By Dayo Johnson, Shina Abubakar, Rotimi Ojomoyela, James Ogunnaike, Deola Badru & Sola lshola
In October last year, a social media report of police brutality in Delta state was all it took to birth a nation wide protests tagged #Endsars protests. The protests which dragged for days turned violent resulting in killing, looting and destruction of public property.
In Lagos, the involvement of musicians and artists added colour to it and was turned into some sort of carnival as the protesters, who were mainly youths occupied the Lekki toll gate singing and dancing and waving national flags. Hell was however let loose on the 20th of October, 2020 when armed soldiers were drafted to the scene to disperse the unarmed crowd of youths.
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The outcome of the encounter was death of many protesters which they described as massacre leading to world wide outrage. The army first denied soldiers were anywhere Lekki toll gate on that day but when the heat refused to abate, the army admitted they were actually invited to the scene by the Lagos state government but live bullets were never used. The Federal Government insisted that no one died in the encounter and the claim of massacre was false.
Following the massive destruction of property across the country and the killing of security personnel, the Federal directed the state governments to set up probe panel to investigate the crisis and make recommendations. After sitting for one year, the Lagos state judicial panel on Endsars submitted its report during the week which indicted both the federal and Lagos state government confirming that there was indeed massacre of protesters at Lekki toll gate on October 20 last year. The report contained a list of the dead, the missing and the injured ones from the shooting.
Nigerians have been reacting to the report. They applauded the panel arguing that if the panel can indict the authority that set it up, then there is indeed hope for this country. They however insisted that the government must do the needful by implementing the recommendations contained in report.
Public Analyst, Hon Zadok Akintoye said, “The report of the Judicial Panel of Enquiry over the gruesome acts of criminality and inhumanity allegedly perpetrated at the Lekki Toll gate is a welcome development, as it has finally given some sense of closure to the families of those who were alleged to have been killed or missing at that unfortunate event. I must say that the panel did a good job even when the key actors in this matter (the military) refused to respond to its invitations. I must say however, that the limitation as to the admissibility of evidence and conclusions of the report in court, puts a ceiling on the desire for justice to be done. As a country, it is shameful to see the extent to which the Federal Government of Nigeria went in denying the alleged murder of protesting citizens at the toll gate. This report clearly shows the insincerity of government and puts a heavy dent on its human rights records.
In his own reaction, former Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Philippines, Dr Yemi Farounbi said the report of the panel has indicated that government officials should wait for investigation before making public statement. He said, “we have reasons to applaud the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry that investigated all the problems associated with the EndSARS crisis. I believe that the panel has done the forensic job to reach a decision. Its decision has only indicated that those in power in Nigeria must tarry before they make proclamation of guilt or innocent.
I would have thought anyway, that because there was already a judicial panel of inquiry, the Information Minister ought not to have concluded or celebrated so early at the one year anniversary of the EndSARS memorial. The report has shown that he ought to have waited, it has shown that those in power should wait for conclusion of indepth investigation before they rush into conclusion.
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We are expecting now, the implementation of the recommendation of the panel and I hope that even though the conclusion of the panel has contradicted the various stands taken by the federal and various state governments, the hope of every democrat in Nigeria is that the government at all levels, will implement the findings that have been painstakingly put together by an independent inquiry”, he said.
Also reacting, the National President of a Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, the Defense for Yoruba People’s Right (DYPR) Otunba Muyideen Olamoyegin commended members of the Judicial Panel over what he described as the unbiased report, saying it was glaring that there was indeed massacre at the Lekki toll gate on 20th of October 2020.
According to him, “the panel had also recommended that the Federal Government should publicly apologise to the teaming Nigerian youths. The soldiers involved in the massacre should be sacked from the Nigerian Army with immediate effect. All these recommendations gladden the hearts of Nigerian youths. But our fear is that the Federal Government will not respond to all these recommendations, though the Lagos States government promised to release the white paper in another three weeks. Nigerian are anxiously waiting for the white paper”.
