By John Ikani
The Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for victims of SARS-related abuses and other matters has established that the Nigeria Army shot and killed unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020.
The panel’s findings were disclosed in its report released on Monday evening and submitted to the Lagos State Government.
Over the past year, the panel has heard petitions on police brutality and has also investigated the Lekki Tollgate incident.
The panel also found that officers of the Nigerian Police Force who were deployed to the toll gate on the night of the incident “shot at, assaulted and battered unarmed protesters, which led to injuries and deaths,” thus aiding the army in the commission of a massacre on unarmed civilians.
For days, the protests, named #ENDSARS, were largely peaceful until troops were deployed to the Lekki tollgate, the epicentre of the protests, on the request of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to disperse the protesters. On arrival at the venue of the protest, eyewitnesses, and protesters, including a popular entertainer, DJ Switch, said the soldiers opened fire directly at the protesters.
They added that soldiers abducted the bodies of many of their victims, put them in their truck and left the scene of the massacre. They also recounted how police officers, primarily from Maroko Police Station, led by the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of the station, Ganiyu Raji, arrived on the heels of the soldiers, shooting more protesters some of whom were killed and injured.
The Federal Government had denied that unarmed protesters were killed at the tollgate on October 20, 2021.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alh. Lai Mohammed, described the incident as a “massacre without bodies.”
The Nigerian Army also denied any wrongdoing when its representative appeared before the panel.
Thus, the judicial panel of inquiry was set up by the state government to probe complaints of extortion, kidnapping, torture, and extra-judicial killings against SARS personnel.
The terms of reference of the panel also included the investigation of the incident at the Lekki tollgate on the evening of October 20, 2020.
Closure at last
The findings of the panel, which was released put to rest repeated denials by the army, the Nigerian Government and the Lagos State Government that a massacre was committed by the soldiers of the 65 Battalion of the 81 Garrison Division, Bonny Camp, led by Sanusi Ovada Bello, a Lieutenant Colonel.
According to the panel, the Nigerian Army “was invited for intervention in the State and was deployed to Lekki Toll Gate on the 20th of October 2020.
“At the Lekki Toll Gate, officers of the Nigerian Army shot, injured and killed unarmed helpless and defenseless protesters, without provocation or justification, while they were waving the Nigerian Flag and singing the National Anthem and the manner of assault and killing could in context be described as a massacre.
“The Panel also found that the conduct of the Nigerian Army was exacerbated by its refusal to allow ambulances render medicaly assistance to victims who required such assistance.
“The Army was also found not to have adhered to its own Rules of Engagement.”
The panel also “found that the Nigerian Police Force deployed its officers to the Lekki Toll Gate on the night of the 20th October, 2020 and between that night and the morning of the 21st of October, 2020, its officer shot at, assaulted and battered unarmed protesters, which led to injuries and deaths.
“The police officers also tried to cover up their actions by picking up bullets.”
Also, the Lekki Concession Company (LCC), operators of the toll gate, was found to have “hampered the panel’s investigation by refusing to turn over some useful and vital information/evidence as requested by the Panel and the Forensic Expert engaged by the panel, even where such information and evidence was by the company’s admission, available.
“It manipulated the incomplete CCTV Video footage of the Lekki Toll Gate on the night of the 20th of October 2020, which it tendered before the Panel.”
The panel noted “that there was an invitation of the Nigerian Army to Lagos State made by the Lagos State Government through the Governor before the hierarchy of the Nigerian Army deployed its soldiers to the Lekki Toll Gate on the night of the 20th of October.
“The panel found that there was an attempt to cover up the Incident of the 20th of October by the cleaning of the Lekki Toll Gate and the failure to preserve the scene ahead of potential investigations.”