EndSARS: Lagos Judicial Panel Report is Tales By Moonlight…Lai Mohammed

EndSARS: Lagos Judicial Panel Report is Tales By Moonlight…Lai Mohammed

…Says It’s a Triumph of Fake News …We Reject Report that Soldiers Massacred Unarmed Protesters …It’s a Calculated Attempt to Embarrass FG Even as the nation awaits the White Paper by the Lagos State Government expected to be released in less than a week from now, Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, has

…Says It’s a Triumph of Fake News
…We Reject Report that Soldiers Massacred Unarmed Protesters
…It’s a Calculated Attempt to Embarrass FG

Even as the nation awaits the White Paper by the Lagos State Government expected to be released in less than a week from now, Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, has faulted the #EndSARS Judicial Panel Report On Lekki Toll Gate Massacre, describing it as “tales by moonlight.” This is coming as one of witnesses, Kamsi Ochuko, who gave evidence against the Army was heavily macheted at a bus stop in Lekki by persons said to be hirelings of government.

Speaking at a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday, Mohammed said the panel could have just compiled “social media ‘tales by the moonlight’ on the incident and submitted, saving taxpayers’ funds and everyone’s time. That report is nothing but the triumph of fake news and the intimidation of a silent majority by a vociferous lynch mob.”

The Justice Doris Okuwobi, rtd, led 9- member Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and Other Matters had submitted its report to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu last Monday but a “leaked report,” which alleged that at least nine persons were killed at the Lekki toll plaza when soldiers and policemen stormed the scene to disperse protesters on October 20, 2020 and recommended the dismissal of culpable police and military officers as well as payment of compensation and rehabilitation of victims and their families, has been a subject of controversy with leading counsels of the state government and some members of the panel enmeshed in discordant tunes on the findings.

According to him, “What is circulating in public space is simply a rehash of the unverified fake news that has been playing on social media since the incident of Oct. 20th 2020.”

Insisting that the report is “fake,” and that CNN, which had demanded an apology from the Federal Government over its attack by the Minister, “goofed”, Mohammed said the government has rejected the report

He said: “We reject the notion that our soldiers and policemen massacred innocent Nigerians at Lekki on Oct. 20th 2020. That conclusion is not supported by the weight of available evidence. Indictment for murder is a very serious issue that cannot be done on the basis of allegations and corroborations, as the panel did.

“Such allegations must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The report in circulation is calculated to embarrass the Federal Government and its agencies without foolproof evidence. The Federal Government has never condoned the abuse of the rights of Nigerians by security agencies under any guise, hence it disbanded SARS and encouraged states to set up the panels to investigate reports of human rights abuses allegedly committed by the disbanded SARS personnel.”

Receiving the panel’s report, Governor Sango-Olu set up a four man committee led by the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Moyosore Onigbanjo to review the report and come up with a White Paper expected to be released by early next week. The Police and military authorities have said they would only make formal statements after the release of the White Paper by the state government

Meanwhile, a witness of the #EndSARS protest, Kamsi Ochuko has been attacked by hoodlums suspected to be sponsored by the government for testifying against the Nigerian Army at the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry.

The hoodlums, numbering three were said to have descended on Kamsi on Sunday at Crown Estate bus stop, Sangotedo, near Shoprite, Lekki.

“I was attacked by 3 men, who first pointed a torchlight at my face, before pouncing on me with dangerous object; they said my crime was because of my testification at the panel,” she said.

Kamsi was one of the EndSARS witnesses that reacted to the interrogation of the military witness, Major Gen. Ahmed Taiwo, Commander of the 81 Division, Military Intelligence Brigade, Victoria Island.
Despite video evidence that so many protesters were killed at the Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020, Taiwo, then a Brigadier-General told the panel no one was killed.

He also gave at least seven inconsistent accounts of what truly transpired at the Lekki tollgate that fateful night.
One of his narratives was that soldiers deployed to the scene led by Col. S.O. Bello, Commanding Officer of 65 Battalion, and Brig.-Gen. F.O. Omata actually went there with live ammunition – a claim totally in contrast with his earlier position on the issue.
He, however, said the live ammunition was for backup purposes and not used by soldiers deployed to the scene.

Before then, the Nigerian Army headquarters had said on the day of the incident that soldiers were never at Lekki toll gate to attack protesters as claimed in the media, branding the story as fake news – a position they had since backtracked from.

Human Rights Lawyer, Mr Ebun Olu Adegboruwa, SAN, who says members of the panel are now at the receiving end of attacks, has also insinuated attempts to doctor the panel’s report.

“Since the submission of the EndSARS Panel Report to the Governor of Lagos State on November 15, 2021, members of the Panel have become subject of vicious attacks by those suspected to be agents of the government.

“All manner of allegations have been heaped upon Panel Members, some of who have been called unprintable names.

“I can confirm that no Member of the Panel lobbied to be appointed into the Panel. As a matter fact in my own case, His Excellency, the Governor of Lagos State, appealed to me to accept my appointment, which I saw as a call to national service. The primary reason the Governor gave to me then was that he wanted men and women of integrity, independent and not subject to manipulation, to be on the Panel.

