Massacre. This is a weighty word that surely ought not to be used lightly or frivolously. When I checked, synonyms for the word, massacre, include bloodbath, butchery, carnage, death, holocaust, or slaughter. It refers to a large scale, coldblooded murder of human beings. One dictionary defines massacre as ‘an act of complete destruction’. Did such an event involving deaths on an industrial scale occur at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos on the night of Tuesday, October 20? Repeated reports in the local and international media indicate that this was the case. What are the facts of the matter? The Lekki Toll Gate was one of the two major sites in Lagos of the massive #endSARS youth protests which had gripped the national and global imagination for two weeks till the night of October 20.
Exceedingly well organized, focused and disciplined, the protesters had conducted themselves with remarkable decorum, decency and dignity in pursuit of their demand that the dreaded police Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) should be disbanded and fundamental police reforms instituted. Within days, an ordinarily obdurate Federal Government had acceded to their requests. SARS was disbanded and the other demands of the protesters accepted in principle.
But then, the protesters introduced new demands. They were defiant and remained on the streets even though as peaceful and restrained as ever. The longer the protests lasted however, the more extraneous forces intervened and systematically hijacked the protests on a steadily expanding scale across the country. By October 20th, law and order had broken down in large swathes of Lagos. So bad did things get that Police stations were torched, policemen killed and police armories looted with criminals carting away arms and ammunition. Obviously alarmed, the state government declared a curfew. With the police under attack, it apparently had no choice but to request the help of the military in enforcing the curfew.
The curfew was imposed to stem the descent to anarchy, which certainly was not the aim of the protests. Why, then, didn’t the protesters, in line with their law abiding stance, disperse in obedience to the curfew? Had they not at that point crossed the dividing line between legality and illegality? I think so. Even then, was the frenetic shooting by the soldiers to forcibly dislodge the protesters justifiable? The answer is an emphatic no. Were water cannons, tear gas canisters or, at worst, rubber bullets not available even if the protesters were to be forcibly dislodged?
Condemnable as the shooting incident was, did it result in the mass murder of a large number of the Lekki protesters as the dominant narrative claims? A national newspaper claimed in its lead story that 49 persons were killed. Amnesty International reports, magisterially, that 12 persons died in the Lekki incident. The visuals that went viral, which I watched, showed men in the uniform of the Nigerian Army shooting into the air to disperse the protesters. Purported eyewitnesses offer dramatic accounts of soldiers shooting directly at the protesters reportedly with heavy casualties. I asked someone if undeniable large number of corpses would not be seen at the scene if a band of soldiers trained AK 47 machine guns directly on a large number of protesters and shooting them point blank at close range? He claimed that the soldiers evacuated the dead bodies away from the scene. In this social media age, would the same sophisticated mobile equipment that vividly captured the soldiers shooting, despite the lights being allegedly switched off, not also have recorded them evacuating dead bodies?
The Lagos State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who visited the injured in various hospitals as well as visited mortuaries in Lagos that night, stated in his broadcast the number of persons who were injured and treated at various hospitals which he named, saying that two were successfully operated on while two died subsequently. Many continue to dispute his account preferring alternative narratives utterly lacking in credibility. Happily, even as social media technology has grown in leaps and bounds enabling the medium to more effectively check impunity on the part of public and private authorities, there has also been tremendous advancement in the techniques and facilities for validating the authenticity of material emanating from the social media. PRNigeria, one outfit that has been doing a great job in this regard in Nigeria, has been exhaustively and clinically interrogating diverse claims on the purported Lekki Massacre. Its findings have been revealing.
PRNigeria’s Editorial Team, according to the media outfit’s Assistant Editor, Mahmood Abdulsalam, found that “So far, most of the footages we have collected, over 100 in all, showing dead protesters and several others wounded, when we subject them to our reverse imagery testing tools, indicated they were not recent while others are manipulated images and doctored videos. We also observe circulation of old pictures of victims injured and killed during violent skirmishes, unrelated to the #endSARS demonstrations across the country”.
