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Lekki Toll Plaza episode and the U.S. report

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Protesters at the Lekki toll gate, October 20, 2020

With the United States (U.S.) Department of States report stating that there is no verifiable evidence on the reported killings of #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki tollgate on October 20, last year, many questions arise on the actions that followed what was unjustifiably described as a massacre. In its “2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Nigeria”, the State Department stated that accurate information on fatalities resulting from the shooting was not available.

According to the report, the #EndSARS protesters were allowed to proceed unimpeded in most places. Those charged with “conduct likely to cause a breach of public peace” were released within days of their arrest. Though a few human rights activists have come out to condemn the said report, claiming it did not represent what actually transpired during the Lekki protest, they have failed to give any evidence to support their assertion of a massacre.

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Was the massacre claim made to ensure the destruction of Lagos, with its prime assets as targets? What were the purveyors of the fake news targeting? Who are their sponsors and enablers? Why would they want to destroy the unity that Lagosians so much cherish?

This writer has always been of the view that the so-called Lekki ‘massacre’ was carefully hatched by enemies of the government just to give it a bad name and unduly overheat the polity. A massacre? Could there have been a massacre without blood and bodies? Would morgues not have been filled with bodies? Would parents and relations of supposedly massacred victims not have come out to give their identities?

Now that the United States, which can be considered as an impartial actor in the episode, has come out with a report refuting any claim of a massacre, one would have expected those with contrary views to actually come out with empirical facts to buttress their claim. The role of misinformation in the Lekki Toll plaza incident cannot be over-emphasized. After the incident, in the dead of the night, Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, visited some medical facilities around the area to see things for himself.

Earlier, the army had tweeted “fake news”  when the social media was awash with videos of soldiers in an armoured tank, shooting sporadically in a direction and scores of videos of bodies with body parts littering the ground had been spread as victims of the fake “massacre.”

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Pictures that were touted as victims of the Lekki massacre turned out to be those of people who had died in separate circumstances – one from a bike accident and the other a stab wound victim. Those found in the hospitals who got injured from Lekki were as a result of stampede, and the injuries ranged from broken bones, cuts, bruises and slash wounds. No record of death as a result of gunshot wounds, but the social media was awash with people in hospital, who claimed that they were shot by soldiers at the toll plaza.

The judicial panel of inquiry instituted by the Lagos State Government to investigate the episode has continued to encourage those with concrete evidence on the Lekki incident to come up with such. Among all such judicial inquiries put in place by state governments across the federation over the #EndSARS protest, the Lagos panel, in particular, had proved promising. In all honesty, the set-up inspires confidence and proceedings have never lacked transparency. In fact, the sittings are televised live.

As for those bent on spreading lies to further pollute the polity, they must realize that our nation has just endured a very tough 2020; one whose uncertainties still cloud our socio-economic structure. The strain and heavy burden that the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the avoidable destruction that climaxed the #ENDSARS protest have inflicted on our society will take years to lighten. For instance, in Lagos alone, analysts put the estimated economic loss during the 12 days dissent at N700 billion, connoting a loss of N58 billion daily. This loss was also accompanied by looting, vandalism and arson at several shopping malls, public facilities, police stations and private facilities.

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As Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote, “No man consciously chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for the happiness that he seeks’’. Such temptation to devour the society and interrupt the process of healing is destructive. We will only be spinning on a wheel that just goes around and around, eventually leading to the same problems over and over again.

Let it be acknowledged that there is no magic formula that will resolve our grievances. But to tame the storm of our reality and reduce the intensity of conflict, a social contract must be forged between citizens and the government. It is to recognize that there are no differences that cannot be solved through dialogue, negotiation and conflict resolution or that are worth the damage created by the assumption of injustice. It is to engage in open, honest, collaborative effort and elicit heartfelt communications that invite truth and reconciliation.

Omojoye wrote in from Palmgrove, Lagos.

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