The cold war between the Nigerian government and the American Cable News Network (CNN) over coverage of the #EndSARS protest in 2020 reverberated Wednesday, one year after the ugly incident.
While the CNN and a couple of human rights organisations reportedly announced that some people were killed during the protest, the federal government consistently faulted the claim.
For instance, President Mohammed Buhari, had in a tweet, also expressed his disgust at the reportage by both the CNN and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
“It must be said that foreign press coverage of the ENDSARS violence was not balanced, especially from CNN and BBC.
“I was disgusted by the coverage, which did not give attention to the policemen that were killed, the stations that were burnt, and prisons that were opened,” @MBuhari had tweeted December.
One year after
The EndSARS protests held in most parts of the country October 2020, were against the activities of the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a unit of the Nigeria Police Force accused of brutality and all forms of human rights abuse .
And one year after the violent protest, the federal government still challenged the CNN to come up with evidence of the ‘phantom killing’ of protesters.
Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed threw the challenge while addressing journalists in Abuja.
However, a mild drama played out during the question and answer session when the CNN correspondent rose to ask his own question.
He asked the minister if the federal government was in denial of ‘killings’ because it didn’t want to take responsibility.
And in a sharp response, the minister told the reporter: “You heard what I said in my address that one year after your phantom killings… Look CNN, you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself.”
The minister said, “…the Judicial Panel of Inquiry that was set up by the Lagos State Government after the EndSARS protest wrapped up its sitting. During the sitting, CNN was summoned but it never showed up, thus missing a great opportunity to prove its allegation of a massacre at the toll gate. Also, Amnesty International had a golden opportunity to convince the world, but it rather opted for issuing meaningless press releases.
“In its latest attempt to grasp at straws and redeem whatever is left of its battered credibility on this issue, CNN has continued with its baseless report that soldiers shot at protesters. In a report currently running on the network, CNN brazenly and unashamedly held on to its flawed narrative, relying on an unidentified mother whose son was reportedly shot dead at Lekki, but without convincing evidence of who shot him dead.
“The same CNN that tweeted on Oct. 23rd 2020 that 38 people were shot dead at Lekki is now struggling to convince the world that one boy was killed at Lekki. What a shame! The testimony of ballistic experts before the Judicial Panel of Inquiry in Lagos contradicts the tales by the moonlight by Amnesty International, CNN, a runaway DJ and their ilk.”
The minister further said the testimony before the judicial panel of inquiry in Lagos by the ballistic team of experts contradicted “the tales by the moonlight by Amnesty International, CNN, a runaway DJ and their ilk.”
The minister rendered the experts’ testimony thus:”The Team finds that from the medical data examined, including the timeline of arrival at medical facility and the nature of the injuries sustained by the Victims, who were taken to the 5 medical facilities, that no military grade live ammunition (high-velocity) was fired at the protesters (emphasis mine) at Lekki Tollgate on 20th October 2020, within the timeframe of reference (18.30-20.34hrs).
That the GSW (Gun Shot Wounds) injuries (4 in number between 19:05 and 19:45 hrs), which were examined by the Team, can be safely identified as being discharged by either low velocity caliber and/or artisanal/12-gauge firearms (artisanal firearms are locally-fabricated weapons). What is however certain is that had the military personnel deliberately fired military grade live ammunition directly at the protesters; there would have been significantly more fatalities and catastrophic injuries recorded. This was clearly not the case (emphasis mine).
Insisting there was no killing at the Lekki Toll Gate, Mohammed said: “The military did not shoot at protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on Oct. 20th 2020, and there was no massacre at the toll gate. The only ‘massacre’ recorded was on social media, hence there were neither bodies nor blood.
“Amnesty International, CNN, a runaway DJ and others like them should apologize for misleading the world that there was a massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate and for portraying the Nigerian military, police and other security agencies in a bad light.
