It’s a bit relieving to hear President Muhammadu Buhari allude to the report by the Justice Doris Okuwobi-led Judicial Panel of Inquiry on the Restitution for Victims of SARS-related Abuses and Other Matters in Lagos State.
While the 309-page report has been a major talking point since it became public knowledge on Monday, mum has been the word from the Federal Government on whose face the report on the #Lekkikillings splattered some eggs.
From his speech, the President raised hopes that his government would act on the final outcome of the various judicial panel of inquiry into the EndSARS debacle while hosting the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, in Abuja. The top US diplomat had described the report of the #EndSARS probe panel as “democracy in action”, adding that he looks forward to the Nigerian government instituting necessary reforms within security agencies. In response, Buhari said, “So many state governments are involved, and have given different terms of reference to the probe panels. We at the federal have to wait for the steps taken by the states, and we have to allow the system to work. We can’t impose ideas on them. The federal government has to wait for the reaction of the states.”
This statement as released by presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, cannot be considered as an appropriate reaction to the much-vexed issue of the Lekki Shooting. The President was apparently referring to the general EndSARS protests that happened across the country in October 2020. As far as the Lekki massacre goes, “so many state governments” are not involved. In fact, there was no other state where soldiers and law enforcement agents were invited to mow down peaceful protesters as experienced at the Lekki toll plaza on the night of October 20, 2020.
As such, the President’s comment does not quench the deep desire of Nigerians to hear from the Buhari administration after the judicial panel of inquiry set up by the Lagos government to probe cases of police brutality, including the shooting at Lekki, unearthed that protesters were killed at the Lekki toll gate in what could be described in the as a “massacre”. According to the report, “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 medical assistance to victims who required such assistance. The Army was also found not to have adhered to its own Rules of Engagement.” This presents as a case of premeditated murder over which the International Criminal Court will be interested. “The Panel 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 officers shot at, assaulted, and battered unarmed protesters, which led to injuries and deaths”.
Given the gravitas of these revelations from the judicial panel of inquiry, it is unconscionable for the Buhari administration which has consistently denied the incident of the massacre at the Lekki tollgate is yet to respond to the content of the report. On five different occasions, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed insisted that nobody was killed at the Lekki tollgate during the height of the EndSARS protest. He went on to describe the crime against humanity that glaringly happened in Lekki as a “massacre without bodies” and even threatened to sue CNN and other international bodies that reported the killing of unarmed Nigerian youth there. Even the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malamialso claimed that those who attacked the youth protesting at the Lekki tollgate were not soldiers but hoodlums who wore military camouflages.
Thanks to the report by the Justice Okuwobi-led Judicial Panel of Inquiry, it has now emerged that these official denials of the obvious were buoyed by the immense efforts made to wipe out the evidence. According to the panel, “three trucks with brushes underneath were brought to the Lekki Toll Gate… to clean up the scene of bloodstains and other evidence”. The report also stated that security forces carted away bodies and mopped up the evidence with operators of the toll plaza, the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) removing the closed-circuit television at the toll gate in a move that had been widely described as a cover-up.
These official denials and cover-ups of the mindless killing of Nigerian youths who converged on Lekki to protest the brutality of the police. These officials and all those involved in the attempt to mislead Nigerians as to what happened on that fateful night must be sanctioned. It is in the interest of the government to do this so as to restore the confidence of the people. Pray, Nigerians and the entire world ever attach credibility to whatever information passed by Lai in the wake of this exposed falsehoods?
The soldiers and police officers who opened fire on the protesters must be made to pay for their acts of impunity. Not even in war situations do we see such a display of bestiality. We recalled that when the rogue soldiers stormed the scene on that fateful night, the youth bent a knee and sang the national anthem to let the agents of state know that they were not enemies of the state. There is therefore no basis for live bullets to be fired on them!
It gets even worst when those who witnessed all of these and watched the Instagram live broadcast of the scenes from the Lekki toll plaza were made to doubt their sanity by lying officers of state. The report of the Lagos Panel of Inquiry has shown that no matter how lies and falsehood try to prevail, the truth will always triumph in the end.
Believes that blood, when spilled unjustly, would always exact revenge. This perhaps explains why a panel set up by the government to return a verdict that indicts authorities and vindicates the claim by the protesters as to what transpired on the night of October 20, 2020.
We demand that all recommendations of the Lagos judicial panel of inquiry must see the light of the day. Government must make conscious efforts to heal the wounds and emotional scars suffered by the Nigerian youth over the brazen violation of their rights at the Lekki toll plaza. Victims of the Lekki toll gate shooting must be adequately compensated by the government which must also waste no time in offering a public apology. As recommended by the panel, there should be the erection of a monument memorializing the lives lost and those injured at the site of the massacre with the names inscribed on the monument.
Most importantly, on the traumatized youth of Nigeria to pick themselves up and use the instrumentality of democracy to rid the country of those not worthy to be political leaders in any sane society. The youth, who exhibited the spirit of a new Nigeria while the Lekki sit-out lasted in October 2020 to the acclaim of many, should vie for public offices to provide the badly needed efficient and compassionate leadership for Nigeria. The youth must seize the momentum provided by the report Justice Doris Okuwobi-led panel, whose members creditably acquitted themselves of their mandate, to birth a new Nigeria post-2023 elections.