#EndSARS: Protesters were happy to see us at Lekki tollgate, says Army commander
TWO top army officers who testified before the panel have said the military displayed professionalism in handling the incident that happened at the Lekki tollgate on October, 20.
The two senior military men are the Commander of 81 Military Intelligence Brigade, Victoria Island, Lagos, Brig Gen Ahmed Taiwo; the Chief of Staff, 81 Division, Nigerian Army, VI, Lagos, Brig Gen Nsikak Edet; Commander, 81 Division Garrison, VI, Brig Gen Francis Omata.
Speaking before the judicial panel of inquiry yesterday the top officers denied the claim that soldiers killed some of the #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki tollgate.
Omata said that the #EndSARS had turned violent by the time they arrived at the scene of the protest on October, 20 as the protesters had been infiltrated by hoodlums.
He said they met a rowdy situation created by a hostile crowd and the crowd resorted to pelting his men with stones and bottles.
Omata, however, noted that in the face of the provocation the soldiers deployed to the Lekki tollgate refused to lose their cool as they only fired blank ammunition into the air to disperse the crowd.
Omata said, “On arrival at the tollgate at about 7.30pm, I met a rowdy situation. I also met the Commanding Officer, 65 Battalion (Bello), who briefed me on the situation. He briefed me that he met a hostile crowd, hoodlums mixed with the protesters, who were chanting and throwing stones at them. I was able to disperse the crowd by firing blank ammunition into the air.
“At this point, stones and sticks were being thrown at us. Then I moved to a safe area and briefed General Officer Commanding 81 Division, Maj Gen Godwin Ahamefuna Umelo by phone.
“The General Officer Commanding directed me to pacify the hostile crowd and move the troops back to base. However, the crowd still continued chanting #EndSARS. I then instructed the troops to withdraw to base.”
Giving his own account of the incident, Bello said while he was moving towards the Lekki-Ajah Expressway at around 6.45pm, he heard gunshots before the tollgate and on coming down he saw that “the crowd had turned from peaceful protesters to a mob, infiltrated by hoodlums.”
He said, “On getting to the tollgate, I persuaded the crowd to go home and observe the 24-hours curfew declared by the state government. But surprisingly, the hoodlums continued throwing stones, bottles and other dangerous objects at us and were burning tyres. I again fired some blank ammunition upward to scare the hoodlums away. But some protesters who were still at the tollgate sitting down quietly were given water and drinks by me while pleading with them to go home.”
Bello said the protesters were, in fact, happy to see the soldiers at the tollgate, adding that he personally offered the protesters water and drinks while persuading them to go home and observe the 24-hour curfew declared by the Lagos State Government.
He insisted that there was massacre on that night and the military did not take away corpses.
Bello stressed that “we did not fire at the protesters. Blank ammunition were fired upward to scare the hoodlums from the crowd. Nobody was shot dead at the Lekki tollgate, there was no massacre as claimed. The claim that the military took away dead bodies was not true. The protesters were happy to see us as indicated in some of the video clips of 20th October 2020.”
The Commander, 9 Brigade, Nigerian Army, Brig Gen Musa Etsu-Ndagi, representing the Nigerian Army on the Lagos State Security Council, also claimed that no protester was killed at the Lekki tollgate.
Etsu-Ndagi, who is one of the top four military officers listed as witnesses of the Nigerian Army before the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry probing the Lekki tollgate shootings, stated this in his statement on oath filed at the panel’s registry on Friday.
He said he received a phone call from the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, around 7.23pm on October 20,2020 informing him that a certain Lt Col Bello was reportedly shooting at the Lekki tollgate where #EndSARS protesters were gathered.
Etsu-Ndagi said he immediately called Bello, who is the Commanding Officer, 65 Battalion, Bonny Camp, Victoria Island, and he (Bello) told him that he only fired blank ammunition into the air.