The Lagos State Judicial Panel of Enquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS related abuses and other matters was on Saturday told that soldiers deployed to the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20 were armed with both live and blank bullets.
However, only the blank ones were fired into the air, the Commander of 81 Division, Military Intelligence Brigade, Brig.-Gen. Ahmed Taiwo, said under cross examination at the resumed hearing of the panel.
The committee granted a request by counsel to the #ENDSARS protesters, Mr. Adesina Ogunlana, to hire ballisticians and forensics experts to prove their allegations that they were shot at by the soldiers and policemen.
Ogunlana, a former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Ikeja Branch, had sought to know if there were in-house experts for that purpose.
The Cable News Network (CNN) claimed in a recent report on the shooting that expended bullets found at the scene possibly came from Serbia.
“My lord, has the panel made any arrangements for forensic experts and ballisticians? Ogunlana asked panel chairman, Judge emeritus Doris Okuwobi on Saturday.
She said in response: “Parties are free to bring whoever they want.”
Ogunlana then agreed to make private arrangements for ballisticians and forensics experts.
Prior to the cross-examination of Brig.-Gen Taiwo, the panel opted to first conclude the viewing of the surveillance video captured by the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) PTZ – Pan, Tilt and Zoom – camera.
The camera, according to LCC Managing Director Mr Abayomi Omomuwa, who tendered it to the panel on October 6, can identify small objects and zoom as far as 1.75 – 2 kilometres on any side.
About four hours of the video was played on October 6, but lawyers to the parties agreed to limit the 21-hour footage to portions relevant to the shootings.
The video is broken into footages of roughly 30 minutes in length. CCTV captures seven Army trucks at toll gate.
On Saturday, the panel watched only two hours and 59 minutes of the 21-hour video.
It captured no fewer than seven army trucks at the toll gate on October 20. Two of the trucks were white while five were black.
The recording shows people running from the vicinity of Oriental Hotel towards the direction of the toll gate at 6.43pm.
At 6.45pm, the military arrived and the seven trucks are seen in the footage.
The arrival of the military patrol vans caused a stir among the protesters as some of them began to recede from the scene of the protest.
At 6.53pm, lights appeared to have been turned off at the toll gate facility and the footage began playing in blurry black and white.
At 6.55pm, the military drove through the tollgate and at 6.57pm, flashes, suspected to be gunfire are seen in the footage.
At 7.09pm, the protesters appeared to be surrounded on all sides by the military vehicles which had flashing lights.
At about 7:48 pm, the video shows what appears to be burning tires and stops panning. It remained fixated on the scene for minutes.
During his testimony on November 7, the LCC MD had testified that the surveillance camera stopped working at 8pm. But the footage continued till 8:07pm, following which Counsel to another group of #EndSARS protesters’ Mr Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika resumed cross-examination of Gen. Taiwo, which began penultimate Saturday.
‘Soldiers were not sent to break up protests at toll gate’, the General reinforced his earlier statement that although soldiers on duty that night were armed with both live and blank bullets, they only used the blank ones which they fired into the air.
Asked what the soldiers left Bonny Camp with, General Taiwo said: “Vehicles and riffles.”
Olumide-Fusika asked: “They were carrying rifles. What were they carrying them for?”
Taiwo: “For shooting. Definitely, a portion of the team will carry live bullets in case they are attacked.”
He said the soldiers were not specifically asked to go to the toll gate to break up the protest there.
He said they were required to patrol the Lekki-Epe corridor and they met the #EndSARS protesters on their way there.
Olumide-Fusika: “Why did you tell lies? Are you aware the army denied being at the toll gate?
Taiwo replied that the army was, at first, unsure of what happened at the toll gate.
He said: “The first statement was borne out of the necessity that we did not have full facts available to us.
“Second, nobody was sent to Lekki Toll Gate to break up any protest.”
To this, Olumide-Fusika said: “A number of my clients suffered gunshot injuries and it happened at the Lekki Toll gate. Yet you still say no such thing happened?
“Yes, My Lord,” Taiwo said.
According to him, there were policemen guarding the Oriental Hotel when the soldiers got to the vicinity.
He said the soldiers were attacked by hoodlums around Oriental Hotel and they had to fire blanks to clear the area.
He said they were merely carrying out their patrol duty. He agreed that they could have followed an alternative route, but the commander on ground believed this was the best route.
