Since the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses submitted its findings to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, a lot of people have been earnestly waiting for the federal government’s response especially on the October 20, 2020 slaughtering of unarmed #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki toll plaza in Lagos. Even though many people already know what the government’s response would be, the reaction has been highly anticipated because of the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed who has been dubbed Minister of Lies and Evil Communication’s usual savagery way of defending the government’s excesses in the face of ugly, naked truths.
Recall that despite the live video of the incident by DJ Switch, CNN’s detailed investigative report in which it narrated how soldiers fired live bullets at protesters, Amnesty International’s estimate that at least 12 persons were killed, and several witnesses testifying that people were murdered at the toll gate, the government persisted in its denials. Mohammed persistently tried to hoodwink and bamboozle Nigerians into thinking otherwise. He infamously dismissed the incident as a “massacre with no bodies,” and scoffed at #EndSARS protesters. With his penchant for tagging every unfavourable report as fake news, the minister endlessly adopted subterfuge to discredit the entire #EndSARS protests even while the panel had yet to turn in its report.
But the ignoble attempt by the authorities to cover up the October 20, 2020 butchering of unarmed #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki toll plaza in Lagos was recently exposed in the report of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry. Headed by Doris Okuwobi, a retired judge, the nine-member panel found that there were 48 casualties of which nine were confirmed dead on the night soldiers stormed the toll gate and the world watched in horror the dispersal of peaceful protesters who were waving the national flag and singing the national anthem to protest police brutality and extrajudicial killings. The panel described the incident as a “massacre in context.”
Remarkably, the 309-page report provided graphic details of how after soldiers exited the scene, the Nigeria Police Force followed up with the killing of the protesters, shooting directly at fleeing demonstrators, who were running into shanties and the lagoon. Officials of the Lagos State Environmental Health Monitoring Unit reportedly evacuated dead bodies and deposited them at various hospital mortuaries in the state. The report shockingly averred that some trucks with brushes underneath were brought to the Lekki Tollgate in the morning of October 21, to clean up the scene and conceal evidence.
When the report was unveiled, the Minister of Information, who is the right person to respond on behalf of the government, was in far away France on an official assignment. Upon his return, Lai Mohammed on Tuesday savagely dismissed the report, describing the findings as fake news.
He said “Without mincing words, let me say that never in the history of any Judicial Panel in this country has its report been riddled with so many errors, inconsistencies, discrepancies, speculations, innuendoes, omissions and conclusions that are not supported by evidence. What is circulating in public space is simply a rehash of the unverified fake news that has been playing on social media since the incident of October 20th 2020. It is simply 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. 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. That report is nothing but the triumph of fake news and the intimidation of a silent majority by a vociferous lynch mob”.
Lai maintained that “there was no massacre at Lekki on Oct. 20th 2020,” adding that “We reject the notion that our soldiers and policemen massacred innocent Nigerians at Lekki on Oct. 20th 2020”.
In view of the minister’s response, the question that easily comes to mind is; between the government and the panel, who is lying? Of what benefit will mere allegations be to the panel? It is even more worrying that the panel was constituted by the Lagos State Governor who found the panel’s members worthy and described them as people of integrity. But since the report came out, the government has turned its back on the panel’s members and tagged them enemies of the state. A member of the panel, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN) has continued to raise alarm about threats to his life since the submission of the report. Just two days ago, one of the prominent EndSARS protesters who testified before the Panel, Miss Kamsiyochukwu Ibe, was attacked and dealt serous machete blows, in what was clearly an attempted murder, as reported by her counsel, with very disturbing photos.
For a government that came to power as an integrity merchant and hobbled on the mantra of change to have plummeted to a point where it no longer values human lives and would do anything to cover up its egregious acts is repugnant. It is not in my place to pass judgment but the plot by the Buhari-led government is audible to the deaf and visible to the blind. The onus is on Nigerians to make moves before these Mephistophelean leaders strangle everyone to death. For Buhari’s government, it is either you sing their praises or you perish.