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Still searching for the truth

Truth is the casualty as Lagos State government’s White Paper and the #EndSARS Judicial Panel Report contradict each other

By Ishaya Ibrahim

On November 30, 2021, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, during a live broadcast asked #EndSARS activists, security officials and ordinary Lagosians to join him for a peace walk. Sanwo-Olu’s offer of a peace walk with key leaders of the youths, including Folarin Falana, popularly called Falz, Seun Kuti, Debo Macaroni and Dele Farotimi, was strategic. It was an attempt to bring together the key actors in the Lekki Tollgate debacle – politicians, security agents and young Nigerians.

The Lagos State Judicial panel of Inquiry had earlier indicted the Nigerian Army for killing peaceful protesters at the Lekki Tollgate and had fingered the governor for allegedly requesting for the soldiers. The governor might have thought that a peace walk with some of the hardliners of the #EndSARS movement would be an effective way to sooth frayed nerves and calm rising tempers, but many of the activists rebuffed the gesture, insisting that there could not be peace without justice. In the end, the governor, on December 9 cancelled the proposed peace-walk citing the rise in Covid-19 cases in the state.

According to Sanwo-Olu, “Between Tuesday 30 November 2021 that I made my address and now, we have seen a significant rise in cases associated with the Omicron variant of this pandemic.

“Given this development, I am constrained to stand down all preparations for the Walk of Peace. I will not endanger the life of any Lagosian in my sincere search for peace.”

The panel headed by Justice Doris Okuwobi submitted its report to the Lagos State governor on November 15. The report accused Nigerian soldiers of killing at least nine protesters at Lekki. The findings resonated with the youths who called the report of the panel revolutionary. But when the Lagos State government released its White Paper on November 30, it rejected the finding that a massacre took place at the Lekki Tollgate on the night of October 20, 2020, citing inconsistencies in the report.

Moyosore Onigbanjo, Lagos State attorney general and a senior advocate of Nigeria,  alleged inconsistencies in the panel’s report during an Arise Television interview. He alleged that one Nathaniel Solomon, who featured as a witness, was also listed as one of those killed during the Lekki shooting. How could a dead man testify about his death, he asked.

The report indeed listed Nathaniel Solomon as deceased but also as a witness. But was this an inconsistency or a likely scribal error? Nathaniel Solomon lost his brother to the shooting on October 20, 2020, at the Lekki Tollgate. He appeared at the panel to give evidence on that incident. It would appear

that since he bears the same surname as his brother, the likelihood of his first name accidentally displacing that of his brother on the list of dead people was not beyond the realm of possibility.

The Attorney General also said the testimony of a key witness Professor John Obafunwa, the chief pathologist of Lagos State, contradicted the panel’s conclusion that there was a massacre. According to Obafunwa’s evidence, three bodies were found at Lekki during the EndSARS uprising,  and only one died of gunshot injuries. For the Attorney General, how could one death amount to a massacre?

But the context of Obafunwa’s testimony was missing in the attorney-general’s  presentation. Obafunwa was summoned to appear before the Judicial Panel in July this year after a publication by the Lagos Coroner asking members of the public whose relatives might be missing during the period of the EndSARS protest, to visit the morgue and check out some 99 bodies deposited there.

The coroner said the bodies were deposited between October 19, 2020, and October 24, 2020, including the period of the Lekki shooting. Could that be the evidence that there was indeed a massacre? The panel invited Professor Obafunwa to clarify.

The pathologist, in his evidence, said only three of those bodies were picked up from Lekki. He added that out of those three, only one died of gunshot wounds.

However, analysts continue to wonder if the security agencies who picked up the bodies and deposited them in Lagos morgues did not file misleading documentation to cover up the events of October 20, 2020.

The truth remains elusive.

Founder and CEO of EMR Global, Omonike Fowowe, was one of the people who volunteered food and drinks for the protesters last year at Lekki Tollgate. She told Newswatch Plus that the protest was a result of frustration on the part of the youths.

According to her, “EndSARS started as a result of police brutality but it is now an umbrella for many of the problems bedevilling the country. The major point here is the youths are yearning for actual change. Nigerian youths are industrious and we have seen this by the increase of start-up’s and SMEs.

“As a youth entrepreneur with 10 years’ experience of running a business in Nigeria, I know our worry is the sustainability of our business, our economy and our well-being. We hope the Nigerian government will work to change the current status of the country for the better.

“Nigeria is a good place. We only need leaders that will face a common goal and make it a better place irrespective of their political or religious affiliation.

“We hope to have a set of leaders that will put Nigeria first come 2023. These are the issues surrounding the EndSARS protest. Change won’t happen overnight but a new Nigeria is possible,” she added.

With reporting by Yusuf Mohammed

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