“Just today, my attention has been drawn to an interview by a Senior Counsel to the Lagos State Government, to the effect that Panel Members collected bribe in the course of the assignment. It is unfair, ungodly and least expected of the government and its lawyers.

“The Lagos State Government asked for two weeks to enable it release a White Paper on the report submitted to it by the Panel. And we have been waiting, but it would seem that the Lagos State Government has now unleashed mindless propaganda upon Panel Members whilst at the same time asking for restraint from the general public.

“I have in my custody, certified true copies of ALL proceedings of the Panel and all exhibits tendered before the Panel in respect of the Lekki Toll Gate Investigation. I urge the government to call its agents and lawyers to order so as not to provoke aggravated responses.
“It is unfair to seek to denigrate peoples’ hard-earned reputation on account only that they accepted to render selfless service at the behest of government. If the government and its agents are not restrained from attacking others, nothing stops us from defending our integrity.

“I should not become a victim of unwarranted attack just because I accepted to serve the government and the outcome of that assignment did not favour the expectations of the government. Suffice it to mention that I worked with men and women of unblemished integrity and I’m proud to be associated with them all.

“I therefore appeal to His Excellency the Governor of Lagos State to call all agents of State to order and to keep to his promise to us to release a White Paper within two weeks and to send the unedited report of the Panel, to the National Economic Council,” Adegboruwa said.

Here is the full test of the media briefing.

TEXT OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE ADDRESSED BY THE HON. MINISTER OF
INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, IN ABUJA ON TUESDAY NOV. 23RD 2021 ON THE REPORT OF THE LAGOS STATE JUDICIAL PANEL OF INQUIRY AND RESTITUTION TO INVESTIGATE CASES OF POLICE BRUTALITY AND THE INCIDENT OF OCT. 20TH 2020 AT LEKKI TOLL GATE

Good morning gentlemen

2. It’s no longer news that the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry that investigated cases of police brutality as well as the incident of Oct. 20th, 2020, at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos has submitted its report. The submission happened while I was out of the country on national assignment. Unlike many commentators and analysts, we took our time to read and digest the report, and we are now well placed to respond.

3. Without mincing words, let me say that never in the history of any Judicial Panel in this country has its report been riddled with so many errors, inconsistencies,discrepancies, speculations, innuendoes, omissions and conclusions that are not supported by evidence. What is circulating in public space is simply a rehash of the unverified fake news that has been playing on social media since the incident of Oct. 20th 2020. It is simply incredible that a Judicial Panel set up to investigate an incident has submitted a report laden with allegations, the same allegations it was set up to investigate in the first instance. Instead of sitting for all of one year, the panel could have just compiled social media ‘tales by the moonlight’ on the incident and submitted, saving taxpayers’ funds and everyone’s time. That report is nothing but the triumph of fake news and the intimidation of a silent majority by a vociferous lynch mob.

4. Gentlemen, we have read some critical analysis of the report by a courageous few. One commentator, a lawyer, said it raised more questions than answers. Another commentator, a journalist, called it a ‘disgraceful report by a disgraceful panel’, saying it reported allegations instead of investigating the allegations. Yet another wondered how a Judicial Panel could use the words ‘massacre in context’ and equate such to a massacre. All these and many more have raised valid questions on that report. We salute their courage and refusal to be cowed by the rampaging lynch mob that has been screaming blue murder since the report was released.

5. We do not intend to bore you by rehashing details of the discrepancies, innuendoes, inconsistencies and errors in that report. They are already in the public space. Let us, however, point out some key highlights of such discrepancies, errors, omissions, etc.

i) – The report threw away the testimony of ballistic experts who testified before it. The experts said, inter alia, in their testimony:

”The Team finds that from the medical data examined, including the timeline of arrival at medical facility and the nature of the injuries sustained by the Victims, who were taken to the 5 medical facilities,
that no military grade live ammunition (high-velocity) was fired at the protesters at Lekki Tollgate on 20th October 2020, within the timeframe of reference (18.30- 20.34hrs).

That the GSW (Gun Shot Wounds) injuries (4 in number between 19:05 and 19:45 hrs), which were examined by the Team, can be safely identified as being discharged by either low velocity caliber and/or artisanal/12-gauge firearms (artisanal firearms are locally-fabricated weapons). What is however certain is that had the military personnel deliberately fired military grade live ammunition directly at the protesters; there would have been significantly more fatalities and catastrophic injuries recorded. This was clearly not the case.’’

ii) – The same panel that said it deemed as credible the evidence of the Forensic Pathologist, Prof. John Obafunwa, that only three of the bodies on which post mortem were conducted were from Lekki and only one had gunshot injury went on to contradict itself by saying nine persons died of gunshot wounds at Lekki!

