The Federal Government, on Tuesday, snubbed the call by the United States and the United Nations for the implementation of the leaked report of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses, rubbishing the report in its entirety.
The panel had stated in its report that at least nine persons were killed on the night soldiers and policemen stormed the tollgate to disperse #EndSARS protesters, describing the incident as a “massacre in context.”
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had told the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, last week that the Federal Government would not comment on the matter until a White Paper had been issued on the report.
Blinken had responded by saying that the US was waiting to see how the federal and state governments would respond. He followed up later by threatening that Nigeria could be hit by an arms embargo if it was established that human rights abuses were being perpetrated with impunity against Nigerian citizens by government agents.
However, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, at a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday, described the leaked report as one laced with discrepancies and inconsistencies, and was unverified fake news.
Mohammed, who insisted that nobody was killed at the Lekki toll plaza on October 20, 2020, said the panel only wasted taxpayers’ money by coming up with such a nonsensical report, which he likened to ‘Tales by moonlight’, a 1990s television programme where fictitious stories and tales were told to children
The minister 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 20, 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.”
Mohammed maintained that no one was killed at the Lekki tollgate, adding that the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigerian Army were not involved in any massacre.
The minister said the 37 policemen and six soldiers, who died across the country during the #EndSARS protests, were also Nigerians and should not be forgotten.
He added, “There is absolutely nothing in the report that is circulating to make us change our stand that there was no massacre at Lekki on October 20, 2020. For us to change our stand, a well-investigated report of the incident that meets all required standards and will withstand every scrutiny must be produced and presented to the public.
“We reject the notion that our soldiers and policemen massacred innocent Nigerians at Lekki on October 20, 2020. That conclusion is not supported by the weight of available evidence. Indictment for murder is a very serious issue that cannot be done on the basis of allegations and corroborations.”
He called on the families of those who were said to have been killed to come forward.
According to Mohammed, the report threw away the testimony of ballistic experts, who testified before the panel.
He further stated that the man, whose evidence that he counted 11 bodies in a military van where he was left for dead before he escaped, was found to be crucial by the panel, but he never testified in person.
“Rather, the video of his ‘testimony’ was played by someone else. It did not occur to the panel to query the veracity of the testimony of a man, who said he was shot and presumed dead, but still had time to count dead bodies inside a supposedly dark van at night,” he said.
Mohammed rubbished claims by the panel that after the killings, trucks with brushes underneath were brought to the Lekki tollgate in the morning of October 21, 2020 to clean up bloodstains and other pieces of evidence.
He wondered how the panel still found bullet casings at the same site when it visited on October 30, 2020.
The minister noted that the panel was silent on the family members of those reportedly killed, merely insinuating that they were afraid to testify.
“Even goats have owners, who will look for them if they do not return home, not to talk of human beings. Where are the family members of those, who were reportedly killed at Lekki tollgate? If the panel is recommending compensation for the families, what are their identities and addresses? Who will receive the compensation when no family members have shown up to date?” the minister asked.
Mohammed noted that the panel’s report never mentioned cases of police personnel, who were brutally murdered or the massive destruction of police stations and vehicles during the #EndSARS protests.
“Does this mean that the panel didn’t consider policemen and women as human beings?” he asked.
He further stated that the panel didn’t make any recommendation on the innocent people, whose businesses were attacked and destroyed during the protests.
While fielding questions from journalists, Mohammed dismissed demands by some rights groups calling for his resignation, insisting that he would do no such thing.
On the statement by the US Secretary of State for action on the #EndSARS report, Mohammed asked if the US would accept such a report if it was submitted by one of its own investigative panels.
“As for the statement by the US Secretary of State, the question to ask is that if that report was turned in by panels set up by the US, would it pass the test?” he asked.
The Country Director, Amnesty International, Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, stated that the Federal Government could not just dismiss the incident without verifying the evidence provided by the probe panel.
While appearing on Politics Today, a current affairs programme on Channels Television monitored by one of our correspondents on Tuesday, Ojigho said, “I think the first thing is for us to establish the fact that there are different layers of government; so, what has been presented to the Lagos State Government, as we all know, is easy for the governments to communicate with themselves across board.
“I think the minister, with his position in government, should liaise with the state authorities to clarify or check information with regards to the panel’s work. That would have been an ideal step…and to allow the state government to carry out its task in this regard.
“It is not surprising for us at Amnesty International that the minister, Lai Mohammed, continues to deny that unfortunate incident that happened on October 20, 2020, at the Lekki tollgate because we have seen in the last one year the constant attacks, the constant narrative that is geared toward gas-lighting the victims, survivors and witnesses, and the create an impression that people are just up to no good.”
She argued that there was a need for investigation into the happenings that occurred, not just only at the Lekki tollgate, but throughout the #EndSARS protests.
She maintained that people died in protests across the country and wondered why it was difficult for the authorities to address petitions, rather than targeting the human rights defenders, victims and witnesses.
Also speaking, the spokesman for the Southern Nigeria Frontier, Olufemi Lawson, said the outburst of the minister was not surprising.
Lawson noted that Mohammed had in the last one year done nothing but discredit the #EndSARS protests.
He stated, “Worrisome also is the deployment of our commonwealth by Mr Lai Mohammed to address claims so unfounded and merely sourced from an unsigned social media version of the judicial panel’s report even at a time that President Buhari had earlier asked various state governments to forward the reports of their judicial panels of inquiries to the Federal Government for consideration.
“The continued brazen denial of the information minister does not in any way undermine the fact that there was a massacre at the Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020, as already revealed by various local and international media investigation and we have no choice but to allow the minister to continually hold on to his assumption over the matter