Lekki Shooting: Is Sanwo-Olu looking for a scapegoat?

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The aftermath of the #EndSARS protests across the country is an ugly phenomenon no one would want to recall. The #EndSARS protest started like a revolution staged digitally by its promoters before it spreads like wildfire to the streets touching the nooks and corners of the nation.

As it was for previous protests and major phenomenal events in Nigeria, Lagos is always the epic centre. The protests in Lagos dragged on for about two weeks nonstop with the protesters shutting down many parts of the state and crippling business activities in the nation’s commercial capital.

The promoters of the #EndSARS protest demanded for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police (which is now defunct anyway), a unit notorious for committing wanton human rights abuses, extra judicial killings, among other allegations.

We saw the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu making frantic appeals to the #EndSARS protesters at Alausa, the seat of power in Lagos, as well as in Lekki along the Lekki-Epe expressway where protesters took over the now ‘infamous’ Lekki Tollgate for days.

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Mr. Sanwo-Olu did not only meet with the #EndSARS protesters to show solidarity, he also took the demands of the protesters to President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja.
Part of the outcome of the sustained protest was the disbandment of SARS as announced by the Inspector General of Police, Muhammad Adamu who similarly recalled all the former SARS officers to the Force Headquarters in order to debrief them while announcing the establishment of a Special Weapons and Tactical Team (SWAT) to replace the defunct SARS.

In what seemed like an anti-climax of the whole event, there was an allegation of shooting of the protesters on Tuesday October 20th, 2020 in Lagos where the Nigerian Army was alleged to have shot protesters at Lekki Toll plaza.

This was the one-sided narrative that has been flying around since the incident. Without giving the Nigerian Army the benefit of stating its own side of the story, this institution that has done quite a lot in protecting the nation both from external forces and enemies within has been the butt of attacks and indignation unduly directed at it.

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had that Tuesday declared a curfew which was to take effect from 9pm in order to curb the escalating violence and attacks especially on police stations and police officers as the #EndSARS protest raged. Following the declaration of the curfew, we were made to understand that officers of the Nigerian Army and the police would be deployed to enforce the curfew.

But it became shocking when the governor came out to tell the world that he did not order the deployment of soldiers. This has, indisputably, complicated the issue and put the Nigerian Army in a bad light.

The arrow and brimstones were directed at the Nigerian Army from various quarters. Every known celebrity pounced on it even without having a hint of what transpired. It becomes the question of who ordered the deployment of soldiers given the rules of engagement of the military anchored on the command and control system. Certainly, something would serve as a trigger before soldiers could be deployed on the streets.

The comments and the posture from Governor Sanwo-Olu have been contradictory to say the least. On one breadth, he said the shooting was done by “forces beyond his control”. In another breadth during a visit of his godfather and National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, he said he did not order the deployment of the soldiers.

But the Nigerian Army through its 81 Division, Victoria Island, Lagos, cleared the air when it said the state governor actually invited it but its men did not open fire on the protesters. The Army made the clarification in a statement by the Acting Deputy Director, 81 Division Army Public Relations, Major Osoba Olaniyi.

“…The decision to call in the Military was taken by the Lagos State Government after a 24-hour curfew was imposed,” the Army stated, adding, “This was as a result of the violence which led to several police stations being burnt, policemen killed, suspects in police custody released and weapons carted away.
The statement said: “The situation was fast degenerating into anarchy. It was at this point that Lagos State Government requested the Military to intervene, in order to restore normalcy.

“The intervention of the Military followed all laid down procedures for internal security operations. And all the soldiers involved acted within the confines of the Rules of Engagement, ROE for internal security operations.”
After this ample clarification has been given by the Army, it is amusing to see the state judicial panel of enquiry set up to investigate cases of police brutality still chasing shadows in an attempt to make the Nigerian Army the scape goat in the whole imbroglio.

The governor though visited hospitals where the victims of the alleged shooting were receiving treatment in the early hours of Wednesday October 21 after the Lekki incident, the governor stated that two people were receiving treatment, he never stated the nature of treatment those people were receiving. Was it gunshot wounds or what? What kind of game is the Lagos State Government playing?

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What has the committee set up to investigate abuses committed by the defunct SARS got to do with the Nigerian Army?

Seeing the panel in the Nigerian Army Reference Hospital and the mortuary on Friday October 30 allegedly to find corpses of #EndSARS victims smacks of a grand design to desperately find a scapegoat in the Nigeria Army in order to cover up the mishandling of the protests by the state government.

Is the panel trying to manufacture evidence to indict the Army? This is nothing but mischief and sheer politics which has led to the situation we currently experience with the Nigerian Police Force that has triggered the thunderous calls for reformation.

We must try as much as possible to insulate the Army from this sheer irresponsible politicking which would not serve the nation any good. It is indeed an ill-wind that blows no one any good.

The Nigeria Army is already preoccupied with tackling insecurity, banditry and kidnapping and it would be counter-productive to be distracted with one kangaroo panel which is obviously deviating from the original terms of reference.

At this time of our national history, the Nigerian Army has remained committed despite all odds in protecting the territorial integrity of the country and sustaining our nascent democracy and we expect anything less from a state government other than support, encouragement and commendation and not joining it with the #EndSARS’ imbroglio.

Barrister John Atani is the Secretary-General of the Coalition of Civil Society Groups Against Terrorism in Nigeria.

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