For instance, PRNigeria found out that a Nollywood movie star, Eniola Badmus, who was allegedly shot in the stomach and died at the Lekki Toll Gate, had denied the social media reports. She wrote on her Instagram page that “Against all speculations about me being shot dead at the unspeakable event that happened at the toll gate a few hours ago, I would like to inform you guys that I Eniola Badmus is hale and hearty. I couldn’t make it there today to lend my voice on the #endSARS movement”. In another case, a young man, Iraoye Godwin, a native of Otu-Auchi in Edo state who was reported to have been killed also at the Lekki Toll Gate posted a video on twitter denying the report. Again, a photo of a man carrying a dead lady wrapped in Nigerian flag as posted by Yemi Alade was an image from a movie acted with the theme, “Heal our land, OH LORD”.
According to the PRNigeria report, “There was also a video of one Lucia Adu who was celebrated as a martyr at Lekki Massacre after dancing in the clip. Some of the social media posts celebrating her ‘Martyrdom’ read: “She was dancing an hour before she was murdered by the Nigerian armed forces…a bullet hit her in the face and ripped half her face off”. Latest investigation shows that Lucia Adu died from an accident with a stationary truck on 20th October, 2020. This is also confirmed by a new fact checking twitter handle on #endSARS – http:/twitter.com/end SARSFctcheck”.
The Executive Director of PRNigeria, Mr. Yushua A. Shuaib, a humanitarian worker and crisis management communicator who has worked extensively with the media, the security and response agencies over the last decade, reached out to media executives in various traditional and online mediums, whom he specifically named, to help in facilitating the gathering of evidence on the alleged massacre. In his words, “In fairness to the media and civil society groups, they all spoke about relying on eyewitness accounts mostly from celebrities and social media influencers without subjecting the information received to rigorous verification. There was also the admission that there was no authenticated footage of the said “massacre” at Lekki Toll Gate so far”.
Continuing, Shuaib writes, “In the aftermath of this confusion, the largest social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram, have continued to flag several contents containing the alleged images of the Lekki Massacre as false information, after these were subjected to scrutiny by independent fact checkers”.
It was interesting watching Osai Ojigho, Country Director of Amnesty International in Nigeria, when she appeared on The Arise Interview television programme to speak about the organization’s claim that at least 12 people were killed at the Lekki Toll Plaza. As she rambled on extensively, the anchor of the programme, Charles Aniagolu, interjected saying “I think the point here Osai is that you’ve made some very good points there about the expectations of the people from the army and the government but people also want to be absolutely 100% sure about the evidence Amnesty International is putting forward with regard to these killings. Have you actually seen evidence of dead bodies? Can we understand how Amnesty International came to the conclusion that 12 people were shot?”
Again, Osai Ojigho spoke at length on authenticated accounts of eyewitnesses, the claim that the soldiers reportedly prevented ambulances from accessing the site and also the fact that the Nigerian army had a record of such killings previously such as the shooting of hundreds of Shiite Muslims in Kaduna in 2015. Again, Charles Aniagolu was probing and insistent. He said. “Osai, I am sorry that I have to interrupt you but you are a lawyer and a lot of what you’ve said in the last few minutes sounds like circumstantial evidence but there’s got to be prima facie evidence when allegations are made against the Nigerian army and police. A lot of people will agree anecdotally with what you’re saying but they’ll still want to see concrete evidence either of dead bodies or families of dead ones coming out to claim their loved ones have been killed or the names of people who have been killed”.
Osai responded that Amnesty International indeed has some names but will need the consent of their families to release such names! Can you imagine such utter nonsense, mischief and lack of seriousness? In the words of PRNigeria’s Yushau Shuab, “Equally disturbing was the fact that despite the increasingly widespread usage of the word massacre to describe the Lekki incident, no single family had stepped forward (even till date) to report the loss of a relative during the Lekki shooting”. So much for facts, fantasies and the Lekki Massacre.