The Federal Government on Thursday said it was very satisfied with the roles of its security agents during the #EndSARS protests last month.
At a press conference held inside the Army Resource Centre, Mambilla Barracks, Abuja, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohamed insisted that there were no deaths resulting from the shootings at the Lekki toll plaza on the night of October 20, 2020 as soldiers only shot blank bullets in the air.
“At this point, it is important to say that the Federal Government is very satisfied with the role played by the security agencies, especially the military and the police, all through the #EndSARS crisis. The security agents were professional and measured in their response.”
He blamed human rights organisations and some media organisations for allegedly propagating falsehoods and refusing to express outrage at the killing of security agents during the riots that followed the protests.
While commending the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for reporting that soldiers only shot in the air, Mohammed lambasted the Cable News Network (CNN), which “goofed in its preconceived stance that the soldiers who were deployed to Lekki Toll Gate indeed shot at protesters, killing some of them.
“CNN relied heavily on unverified and possibly doctored videos, as well as information sourced from questionable sources, to reach its conclusion.
“This should earn CNN a serious sanction for irresponsible reporting.” Asked how he hoped to see the sanction meted, the minister said the station should have international mechanism but that Federal Government would certainly deal with the station in its own way. The minister complained that human rights organisations did not recognise that security agents are also human beings who have rights too.
“It is also disheartening that the human rights organisations have not seen anything wrong in the mindless violence that was perpetrated in the name of #EndSARS,” he lamented, while disclosing that “six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed all over the country during the crisis.
“This is in addition to 196 policemen who were injured; 164 police vehicles that were destroyed and 134 police stations that were razed.”
Although he insisted that DJ Switch (Obianuju Catherine Udeh) had not been declared wanted by any security agency, Mohammed, however, said #EndSARS protesters are not immune from prosecution.
“While the government has no plans to shut down the internet, it will work with stakeholders to regulate the social media to curb abuse.”
This he said, was because social media abuse led to widespread destruction of property across parts of the country while also succeeding “in deceiving the world that indeed there was mass killing in Lekki, even when, till date, not a single body has been produced and not a single family or relative has come out to say their child or ward was killed at Lekki.
“While the Judicial Panel sitting in Lagos works to unravel what really transpired at the Lekki Toll Gate, available evidence so far points to the world’s first case of massacre without blood or bodies.”
Concerning sanctions imposed on some broadcast media organisations by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Mohammed said they “are justified, in view of the unprofessional acts of the organisations which were in clear breach of the Broadcasting Code, as stated by the Commission.”
“It is also imperative for the traditional media to authenticate information from social media before pushing such to the public. “More surprising and irresponsible is the fact that some people have been calling for sanctions against Nigeria or against Nigerian government officials on the basis of a hoax. This is one of the dangers of fake news and disinformation.”
Meanwhile, CNN has reacted to the Federal Government’s stance that it should be sanctioned over its report on the October 20 shooting incident at the Lekki Toll Gate, saying it stands by its report.
In a swift reaction on Thursday, a company spokesperson said the CNN stands by its investigation. “Our reporting was carefully and meticulously researched, and we stand by it,” the spokesperson said via email.
According to CNN, the report was based on testimony from dozens of witnesses, and photos and video obtained and geolocated by CNN.
“It painted a picture of how members of the Nigerian Army and the police shot at the crowd, killing at least one person and wounding dozens more.” CNN said it verified photos and videos acquired from multiple eyewitnesses and protesters using timestamps and other data from the video files.
Video footage shows soldiers who appear to be shooting in the direction of protesters. And accounts from eyewitnesses established that after the army withdrew, a second round of shooting happened later in the evening.
Prior to publishing the report, CNN said it tried multiple times to elicit comment from the Nigerian army and police. “A Lagos State police spokesman declined to comment because of an ongoing investigation, while a statement from the Lagos State government said that there would be no comment while a judicial tribunal was underway.”
CNN also said it included comments from Army representative, Brigadier Ahmed Taiwo, testifying before the tribunal. He denied that soldiers would shoot at Nigerian citizens.
According to CNN, “the investigation was broadcast and published on Wednesday and cast doubt on Nigerian authorities’ shifting and changing statements over what happened at the protest at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos.
“The CNN report included evidence that bullet casings from the scene matched those used by the Nigerian army when shooting live rounds, according to current and former Nigerian military officials.
“Two ballistics experts also confirmed with CNN that the shape of the bullet casings indicate they used live rounds, which contradicts the Army’s claim they fired blanks.”