The Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry probing the shooting of #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki tollgate on the night of October 20, 2020 has summoned the army to appear before it.
But the army has indicated not to honour any summons or invitation by the panel, except it is from the state government.
The seven-man panel, which began sitting on Monday, is also saddled with the task of probing allegations of brutality by men of the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
A member of the retired Justice Doris Okuwobi-led panel, set up by the Lagos State Government, disclosed that the panel had already dispatched an invitation letter to concerned authorities.
“We have summoned several authorities, including the military,” the panel member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
On whether the panel had fixed a date for the appearance of the army, the member said, “No date yet. But surely, we are summoning the military, police and everybody relevant to our probe. We have no limitation as to who we are going to summon. We want to get to the root of the case. The panel had agreed that a letter be dispatched to the military authorities.”
But when contacted, the acting Deputy Director, Army Public Relations and 81 Division’s spokesperson, Major Osoba Olaniyi, said it was not the duty of the judicial panel to invite the Army to answer questions regarding the reported shooting of unarmed protesters at the Lekki toll plaza.
Olaniyi stressed that the army intervened in the Lekki tollgate incident based on a request from the Lagos State Government and that it would only appear before the panel based on same directive from the state government.
He said, “If we receive a letter from the state, we will go. Are we not under civil authorities? Are we not part of Nigerians? Have you forgotten that we did not go there (Lekki tollgate) on our own?
“It is not the duty of the members of the panel to tell us that. If the state wants the (81) Division to come, they will write and we will oblige. See, if they have written to the division, it is our duty to go. It is not for them to go through the media as if we are scared of coming.
“It is the state government that constituted that panel of inquiry. So if anybody needs to get in touch with us to come, it is still the state and not members of the panel.”
But reacting to Olaniyi’s argument that the army would only honour an invitation by the state government, the panel member who spoke with Sunday PUNCH, on condition of anonymity said, “An invitation has been sent by the panel to 81 Battalion of the Nigerian Army at Bonny Camp and 82 Division on Kofo Abayomi.
“The laws guiding the panel give it power to summon anybody. Once a summons has been sent, it must be obeyed. If on the day the army is supposed to appear, they don’t come, then the panel will consider other alternatives.
“If the military is under civil authority, I don’t see how a judge will sign a summons and it will be wilfully disregarded. May such day never come in Nigeria again.”
The army had come under heavy criticism over how its personnel, while enforcing the curfew imposed by the state government, shot peaceful protesters at the Lekki Tollgate on October 20, 2020, killing some and leaving others with varying degrees of injury.
The army authorities, in a tweet on October 21, initially denied that its personnel were at the scene of the shootings. The army, via its Twitter handle, described the report as ‘fake news.’
But, following evidence and pressure from different individuals and groups, the army later admitted that its personnel were at the scene but were invited by the state government. This contrasted the earlier submission of the state governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who in the morning of October 21 blamed the shootings on “forces beyond our direct control.”
The Army denied shooting the protesters while the governor also said no one was killed in the exercise, but available information showed that people were killed. Amnesty International also said it had evidence that no fewer than 12 protesters were killed at the Lekki tollgate and Alausa areas of the state.
The army deputy director had said, “From the onset of the #EndSARS protest, there was no time personnel of the 81 Division, Nigerian Army, Lagos was involved. However, the decision to call in the military was taken by the Lagos State Government after a 24-hour curfew was imposed. 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 situation was fast degenerating into anarchy. It was at this point that the 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 for internal security operations.”
An entertainer, Obianuju Ude otherwise called DJ Switch, who was at the scene, later released a video where she said no fewer than 15 persons were killed, adding that the soldiers took away the corpses in their vans. She pointed out that policemen were also involved in the shooting. The outcry made the governor to extend the terms of reference of theseven-member judicial panel to include investigating the Lekki shootings.
Meanwhile, the 81 Division’s spokesperson has said the military will not disclose the number of its personnel deployed in the Lekki tollgate on the night of the incident.
Asked the number of personnel involved, Olaniyi said, “It is against operational security. We don’t give that. It is against the policy of operational security. There is no problem here. The picture some people paint, as if we are fighting with the state government, is wrong.” – Punch.