By Ehichioya Ezomon
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, is a stickler for his beliefs, who doesn’t shirk his responsibility of promoting and defending the interests of the government and all its organs.
Once he takes a position on any issue or situation, no matter how unsavoury, he maintains it to the end, and leaves no inch of space for his critics or traducers to manoeuvre out of a logjam.
He’s mastered the art of trolling, and labelling the news media, especially some global and online media, as propagators of “fake news” that’s held the social media in a vice grip.
And Alhaji Mohammed was in his elements in the past week following a leak of the yet-to-be-studied-and-
sanctioned report on the Lagos #EndSARS Judicial Panel of Inquiry.
He slammed CNN that he says committed a double faux pas by “relying on unverified social media stories and videos to carry out an investigation of the Oct. 20th, 2020, incident at Lekki,” and “rushing to the air to celebrate an unsigned and unverified report…,” and a section of the Nigerian media for joining “the lynch mob.”
Certainly, the release of the report puts wind to the sails of the civil society organisations, the arrowheads of the nationwide protests over indiscriminate police brutality of Nigerians.
Daily, members of the dreaded State Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), an arm of the Nigeria Police, singled out youths to harass, molest, detain, maim or kill on mostly flimsy and trumped-up allegations.
Only a few of the SARS cases ended up in the courts, but majority was settled with brute force in their dungeons, leaving survivals with bruises, broken bones, lost eyes or limbs, and extortion of millions in local and foreign currencies from the victims or their relations.
So, the call to arm, to stop the notorious and dehumanising acts of the police, gave birth to the #EndSARS movement that gathered steam across Nigeria in mid October 2020.
The weeks-long protests therefrom culminated in the reported military shooting and killing of unspecified number of the protesters at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos on October 20.
The global outrage over the shooting, the crackdown on protesters, and protesters’ looting and destruction of property, and attacks on security operatives resulted in President Muhammadu Buhari’s order for a thorough probe by state governments.
As Lagos is the epicentre of anything happening in Nigeria – indeed it borne the brunt of the protests and their aftermaths – all eyes were on the Judicial Panel of Inquiry instituted by the Lagos State government of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
Named the ‘Lagos State Panel of Inquiry on Restitution of Victims of SARS Abuses and Other Related Matters and Lekki Toll Gate Shooting,’ the panel, on November 22, 2021, turned in its report of two documents – a consolidated report on cases of police brutality and another on the Lekki shooting.
Governor Sanwo-Olu thereafter set up a four-man committee to examine the documents within two weeks and “bring forward the White Paper” to be considered by the state executive council.
But hours later, a version of the 309-page documents appeared in the media, hollering that the report “corroborated” what a critical section of the society had made of the Lekki shooting as a “massacre” of defenceless Nigerians protesting police brutality.
The report of the panel concludes that the “killing of unarmed protesters by soldiers on October 20, 2020, could be described in the context of a ‘massacre’,” thus eliciting mixed reactions.
As the pro-protesters rolled out the drums in celebration of the report for “corroborating our position ab initio,” the government has spotted “errors” in the panel’s work, particularly the phrasal depiction of the Lekki shooting as a “massacre in context.”
That, and several aspects give Mohammed the leeway to lampoon the report as “simply a rehash of the unverified fake news that has been playing on social media since the incident of Oct. 20th 2020.”
Unlike past panel reports, Mohammed says the Lagos#EndSARS report is “riddled with so many errors, inconsistencies, discrepancies, speculations, innuendoes, omissions and conclusions that are not supported by evidence.”
At a press conference in Abuja on November 23, the Minister listed such anomalies to include:
* That the Judicial Panel concocts a “massacre in context” as a euphemism for “massacre,” whereas a massacre is a massacre. * The panel throws away the testimony of ballistic experts, who testified before it. * The panel is silent on the family members of those reportedly killed, merely insinuating they were afraid to testify. * That a man, who reported seeing the lifeless body of his brother, himself ended up on the list of the panel’s deceased persons. * The panel lists fictitious names of some casualties as numbers 3 (Jide), 42 (Tola) and 43 (Wisdom). * The report doesn’t mention the cases of brutally-murdered police personnel or the destruction of police stations, vehicles, etc. * The report doesn’t make recommendations for innocent victims killed, nor innocent people whose businesses were attacked and destroyed in Lagos.
Noting that the panel was “too busy looking for evidence to support its conclusion of ‘massacre in context,'” Mohammed declares: “It is clear, from the ongoing, that the report of the panel in circulation cannot be relied upon because its authenticity is in doubt.
“Besides, the Lagos State Government, being the convening authority, has yet to release any official report to the public. Neither has the panel done so… It is basic knowledge that the report of such a panel is of no force until the convening authority issues a White Paper and Gazette on it.
“It is therefore too premature for any person or entity to seek to castigate the Federal Government and its agencies or officials based on such an unofficial and unvalidated report.”
Love or hate him, discerning minds will agree with Mohammed’s summation of the report of the Judicial Panel, especially on the alleged military “massacre” of protesters at the Lekki Tollgate that overshadowed the angst over police brutality of Nigerians.
The panel was expected to produce an impeachable and irrefutable evidence of the shooting incident that reportedly claimed scores of lives, but which the government and military have refuted.
Perhaps, the nearest the panel got to validating the “mass murder” of Nigerians at the Lekki Tollgate is its conclusion of a “massacre in context,” whatever that means in an investigative report.
That unexplained “massacre in context” got many scratching their heads, as to the diligence of the judicial panel that awarded millions in compensation to victims of police brutality, but none to security personnel that were victims of the protests, and the people and institutions whose property were destroyed in the process.
Hence the controversy trailing the report, and allegations of fresh threats, and attacks on some leaders and backers of the protests are a gift of some sorts to the government and Lai Mohammed.
Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.