“CNN acted unprofessionally by relying on unverified, and possibly-doctored social media videos, as well as other open-source information, to conclude that a massacre took place at the toll gate.
“The Federal Government remains proud of the security agencies for acting professionally and showing utmost restraint all through the EndSARS protest and the ensuing violence, an action that saved lives and properties.
“The six soldiers and 37 policemen who died during the EndSARS protests are human beings with families, even though the Human Rights Organizations and CNN simply ignored their deaths, choosing instead to trumpet a phantom massacre.”
On the progress being made to address the grievances raised by the protesting youth, the minister said of the 28 states and the Federal Capital Territory(FCT) that set up judicial panel of inquiries, eleven of them namely; Abia, Ekiti, Enugu, Gombe, Kwara, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Plateau, and Rivers had submitted their reports to the National Economic Council (NEC).
The rest, Mohammed said, assured they would submit their reports soon.
He said following deliberations on the recommendations of the panels, NEC agreed and resolved on payment of compensation to victims.
“Each State, in collaboration with the Federal Government, shall establish modalities for the settlement of all monetary compensations awarded by the Panels.
“Already, as resolved by NEC, a number of States have set up Victims Compensation Funds, from which several victims have already received payments of sums awarded to them by the panels.”
Further to this, the minister said: “Council directed State Governors to immediately forward copies of final reports of the panels to their Attorneys-General for prompt arraignment and prosecution of all indicted persons. “Where incidents in the reports relate to matters of discipline, in addition to prosecution, NEC urged the Nigeria Police Force to take disciplinary action on the affected officers in line with the provisions of the Police Act 2020.”
Protest in Abuja, Lagos
Meanwhile, despite repeated warning by the Police, some members of the #EndSARS movement stormed the streets of Abuja to mark its one year anniversary.
With a big banner, the protesters gathered at the Unity Fountain Abuja, during which some of their leaders, including publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, addressed the gathering.
They were to later commence their protest walk to the National Assembly with the police watching to ensure orderliness.
With inscriptions such as “we never forget 20.10.20#EndSARS memorial,” the protesters asked the federal government to improve the nation’s governance rating.
In Lagos, despite the ban on protests and the heavy presence of armed police personnel, celebrities and activists joined a car procession at the #EndSARSMemorial protest at Lekki Tollgate.
They were seen singing solidarity songs and waving Nigerian flags from inside the vehicles amidst persistent honking of the horns.
This, however, went violent when policemen shot teargas at the protesters.
An unarmed young man in his early twenties, suspected to be part of the protest, dressed in a pair of yellow shirt and blue jeans, was seen being dragged into a police van, as he cried for justice.
“This is what they are doing to us. Nigerians watch, let the whole world watch and see what they are doing to us. Look here,” the protester wailed with his hands raised in the display of his placard, as he was forced into the open van which was eventually shut behind him.
Another man, believed to be in his late thirties was also seen, being assaulted by the security agents.
Meanwhile, some residents who craved anonymity were of the opinion that nothing had really changed as the injustice that was the main reason for the protest still existed in the society.
They added that the Nigerian police had not changed its tactics and its mode of operation and the five-to-five agenda the protesters pushed for was yet to be realised.
“The five- on-five demands, how much of them have been met? What have been the effects of the panels that were set up across the states? How have people been compensated because many people lost properties and businesses during the protest and what has the government done to alleviate their sufferings?” a resident said.
Commenting on the protest and the high handedness of the police, Nigerian rapper and activist, Folarin Falana, better known as Falz, expressed his disappointment at the country’s armed forces one year after the Lekki Tollgate shooting happened at the peak of the #endSARS protest.
Falz, one of the most outspoken celebrities during the violent protest, alleged the military officers who ought to protect the citizens were waging war against their own people.
CP explains action
Explaining the command’s action, Lagos state Commissioner of Police Hakeem Odumosu said he ordered his officers to fire teargas at the protesters because they didn’t honour the agreement that the procession would start by 8 am and end 10. am.
