that the report was nothing but the triumph of fake news and the intimidation of a silent majority by a vociferous lynch mob.
The Information minister said the federal government has read some critical analysis of the report by a courageous few. He said one commentator, a lawyer, said it raised more questions than answers.
He said, “Another commentator, a journalist, called it a ‘disgraceful report by a disgraceful panel’, saying it reported allegations instead of investigating the allegations.
“Yet another wondered how a Judicial Panel could use the words ‘massacre in context’ and equate such to a massacre. All these and many more have raised questions on that report. We salute their courage and refusal to be cowed by the rampaging lynch mob that has been screaming blue murder since the report was released,” he said.
Speaking further, he said a section of the Nigerian media has also joined the lynch mob.
He said in an attempt to vilify the government at all cost, they have done themselves a great disservice.
The minister said that never in the history of any Judicial Panel in the country has its report been riddled with so many errors, inconsistencies, discrepancies, speculations, innuendoes, omissions, and conclusions that are not supported by evidence.
He stressed that what is circulating in public space was simply a rehash of the unverified fake news that has been playing on social media since the incident of October 20, 2020.
According to him, “We do not intend to bore you by rehashing details of the discrepancies, innuendoes, inconsistencies, and errors in that report. They are already in the public space. Let us, however, point out some key highlights of such discrepancies, errors, omissions, etc.
“The report threw away the testimony of ballistic experts who testified before it. The experts said, inter alia, in their testimony:
“The Team finds that from the medical data examined, including the timeline of arrival at the medical facility and the nature of the injuries sustained by the victims, who were taken to the five medical facilities, that no military grade live ammunition (high-velocity) was fired at the protesters at Lekki Tollgate on 20th October 2020, within the timeframe of reference (18.30- 20.34hrs).
“That the GSW (Gun Shot Wounds) injuries (four in number between 19:05 and 19:45 hrs), which were examined by the Team, can be safely identified as being discharged by either low velocity caliber and/or artisanal/12-gauge firearms (artisanal firearms are locally-fabricated weapons). What is however certain is that had the military personnel deliberately fired military grade live ammunition directly at the protesters; there would have been significantly more fatalities and catastrophic injuries recorded. This was clearly not the case.
“The same panel that said it deemed as credible the evidence of the Forensic Pathologist, Prof. John Obafunwa, that only three of the bodies on which post mortem were conducted were from Lekki and only one had gunshot injury went on to contradict itself by saying nine persons died of gunshot wounds at Lekki!
“The man whose evidence (that he counted 11 bodies in a military van where he was left for dead before he escaped) was found to be crucial by the panel never testified in person. Rather, the video of his ‘testimony’ was played by someone else. It did not occur to the panel to query the veracity of the testimony of a man who said he was shot and presumed dead but still had time to count dead bodies inside a supposedly dark van at night!
“The panel said trucks with brushes underneath were brought to the Lekki Toll Gate in the morning of Oct. 21 2020 to clean up bloodstains and other evidence, but still found bullet casings at the same site when it visited on Oct. 30th 2020.
“It said soldiers picked up bullet casings from Lekki Toll Gate on the night of Oct. 20th 2020, yet claimed that policemen came to the same spot to pick the same bullet casings on Oct. 21st 2020!
“The panel was silent on the family members of those reportedly killed, merely insinuating they were afraid to testify. Even goats have owners who will look for them if they do not return home, not to talk of human beings. Where are the family members of those who were reportedly killed at Lekki Toll Gate? If the panel is recommending compensation for the families, what are their identities and addresses? Who will receive the compensations when no family members have shown up to date?
“How did a man who reported seeing the lifeless body of his brother himself ended up being on the list of the panel’s deceased persons?
“How can a Judicial Panel convince anyone that the names of some casualties of the Lekki Toll Gate incident listed as numbers 3 (Jide), 42 (Tola) and 43 (Wisdom) are not fictitious names.
“Why did the Judicial Panel feel compelled to concoct a ”massacre in context” as a euphemism for ”massacre”? A massacre is a massacre. What is ”massacre in context?”
“The report never mentioned cases of police personnel who were brutally murdered or the massive destruction of police stations, vehicles, e.t c during the Endsars protest. Does this mean that the panel didn’t consider policemen and women as human beings?
“The report didn’t make any recommendation on the innocent people whose businesses were attacked and destroyed during the protest in Lagos. I think it was too busy looking for evidence to support its conclusion of massacre in context,” he queried.
The minister said it was clear from the ongoing, that the report of the panel in circulation cannot be relied upon because its authenticity was in doubt.
He stated that besides, the Lagos State Government, being the convening authority, has yet to release any official report to the public.
He said neither has the panel done so, adding that the cowardly leakage of an unsigned report to the public was not enough.
Alhaji Mohammed said assuming the report in circulation bears any iota of genuineness, it is basic knowledge that the report of such a panel is of no force until the convening authority issues a White Paper and Gazette on it.
He said it is, therefore, too premature for any person or entity to seek to castigate the federal government and its agencies or officials based on such an unofficial and unvalidated report.
On CNN and other media outlets, he said CNN has been celebrating the leaked report of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry.
He said, “In its rush to claim vindication, CNN apparently didn’t even read the report before rolling out the drums in celebration.
“By that action, CNN has celebrated prematurely and has now committed a double faux pas: First, by relying on unverified social media stories and videos to carry out an investigation of the 20th October, 2020 incident at Lekki, where it did not have a correspondent on ground. CNN goofed in its report on the findings of the panel, which fell below the main standards of journalism.
“Secondly, CNN rushed to the air to celebrate an unsigned and unverified report that is riddled with inconsistencies, errors, discrepancies, innuendoes. That’s double faux pas by a news organization that is eager and willing to compromise standards just to claim vindication,” the Minister said.
On some media houses validating the report, he lamented that how can any news organisation worth its salt write an editorial validating this kind of report.
In a shocking twist, he said a Nigerian newspaper chose to hail what it called ‘’detailed investigative report’’ by CNN, even when the news channel did not even cover the incident of October 20, 2020.
He said it’s a classic case of cutting your nose to spite your face.
He continued, “There is absolutely nothing in the report that is circulating to make us change our stand that there was no massacre at Lekki on Oct. 20th 2020.
“For us to change our stand, a well-investigated report of the incident that meets all required standards and will withstand every scrutiny must be produced and presented to the public.”
He said the report in circulation does not meet those requirements.
“It’s untenable to say that some families did not come out because they are afraid. Any parent who is afraid to testify about the death of his or her child is not worth to be called a parent,” he said.
On allegations that soldiers killed innocent Nigerians, he said that conclusion is not supported by the weight of available evidence.
He said the indictment for murder is a very serious issue that cannot be done on the basis of allegations and corroborations, as the panel did.
He said such allegations must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
He said the report in circulation is calculated to embarrass the federal government and its agencies without foolproof evidence.
“The Federal Government has never condoned the abuse of the rights of Nigerians by security agencies under any guise, hence it disbanded SARS and encouraged states to set up the panels to investigate reports of human rights abuses allegedly committed by the disbanded SARS personnel.
He said the 37 policemen and six soldiers who died across the country during the EndSARS protest are also Nigerians and should not be forgotten.
He noted that those who have engaged in premature celebration of the report in circulation should now go back and read it thoroughly and tell Nigerians whether it can pass any serious scrutiny.
“We are saddened that anyone died at all during the Endsars protest as the life of every Nigerian and indeed every human is sacrosanct. As we have disclosed many times, 57 civilians, 37 policemen, and six soldiers were killed across the country during the protest, and we commiserate with their families,” he added.