#EndSARS: Lekki shooting, CNN reports and the endless controversies

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#EndSARS protesters displaying their placards at the protest held in Uyo,Akwa-Ibom state.

By: Bankole Taiwo

The dateline was Tuesday October 20, 2020 and the theatric stage of this tragic incident was the Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos where hundreds of youths between 20 to 30 years age bracket had for about 10 days gathered protesting against police brutality.

They protesters had among others things, like their counterparts across the Southern part of Nigeria demanded for the scrap of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigeria Police due to its alleged brutality to the citizens, improved in welfare and working conditions for the police.

However, the protest that has majorly been peaceful for over a week was hijacked by some hoodlums leading to attack of some police officers and their stations. It was on this note that that the governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu imposed a curfew starting from 4pm, later said to have been moved to 9pm to give ample time for people to return to their homes from their respective working places, on the state on Tuesday, October 20, 2020.

This apparently was done to checkmate the protesters having been assured that government had heard them and was already working on their demands.

The #EndSARS protesters in their hundreds at the Lekki Toll Gate however were not moved by this curfew order and therefore chose to remain where it has almost been there home for over 10 days. They were indeed reportedly armed with the country’s green white green flags, waving them in the air intermittently,  calling for end to bad governance, corruption among other challenges bedeviling the country.

The song was changed to that of a dirge around 7pm of this day now christened black Tuesday, when some group of soldiers allegedly moved in and opened fire on the defenceless protesting youths and allegedly killing and injuring some of them.

This unfortunate sparked off another orgy of arson and violence on the second day, that is Wednesday, October 21 when some hoodlums set some government buildings, including police stations and private buildings on fire while some vehicles were also burnt with many warehouses looted.

Since the alleged reported shootings of the protesters at Lekki, the incident had been drown in controversies. The governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu had denied knowing anything about the shooting alluding to the fact that some forces beyond his control were at work as he never had the power to command the soldiers out of their barracks. The governor was to later admit that there were indeed two deaths from the alleged shootings

Meanwhile, the Nigerian army, initially when the news broke described it as fake news but later confirmed that some soldiers were drafted down to the place at the request of Gov Sanwo-Olu because the police were said to have been overwhelmed at that point in time. Major Taiwo Ahmed reportedly while appearing before the Lagos State Judicial Panel set up to look into this tragic incident had said that the soldiers were indeed at the Lekki Toll Gate with live bullets but the bullets were fired into the air and not directly at the protesting youths.

It was in the midst of ongoing confusion and denials that the United States Cable Network News (CNN) released its investigative report on the Lekki shootings confirming the deaths of at least two youths with scores injured from the incident.

The highly respected International news outlet had relied on various testimonies of the eyewitnesses account, families of the two of the victims of the alleged shootings by the soldiers and several photos and verified videos all of which made the news medium to have stuck to this report saying that it was a vivid account of the Lekki shootings.

The federal government speaking through the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has however rubbished this report of the CNN describing it as figment of its imagination.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed faulted giant news media for relying on footages on social media that is replete with many fake videos, the reason for which popular television stations in the country such as African Independent Television, Channels and Arise were sanctioned in the wake of the incident.

The Minister said that the federal government would not hesitate to wield the big stick against CNN for publishing falsehood

The Federal Government has insisted that the military men did not shoot at #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Tollgate, describing the alleged mass killings as a massacre without bodies.

While referring to the CNN report as promoting a baseless and preconceived narrative, Mohammed said that the media organization relied on social media video evidence without verification

The minister criticized CNN’s report on the Lekki incident describing it as blatantly irresponsible.

Buhari Media Organisation (BMO) has described the CNN report on the October 20 Lekki shooting as “a brilliant piece of gutter journalism, unprofessional, skewed, and set to a pre-determined but evil end”.

In a statement signed by its Chairman Niyi Akinsiju and Secretary Cassidy Madueke, the group said the American news network had a single-minded mission to paint the Nigerian authorities bad in that report.

“Having watched the so-called investigative report on the October 20 incident at the Lekki toll plaza, we cannot but come to the conclusion that CNN had no intention to present an unbiased report to its global audience.

“This perhaps explains why it was a one-sided feature report that failed to take into account either the side of the army which was accused of using live rounds or the government which it surreptitiously blamed for allegedly killing protesters.

“Just like many Nigerians have observed, CNN had no reporter on ground at the toll plaza on the day but relied heavily on the same viral videos that have been circulating on social media; and to worsen its case CNN interviewed only those who claimed to be “eyewitnesses”.

“We also find it strange that though the news outlet alluded to the ongoing judicial panel in passing, it did not consider it important to report the presentation by the army authorities on the use of blank bullets or the explanation on what would have happened if soldiers had indeed used live rounds on the crowd of protesters.

“This is sheer malafide, malice aforethought and despicable gutter journalism”, the group said, noting that there are enough indices to show that CNN relied on fake news in a bid to prove that soldiers shot at protesters at the toll plaza.

“Even before the controversial piece, the news outlet had on October 23 emphatically tweeted that ’38 were killed in Nigeria on Tuesday when the military opened fire on peaceful protesters’ without any evidence, and this was three days after the alleged shooting.

“There was no sign that CNN apologized for this disinformation or deleted it, before it proceeded to put together the so-called investigative piece which was meant to sustain the lie that live rounds were fired on the crowd but, rather left more gaps in its narrative.

“We invite Nigerians to note that two independent fact-checking sites,’aledeh.com‘ and ‘PRNigeria’ have been conducting integrity tests on some of the claims in the CNN report and have raised vital issues on the CNN fake news.”

Mr Segun Awoyomi, a public affairs afrairs analyst has however alleged that the government was only trying to cover up its track as far as the Lekki shootings was concerned and that was why it has remained inconsistent with its defence and statement since the incident while the youths have always maintained that they were shot at and that while some died, some were injured.

Mr Segun Awoyomi said “Gov Babjide Sanwo-Olu said he knew nothing about it, the army also said it was fake news, later the army admitted being there at the invitation of Gov Sanwo-Olu with blank bullet, later they said it was with live bullets fired into the air, the governor also admitted that that two people died and now the federal government is threatening to sanction CNN for exposing all the lies, really it is unfortunate.

“The federal government has been so  inconsistent telling all manner of lies while the EndSARS protesters had always insisted that they were shot at and it is the hardline posture of this government that has brought all this problem upon them. They don’t always want to accommodate other people’s opinions, except there is a change, this country is sitting on a keg of gunpowder.

“They think they can pocket CNN as they have pocketed our local media but let see how things will play out.”

Speaking in the same vein, the Secretary of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Ogun State, Mr. Sunday Solarin said that the threat by the federal government to sanction CNN over its report on Lekki shootings only further confirmed that this is a government that hated truth with passion

Mr Solarin said, “this government is a government of denial, they are always quick to deny any international report that does not favour them like the time the Amnesty International talked on worsening respect for human rights, there’s also report from World Bank on the ease of doing business among others.

“It’s shameful that this government that rode to power on the support of the media could now be treating media with so much disdain and disrespect. Anyway, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan has sent the strong signal to Nigeria to wait till 2023 to vote them out, so Nigerians should keep this on their left hands and do the needful when the time comes.”