Odumosu said the command’s action would prevent a breakdown of law and order.
He said: “The protest was between 8 am and 10 am, anything, after 10 am, is a nuisance. I talked with them and they said they will end the protest by 10 o’clock. Other people doing it now are just causing a nuisance. Some with machetes, hammer, are they protesters or miscreants?
“The protesters are free; they have done their thing and left. Any other persons remaining are the miscreants, hoodlums that want to capitalise on that to attack innocent people and start robbing people. We will not allow that.”
Meanwhile, Lagos state Commissioner for Information Gbenga Omotosho has said Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu did not order a crackdown on the protesters.
He also denied Sanwo-Olu stopped event centres from renting their facilities to organisers of the protest.
In Osogbo, Osun state capital, stakeholders commended the youths for choosing the path of dialogue to drive home their agitations.
They gave the commendation at a Stakeholders’ Summit organised by the Osun Civil Society Movement to mark the one-year anniversary of the EndSARS protest in Osogbo.
The summit was well attended by representatives of youth-led groups, security operatives, media practitioners and government officials, all of who harped on the need for immediate fixing of perceived failed institutions in the country.
To prevent recurrence of the ugly incidents occasioned by the EndSARS protest, the stakeholders who attended the event, also proffered workable solutions that could put a permanent end to issues raised by the agitating youths.
Also, the state government reiterated its commitment to implementing the recommendations of the panel on inquiry set up in the wake of the protest last year.
The government, particularly, assured that compensation would be paid to victims of police brutality in the State, in line with the panel’s recommendations.
The keynote speaker at the occasion, Dr. Omotosho Oluyemi, commended the initiative by the courageous citizens to do things differently.
Oluyemi who is an educationist and public affairs analyst lamented that the issues that led to the protest were yet to be resolved and abated.
Oluyemi described the metamorphosis of SARS to SWAT as putting old wine in new bottle, adding that the change was yet to yield any efficient and effective response.
He said: “Nigeria as a country should learn her lessons from internal and external developments. A popular saying goes thus, that ‘no nation survives two civil wars.’ The organisation, commitment, determination, financial muscle and implementation of the spontaneous 2020 #ENDSARS protest, show that a country like Nigeria may not survive another one.
“Government must therefore put everything in place to ensure good governance, reduce unemployment, poverty and inequality. The prevalent unbearable level of insecurity must be checked.
“The attitude of our political leaders in the way they display illegal acquisition of wealth should change. They must work for the good of the majority by developing this country’s infrastructure. The rule of law and maintenance of financial human rights must be transparently practiced.”
Also addressing the gathering, the governor’s chief press secretary, Mr Ismail Omipidan, who was one of the panelists, assured that the implementation of recommendations of the judicial panel would be speedily effected as soon as it returns from the initiator-the federal government.
Omipidan said the state government was in the process of reviewing the recommendations and initiating implementation process when a directive came that should forward their reports to the centre.
He sympathised with individuals and institutional victims, while also assuring businesses in the state of an enabling environment for them to thrive.
While fielding questions during a panel discussion at the event, the governor’s spokesperson bemoaned the spate of misinformation about the incident at Olaiya junction on October 17, 2020, adding that video evidences avail for verification.
Speaking intermittently, the chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Osun Council, Comrade Wasiu Ajadosu, called for immediate fixing of the nation’s collapsed system.
Ajadosu who lamented the pressure that led to the massive agitations which eventually resulted to organic protest across the nation, said it is incumbent on the citizens to take their destiny in their hands.
Also speaking, a human rights activist and a representative of Osun Civil Society Coalition, Comrade Waheed Saka, called for immediate response to the demands of the nation’s youths, saying the victims of brutality must be adequately compensated.
Earlier, Chairman of the Organising Committee, Comrade Ayodeji Ologun, in his welcome remark, said the event brought stakeholders in security, policy making, government and human rights together to discuss the losses and gains of the nationwide protest held last year.