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The President of the Yoruba group also condemned the statement credited to the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, during the one year anniversary celebration of the ENDSARS, recently and called on President Muhammadu Buhari to listen to the call of many Nigerians as a master of urgency and relieve the minister of his appointment. He urged President Muhammadu Buhari to respect the report of the white paper as soon as it is released by the Lagos state government .
An educationist, Dr Ransome Oboh said the constitutional responsibility of any government at any of the levels; federal, state, local government, is protection of lives and property of its citizens. With this report, it means that government in Nigeria is government of deceit. The Lagos Judicial panel on EndSARS has confirmed the stand of the masses that there was massacre on that day. Both the Federal and Lagos state governments should publicly apologize to Nigerians without any further delay.
The founder, Yoruba Nation Guardians, Otunba Tayo Onayemi, noted that “the present government lies and deceives the governed massively, sanctity of human lives has no place in the dictionary of the present government and Nigerians are in for the shock of their lives by way of revelation at the expiration of the tenure of this government”.
Comrade Jare Ajayi, the spokesperson of Afenifere said “it is gladdening that the panel that sat in Lagos came out with a report and it was made public. From all indications just as it was said by the panel members, particularly the Chairman, the panel had a free hand which means there was no interference from the Lagos state government that set up the panel and this is commendable. This is why we are able to get a true report of what really transpired at Lekki which the tribunal has called a massacre. Were it to be that the panel was teleguided, it’s likely that they would not have been able to come out with a lot of things that they came out with.
The unfortunate thing about it all is that it further exposes in a very ridiculous, ludicrous and condemnable manner, the value we place on human lives and our attitude to democratic practices and human rights in our clime. It is enshrined in our constitution and also in African and UN charter that citizens of any country have a right to protest as long as it is peaceful and the youths at Lekki Tollgate were expressing their desire to put an end to police brutality, holding Nigerian flag and singing National Anthem, and from the report that came out now, they were attacked and many of them were killed.
It is unfortunate that the official position before the report of the panel came out was that nobody was killed and no life was lost but now the true position has become clear. Government would have earned a little credit if it had admitted from the beginning that indeed lives were lost and apologize on behalf of its agents but it didn’t. Now that the report has clearly shown that lives were lost in a very dastardly, illegal and condemnable manner, we do hope that necessary remedy will be made and the families of those who were killed will be compensated while those who lost one thing or the other in the process, especially those who are alive would be adequately compensated.
But more importantly, such a thing should never happen again in our country.
The Special Assistant to Governor Makinde on Community Relations, Hon. Femi Josiah said: “If we look back at what happened on the 20th of October, 2020 at Lekki Tollgate, personally I don’t think the Nigerian army had any business being there at that time. Having said that, there were allegations of massacre by some of the people who were at the scene of the incident which was denied by the army and was equally denied by the government of Lagos state.
I remember vividly an interview that was online where the government of Lagos state denied being involved and when the governor was asked who issued the order for shooting he said only the president and Chief of Army Staff had the authority to give such order. So, at that point in time he didn’t even deny there was shooting. But the federal government then came out to say that nobody was killed, while the army later said that only rubber bullets were used.
It was difficult for any of us to establish the truth because none of us was there but the good thing is that the Lagos state government set up this panel and this same panel has indicted both the state government and the federal government. We should give the Lagos state government credit for that. It means there is hope for Nigeria because some of us might not realise that the rest of the world are watching us and if the government can set up a panel and the panel indicted the government, that tells us about the integrity of the members of the panel and it tells us that we still have honest people living in Nigeria, so it’s a good image for us. From all we have seen there was shooting and there was massacre. My own view is, if anybody disagrees with the report of the panel they can challenge it before the white paper comes out because it can’t be challenged once it’s out. The report has shown that we still have people of integrity in this country who will tell you the truth even if you are the one paying their bills. I will therefore advice the Lagos State Government to tread softly in addressing the outcome of the report”.