He recalled that when the soldiers arrived the area, some of the hoodlums approached them aggressively.
“By the time they (soldiers) fired a few shots into the air, they hightailed it.”
Responding to another question, he added, “Our mission was not to arrest, but to clear the area on the way to our destination.”
One officer, he added, was injured by a stone that hit him on the lips. He did not name the soldier.
Responding to another question, Taiwo said about 85 per cent of the video footages the army relied on to conclude that the Police had been overwhelmed in Lagos was sourced from the internet.
He explained that the videos were, however, later verified to be true by his operatives.
Taiwo explained that the exercise was led by two senior officers Lieutenant Colonel S. O. Bello who is the Commanding Officer of 65 Division, and Brigadier General Francis Omata.
In the aftermath of the Lekki incident, social media had been awash with allegations that Omata led the soldiers at the toll gate; a claim denied by the army.
Taiwo repeated the denial, and provided background information.
When asked by Olumide-Fusika about the purpose of General Omata joining Lieutenant Colonel Bello at the toll gate, General Taiwo said it was operational.
But the #EndSARS protesters’ lawyer disagreed.
He said: “Are you aware that Gen Omata came later to stop your men from shooting?”
The officer replied: “He didn’t. He was there after the shooting had occurred. He was there to employ the non-kinetic (non-violent) measures.
‘Sanwo-Olu misinformed; nobody died at toll gate’
Taiwo also told the tribunal that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State was misinformed about the number of casualties at the protest ground.
He contravened a statement credited to the governor alleging that two persons died.
According to the General, the two purported casualties were not at the scene of the protest.
He said: “On 20th October 2020, at about 6.30 pm, while we tried to speak with the protesters and negotiate with them, they pelted stones at us and we had to fire blank bullets at protesters.”
General Taiwo alleged that most of the pictures posted on social media were not taken on the said date.
“Any picture that you (lawyers) want to present here must be submitted for forensic test.
“No protester sustained injury or died. The two people Governor Sanwo-Olu mentioned did not die at the scene; one died on Admiralty Way, which is three kilometres away from the Lekki Toll Gate, the second person was shot at Yaba,” Taiwo said.
Asked if he was aware of the news about the protests on foreign media, Gen Taiwo said he saw one from BBC and CNN but did not see anyone from Al Jazeera because “I was sleeping on the street every night, making sure the place was safe.
“Most of the videos in play have been manipulated,” Gen Taiwo said.
Governor to be summoned by panel
Mr Ogunlana also informed the panel of his plans to invite the Lagos State Governor to testify at the panel.
‘Two people fainted, not died’
Asked again about Omata’s presence at the toll gate on the fateful day, Taiwo said he (Omata) and Bello were assigned to secure the Lekki-Epe corridor and were supposed to meet and be on their way before the Lekki incident occurred.
He said following media reports of shootings, he called both men.
Taiwo said: “The General Officer Commanding was not in town. I called Gen Omata, he was already on ground.”
Ogunlana: You also called Bello, why?”
Taiwo: “I was getting conflicting reports from social media and the internet. I wanted to find out what happened.
“On the internet, we were seeing videos being streamed purportedly of shootings on the ground; people screaming ‘they are killing us’ videos to that effect, so I called him.
“When the first report came in, I dismissed it. I knew nobody sent anyone to the Toll Gate….I asked him if he was anywhere near the toll gate and he said they had been stoned by hoodlums and he released some shots into the air.
“I also asked him if anybody had died as it was being reported on the internet, he replied in the negative. He had only seen two people who had fainted and they had been revived.”
‘We shoot if pelted with stones’
To another question from NBA representative Mr. Bernard Oniga, Taiwo said the army’s response to stoning is shooting.
“If you are being pelted with stones, the only option is gunshot. You can’t expect us to throw stones back.”
Panel suspends Lagos State’s request to take back Toll Gate
Counsel to LCC, Mr Rotimi Seriki, applied to the panel for the release of the Lekki Toll Gate to the Lagos State Government so that the company could begin assessing the level of damage, but Justice Okuwobi declined.
The panel chair ruled that following Ogunlana’s request, the facility might soon become the subject of forensic and ballistic analysis.
He gave the parties two weeks to conclude all such analysis.
Earlier, Mr Olumide-Fusika said there was evidence of shooting on the facilities at the toll plaza.