iii) – The man whose evidence (that he counted 11 bodies in a military van where he was left for dead before he escaped) was found to be crucial by the panel never testified in person. Rather, the video of his ‘testimony’ was played by someone else. It did not occur to the panel to query the veracity of the testimony of a man who said he was shot and presumed dead but still had time to count dead bodies inside a supposedly dark van at night!

iv) – The panel said trucks with brushes underneath were brought to the Lekki Toll Gate in the morning of Oct. 21 2020 to clean up bloodstains and other evidence, but still found bullet casings at the same site when it visited on Oct. 30th 2020. It said soldiers picked up bullet casings from Lekki Toll Gate on the night of Oct. 20th 2020, yet claimed that policemen came to the same spot to pick the same bullet casings on Oct. 21st 2020!

v) – The panel was silent on the family members of those reportedly killed, merely insinuating they were afraid to testify. Even goats have owners who will look for them if they do not return home, not to talk of human beings. Where are the family members
of those who were reportedly killed at Lekki Toll Gate? If the panel is recommending compensation for the families, what are their identities and addresses? Who will receive the compensations when no family members have shown up to date?

vi) – How did a man who reported seeing the lifeless body of his brother himself ended up being on the list of the panel’s deceased persons?

vii) – How can a Judicial Panel convince anyone that the names of some casualties of the Lekki Toll Gate incident listed as numbers 3 (Jide), 42 (Tola) and 43 (Wisdom) are not fictitious names.

viii) – Why did the Judicial Panel feel compelled to concoct a ”massacre in context” as a euphemism for ”massacre”? A massacre is a massacre. What is ”massacre in context?”

ix) – The report never mentioned cases of police personnel who were brutally murdered or the massive destruction of police stations, vehicles, e.t c during the Endsars protest. Does this mean that the panel didn’t consider policemen and women as human beings?

x) – The report didn’t make any recommendation on the innocent people whose businesses were attacked and destroyed during the protest in Lagos. I think it was too busy looking for evidence to support its conclusion of ‘massacre in context’.

6. 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. The cowardly leakage of an unsigned report to the public is not enough. Assuming the report in circulation bears any iota of genuineness, 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.

7. CNN AND OTHERS
The CNN has been celebrating the leaked report of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry. In its rush to claim vindication, CNN apparently didn’t even read the report before rolling out the drums in celebration. By that action, CNN has celebrated prematurely and has now committed a double faux pas: First, by relying on unverified social media stories and videos to carry out an investigation of the Oct. 20th 2020 incident at Lekki, where it did not have a correspondent on ground. CNN goofed
in its report on the findings of the panel, which fell below the main standards of journalism. Secondly, CNN rushed to the air to celebrate an unsigned and unverified report that is riddled with inconsistencies, errors, discrepancies, innuendoes. That’s double faux pas by a news organization that is eager and willing to compromise standards just to claim vindication.

8. Sadly, a section of the Nigerian media has also joined the lynch mob. Honestly, in an attempt to vilify government at all costs, they have done themselves a great disservice. How can any news organization worth its salt write an Editorial validating this kind of report? Are they not seeing what others, including journalists and lawyers, are seeing? In a shocking twist, a Nigerian newspaper chose to hail what it calls ‘’detailed investigative report’’ by CNN, even when the news channel did not even cover the incident of Oct. 20th 2020! It’s a classic case of cutting your nose to spite your face.

9 CONCLUSIONS
i) – Gentlemen, there is absolutely nothing in the report that is circulating to make us change our stand that there was no massacre at Lekki on Oct. 20th 2020. For us to change our stand, a well-investigated report of the incident that meets all required standards and will withstand every scrutiny must be produced and presented to the public. The report in circulation does not meet those requirements. We also appeal to the families of those allegedly killed in Lekki to speak out. It’s untenable to say that some families did not come out because they are afraid. Any parent who is afraid to testify about the death of his or her child is not worth to be called a parent.

ii) – We reject the notion that our soldiers and policemen massacred innocent Nigerians at Lekki on Oct. 20th 2020. That conclusion is not supported by the weight of available evidence. Indictment for murder is a very serious issue that cannot be done on the basis of allegations and corroborations, as the panel did. Such allegations must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The report in circulation is calculated to embarrass the Federal Government and its agencies without foolproof evidence. The Federal Government has never condoned the abuse of the rights of Nigerians by security agencies under any guise, hence it disbanded SARS and encouraged states to set up the panels to investigate reports of human rights abuses allegedly committed by the disbanded SARS personnel.

iii) – The 37 policemen and six soldiers who died across the country during the Endsars protest are also Nigerians and should not be forgotten.

iv) – Those who have engaged in premature celebration of the report in circulation should now go back and read it thoroughly and tell Nigerians whether it can pass any serious scrutiny.

v) – We are saddened that anyone died at all during the Endsars protest as the life of every Nigerian and indeed every human is sacrosanct. As we have disclosed many times, 57 civilians, 37 policemen and six soldiers were killed across the country during the protest, and we commiserate with their families.

10) Gentlemen, I thank you for your kind attention. I will now take your questions

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