A week after it triggered a global outrage over its alleged shooting of #EndSARS protesters in Lagos, the Nigerian Army yesterday broke its silence on the incident, denying that it fired at the marchers.
It also disputed the claim by Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, that he knew nothing about troop deployment in Lekki Tollgate where soldiers were accused of shooting protesters for allegedly flouting the curfew imposed on the state to curb the social unrest unleashed by hoodlums who had seized the #EndSARS protest.
However, a statement by the Acting Deputy Director, 81 Division Army Public Relations, Major Osoba Olaniyi, which provided further clarification on the troop deployment during the protests, categorically denied that civilians were shot at.
Sanwo-Olu, in his first reaction after the shooting, had blamed the shooting on “forces beyond my control.”
However, in his first major interview after the shooting, the governor who was on ARISE NEWS Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, denied ordering the army to the state, saying such powers is beyond any state governor.
He said: “I don’t know how the officers got it all wrong because the instruction was that police won’t be out until 10-10:30 p.m. when all citizens should have gotten to their various homes. This is totally against what we stand for.
“The army does not report to me, I have reported the matter to the highest command in the military. It’s not something we are going to gloss over. A judicial panel will be set up to investigate it. I have escalated it to the highest level of the military.”
Also, when former Lagos State Governor, Senator Bola Tinubu, visited the governor last Saturday, he said he asked Sanwo-Olu “if he didn’t order the attack, who ordered the attack? That’s all I needed from him”.
He, however, didn’t state the response he got from the governor.
Safe for a “fake news” tag it placed on its Twitter handle on a viral video showing men in army camouflage shooting in the midst of protesters at the tollgate, the army hierarchy had been silent on the incident.
It, however, broke this earlier stance and issued the release last night, admitting troop’s deployment but insisting that its soldiers did not shoot protesters.
This, some analysts said last night, might be a reaction to a statement recently attributed to Sanwo-Olu, where he admitted that the CCTV captured the military, adding that the perpetrators would be held accountable.
The governor, on Monday, was, however, more forthcoming on the involvement of the army in the shooting as he told the CNN that the CCTV showed the presence of the military at the scene.
During the interview, he said: “From the footage that we could see, it seems to be…there would be men in military uniform, who should be Nigerian Army or something.”
But when pressed further by the CNN, the governor said: “Yes, they were there. That’s what the footage shows.”
But the army in yesterday’s statement said the state government invited it to enforce the curfew and that it did not shoot any protesters.
The Nigerian Army described allegations bordering on massacre as untrue and unfounded.
The statement, titled: ‘Alleged Massacre of Protesters at Lekki Toll Plaza,’ read: “The attention of Headquarters 81 Division Nigerian Army has been drawn to a viral video on social media in which it was alleged that civilian protesters were massacred by soldiers at Lekki Toll Plaza.
“This allegation is untrue, unfounded and aimed at causing anarchy in the country. At no time did soldiers of the Nigerian Army open fire on any civilian.
“From the onset of the ENDSARS protest, there was no time personnel of 81 Division Nigerian Army Lagos were involved.
“However, the decision to call in the military was taken by the Lagos State Government (LASG) 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 LASG requested for 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 (ROE) for internal security operations.
“Finally, Headquarters 81 Division, Nigerian Army, reiterates that in the discharge of its constitutional responsibilities, it did not shoot at any civilian as there are glaring and convincing evidence to attest to this fact.”
The statement described the allegation as the handiwork of mischief makers who will stop at nothing to tarnish the image of the Nigerian Army.
It urged the public to discountenance the allegation as there is no iota of truth in it.
However, the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on New Media, Mr. Jubril Gawat, while reacting to the statement from the army, said the governor never denied calling in the army.
He said: “Mr. Governor never denied this. They were supposed to come after curfew.”
On whether the army didn’t get the curfew extension addendum, he responded: “It was well posted.”