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When the news of a curfew was announced on Tuesday, I knew the government was up to something. Violence was erupting in different locations, so the government had the perfect alibi to carry out their plans.
I told the people around me that the protesters needed to leave the protests grounds. This Police reform they were protesting for is a chess game with the government and they will alternate wins at different stages of the agitation.
So when it emerged that the protesters would defy the government’s order and remain at the protest ground, I feared for the worse. I sensed that the government had set a trap and by staying; the protesters have willingly let themselves become a tantalising prey.
Still, when I thought of all the likely scenarios and not once did I give shootings or a massacre a chance. In the wildest imagination, I thought the soldiers or any other security force would only teargas the protesters, beat them or lock them up in prison. Not shooting.
I assumed that we are in a digital age and the Nigerian government would not want the whole world to see her soldiers shooting a band of unarmed protesters for a matter of mere civil disobedience. It is bad for the image of the country; it is bad for whatever reputation our politicians have left.
But it appears I was wrong all along; our democracy is only a facade we claim to scam the whole world. That Tuesday night, our democratic make-up washed off and Nigeria’s ugly, beastly nature was laid bare to the whole world.
For over 5 hours, peaceful, unarmed protesters, who were singing the national anthem and waving the Green White Green flag were shot at in turns by the military and Police officers yet no one came to their rescue.
Nigeria bled. The whole world saw the horror shootings through DJ Switch’s Instagram live. And it was named the Lekki Massacre.
President Muhammadu Buhari, Bababjide Sanwo-olu and Bola Ahmed Tinubu were pointed as the masterminds of the shootings and that night, their pictures were plastered with murderer tags all over the internet. People raged, they were angry, sad and willing to vent their emotions in whatever outburst they could express on social media.
And the narrative that it was a planned massacre spread like wildfire,
‘The government declared a curfew without making safety plans for the peaceful protesters, the CCTV was removed at the tollgate.
For the first time, the lights and the billboards at the toll gate were put out. The military were also called in so they could come shoot and scare people away from protesting. They aimed bullets at the protesters and killed some. And the soldiers carted away with the dead bodies’
The following morning, the nation woke up to a condolence message from the Lagos state Governor, Babajide Sanwo-olu.
Nigerians then received shockers on what they had just witnessed,
- The Lagos state governor said people only sustained injury, and no one died in the shootings. He blamed the incident on ‘forces beyond our (Lagos state government) control’.
- The military denied their involvement in the incident and plastered Fake news on the screenshot of the news sites that reported them to be the killers on the day. They also said all the live videos of the event were fake and photoshopped.
- President Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo kept mum about the military when they released their statements; effectively making it seem like nothing of such happened.
- Seyi Tinubu, the owner of the company that put off the billboards, Loatsad Promomedia Limited said it turned off the billboard at the Lekki toll gate based on the state governor’s curfew request.
- The deputy governor of Lagos state, Obafemi Hamzat debunked reports that the state removed the CCTV and explained why the lights were put off. He said the CCTV was still intact; the light went off due to faults from the IPP grid and they couldn’t put on the generator because the staff had followed the curfew instructions and gone home.
- Bola Ahmed Tinubu who is rumoured to have a stake in the toll gate denied any involvement in the shootings or the protest.
These revelations and silence have stirred controversy among the public and questioned the narratives the whole world had formed.
And soon, government propagandists took advantage of whatever cracks they could find and created an entirely new narrative.
Their propagandists would say, “If you all say people were killed at the venue, where are the dead bodies?
Where are the families who lost their sons, daughters, brothers or sisters? The soldiers merely shot in the air to disperse the crowd, and the injuries you all saw were stray bullets that hit people.”
These acts by the government are not hard to grasp. They are all forms of crisis management to douse the tension and contain the situation. They already admit by their reactions that it was an unjustifiable act.
By saying the incident was caused by forces beyond their control, the Lagos state government wants to avoid total responsibility and shift the blame to the federal government as the one who gives command to the military. And by saying no one died, the plan was to douse tension.
The silence of the President, Vice-President and their Spokespersons on the Lekki incident despite releasing statements is an attempt to fizzle out the occurrence and neglect accountability.
From live footage at the event, there is no doubt that it was Nigerian soldiers who were the ones doing the shootings.
Nigerian Army has a history of killing civilians and erasing, distorting or denying evidence of what they did.
In 2004, the New Humanitarian reported that the Nigerian Army denied a claim of killing at least 51 people in Warri.
In 2012, Nigerian Army denied killing civilians in Maiduguri, whereas reports say over 30 people were shot dead by the military.
In 2013, soldiers burned homes and opened fire in the village of Baga, killing as many as 200 people, survivors said.
In 2015, reports say the Nigerian soldiers painstakingly buried over 350 bodies that they shot dead in the Shiites killings. The Nigeria Military spokesman, Brig General Rabe Abubakar told the BBC the army had not killed anyone.
In 2016, the Army denied killing Biafra demonstrators, whereas an investigation by Amnesty International and other bodies reported them to have killed at least 150 activists and demonstrators. The Army accused the campaign body of making these claims in order to tarnish the reputation of the security arm.
In 2017, New York Times accused the Army of shooting more than 80 men dead and burning the village in Maiduguri.
So it is not surprising to see the soldiers once again deny that they were involved in the massacre.
“In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens.”
Judith Lewis Herman.
Did people die in Lekki?
Accounts from the protesters who survived the shootings said people died. DJ Switch who did an Instagram live as the shootings occurred said 15 people were killed and the soldiers went away with the dead bodies. Another Lekki protester who spoke to the BBC confirms that he saw someone’s intestine tear beside him. Another protester who spoke to AIT said people were killed.
Also, an on-the-ground report by Amnesty International reported that at least 10 people were shot dead by security forces in the location.
Whereas, none of those who have backed the government’s claim of no dead bodies was at the protest venue.
If there were shootings without deaths, does that mean the military were carefully aiming for the protesters’ legs, and other places that would not kill the protesters? Are we discounting that someone may even die from the shock of being in a peaceful place to suddenly being hunted down by bullets in the space of minutes?
However, we all should be worried. If, despite video evidence and publicised eyewitness accounts, the government can distort what happened in the full glare of the world, imagine what they will do if there is a controlled social media?
Oladele Owodina is a writer and news Correspondent
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