Adetutu Folasade-Koyi, Abuja
A month after security agents allegedly killed some #EndSARS protesters at Lekki tollgate in Lagos, the Federal Government has said the massacre never happened.
It also slammed America-based Cable News Network (CNN) for airing a ‘fake’ on the matter. CNN, government claimed, relied heavily on ‘unverified and possibly-doctored videos as well as information sourced from questionable sources to reach its conclusion.
Government spoke through the Minister for Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, yesterday, at a press conference which held at the Army Resource Centre in Abuja.
Though he said 57 civilians, 37 policemen, six soldiers were killed in EndSARS protests, Mohammed said government stands by testimony of Brigadier General Ahmed Ibrahim Taiwo, of the Nigerian Army, before the Lagos State Panel of Judicial Enquiry that nobody was killed at Lekki and that soldiers fired only blank ammunition, and into the air not at protesters.
Asked how government intends to sanction CNN, the minister replied: “They have internal mechanism to sanction erring staff but on our own part, we will do the needful.”
On blank ammunition fired at the protesters at Lekki tollgate, Mohammed added: “I have no reason to doubt the testimony of General Ahmed, who said blank ammo were fired. Where did CNN get its live bullets from? The general gave his testimony publicly and said what blank ammunition does and that nobody can stand and face live ammunition. We never said soldiers were not at the tollgate. They were but they shot blank ammunition into the air…While we await the judicial panel in Lagos to unravel what transpired at the Lekki toll gate, what we can say, based on testimonies available in the public space, is that the world may have just witnessed, for the very first time ever, a massacre without bodies!
“Some have tagged it ‘social media massacre.’ The testimony of Brig-Gen Ahmed Ibrahim Taiwo of the Nigerian Army before the panel was compelling and I am sure many of you have listened to or watched it. The highlights, for those who may not have watched the testimony are: Soldiers were deployed all over Lagos, including Lekki Toll Gate, after the other security agencies were overwhelmed on October 20th 2020, upon the request of the state government. Before deployment, the soldiers were briefed on the rules of engagement, which they adhered to all through. Soldiers at Lekki toll gate fired blank ammunitions into the air.Blank ammunition cannot do any damage to the flesh not to talk of killing anyone
“Firing live ammunition into the crowd, as some have alleged, would have led to mass killing, which never happened.”
The minister also reiterated that government has no intention to gag the media but will regulate social media as it was deployed heavily to disseminate fake news during the #EndSARS protest.
“Sadly, the purveyors of fake news and disinformation succeeded in deceiving the world that indeed there was mass killing in Lekki, even when, till date, not a single body has been produced and not a single family or relative has come out to say their child or ward was killed at Lekki.
“More surprising and irresponsible is the fact that some people have been calling for sanctions against Nigeria or against Nigerian government officials on the basis of a hoax. This is one of the dangers of fake news and disinformation. Once fake news is out, many run with it, without looking back, even when the truth is eventually revealed. We, therefore, want to seize this opportunity to ask those who have alleged massacre at the Lekki toll gate to go to the judicial panel to present their evidence(s) to the world or simply admit that they have goofed.
“Like everyone else, I watched the CNN report. I must tell you that it reinforces the disinformation that is going round, and it is blatantly irresponsible and a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organisation. CNN engaged in incredible sensationalism and did a great disservice to itself and to journalism.
“In the first instance, CNN, which touted its report as an exclusive investigative report, sadly relied on the same videos that have been circulating on social media, without verification.
“This is very serious and CNN should be sanctioned for that. CNN merely said the videos were “obtained by CNN’’ without saying wherefrom and whether or not it authenticated them. Were CNN reporters and cameramen at the Lekki Toll Gate that evening? If the answer is no, on what basis were they reporting? Relying on second or third hand information and presenting it as ‘CNN Investigation?’
“Why didn’t the CNN balance its story by showing the compelling testimony of Brig.-Gen. Taiwo before the judicial panel in Lagos?
“Is this one-sided reporting what is expected from an international media organisation or any serious news organisation? If CNN had done its investigation properly, it would have known how fake news and disinformation were trending during the EndSARS crisis. The BBC even did a report on this, and we recommend that report to CNN.
“Talking about the BBC, a reporter with the BBC’s Pidgin Service, Damilola Banjo, was at Lekki Toll Gate protest ground that night. She was quoted as saying soldiers were indeed at the Toll Gate but they shot “sporadically into the air’’ and not at the protesters. CNN that was not at the scene reported otherwise.
“In airing its so-called investigative report, CNN conveniently forgot that on October 23rd 2020, it tweeted, from its verified twitter handle, that the military killed 38 people when it opened fire on peaceful protesters on Tuesday, Oct. 20th 2020. Less than a month later, the same CNN, in what it called an EXCLUSIVE report based on a rehash of old, unverified videos, was only able to confirm that one person died in the same incident.
“In its jaundiced reporting, CNN was blind to the fact that six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed in unprovoked attacks. Obviously, CNN did not consider the security agents human enough. CNN, in its ‘investigation’ was blind to the wanton destruction of property in Lagos and across the country. Also, CNN was blind to the burning of police stations and vehicles all over the country.”
We statnd by our story –CNN
In a swift reaction, CNN said it did not rush to publish the report as it ensured due processes were followed, which included thorough research.
“Our reporting was carefully and meticulously researched, and we stand by it,” a spokesperson for the American-based news agency was quoted as saying in an email yesterday.
CNN insisted the report was based on testimony from dozens of witnesses as well as photos and video obtained and geolocated by the news agency. It stressed that its report painted a picture of how soldiers shot at the crowd of harmless protesters, killing at least one person and wounding dozens more.
It explained that photos and videos acquired from multiple eyewitnesses and protesters were verified using timestamps and other data from the video files.
According to the news outfit, video footage shows soldiers who appear to be shooting in the direction of demonstrators, and accounts from eyewitnesses established that after the army withdrew, a second round of shooting happened later in the evening.
It added that prior to publishing the report, multiple efforts were made to get the reactions of army and police authorities.
“A Lagos State police spokesman declined to comment because of an ongoing investigation. A statement from the Lagos State government said that there would be no comment while a judicial tribunal was underway,” CNN said.