The army has said it will not honour any summons or invitation by the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry probing the shooting of #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki tollgate on the night of October 20, 2020, except it is from the state government.
It was learnt that the retired Justice Doris Okuwobi-led panel, which began sitting on Monday, is saddled with the task of probing allegations of brutality by men of the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and had already dispatched an invitation letter to concerned authorities.
Lagos govt, not panel, has right to invite us – Army
But thw acting Deputy Director, Army Public Relations of 81 Division on Lagos, 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 toll gate 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.”
Summons, duly signed by judge, can’t be disregarded — Panel member
Reacting to Olaniyi’s argument that the army would only honour an invitation by the state government, a member of the panel member who spoke with 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 willfully 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 toll gate 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 was in contrast with the earlier submission of the state governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who had 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 toll gate 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 the seven-member judicial panel to include investigating the Lekki shootings.
Why we can’t disclose identities of personnel deployed to Lekki tollgate – Army
Meanwhile, the 81 Division’s spokesperson has said the military will not disclose the number of its personnel deployed to the Lekki toll gate on the night of the incident.
“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,” Olaniyi said.