The proceedings at the Judicial Panel of Inquiry is beginning to open more facts that logic is now failing to cover up the tragedy of the October 20 shootings of unarmed #EndSARS protesters of police brutality and extra-judicial killings by operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police Force at the Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos, by the Nigerian Army. Agents and defenders of the government, essentially, in the media and civil society, have shifted emphasis from the reality of the shooting and the probability of deaths to logic of identifying the dead, and the record of low deaths from the noticed spray bullets at the scene of the incident. Emerging testimonies at the Lagos Panel show the investigations are getting deeper and the Panel is, perhaps, getting close to unearthing the facts.
From the denial that the Nigerian Army were not involved to using of blank ammunitions, not live bullets, the military authorities have admitted involvement in the shooting at the Lekki Toll Gate, and subsequently, admitting going there with live bullets.
Representative of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier Ahmed Taiwo, at the Judicial Panel of Inquiry of the Lagos State government to investigating allegations of brutality by the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), on Saturday admitted that Nigerian Army went to Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos, the venue of the #EndSARS protests by the Nigerian youths with live and blank bullets. The youths were engaged in peaceful protest of police brutality, extra-judicial killings and extortions by the SARS, demanding reform of the Nigerian Police Force, including better salary for the Police.
Brigadier Taiwo, Commander of the 81 Military Intelligence Brigade, however, stated that the live rounds were not used on the protesters, saying that 85 per cent of bullets the military personnel took to Lekki gate were blank.
Brigadier Taiwo said that the live bullets were meant for military operations along Eti-Osa arena, defending that they were not for #EndSARS protesters.
At the commencement of proceedings on Saturday, Chairman of the judicial panel, Justice Doris Okuwobi, had called up the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) to present the footage which captured the incident at the tollgate on October 20, to be watched by all parties, including the army.
Counsel to the #EndSARS victims, Adeshina Ogunlana, informed the panel that lawyers to all the parties present had agreed to watch the video from 5pm to 7:30pm of that day.
At the end of the viewing of the footage, Brigadier Taiwo was cross-examined by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika.
Being questioned about the initial denial of the army involvement in the shooting, Brigadier Taiwo said that was done because the Army did not have the facts of what transpired at the protest venue.
He reiterated that several police stations had been burnt, policemen overrun, noting that there was already a breakdown of law and order, so the army had to step in. The Brigadier said that the army’s mission was not to clear protesters, rather they were to carry out an exercise.
He said that some officers dismounted from their vehicles when they got to the Oriental Hotel in Lekki and were pelted and stoned. The Brigade Commander said one Major Saheed was injured on the head, noting that the exercise was led by two senior officers – Lieutenant Colonel S. O. Bello, Commanding Officer of 65 Division, and Brigadier Francis Omata.
When asked by Adesina about the purpose of General Omata joining Lieutenant Colonel Bello at the operations, Brigadier Taiwo responded that it was operational.
The #EndSARS lawyer then proposed to show a video but the chairman of the judicial panel said it must be presented as evidence with a basis.
Brigadier Taiwo maintained that no one died in the Lekki shooting, acknowledging that some fainted but they were revived.
He, however, agreed to a short clip in which someone said, “we are helpless” and showed another lying on the floor with blood.