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Unending search for balanced narrative over #EndSARS protest

By Anietie Akpan (Calabar) Lawrence Njoku (Enugu) Seye Olumide (Lagos), Segun Olaniyi (Abuja)
22 November 2020   |   4:11 am
The search for a balanced version of what happened at the Lekki Tollgate, Lagos, on the night of October 20, 2020, in what many now tag the “Lekki Massacre” appears still far from over as diverse interest groups continue to push their respective agenda.

The search for a balanced version of what happened at the Lekki Tollgate, Lagos, on the night of October 20, 2020, in what many now tag the “Lekki Massacre” appears still far from over as diverse interest groups continue to push their respective agenda.

While these groups continue to spin narratives in favour of their camps or the interest that they represent one month after the incident, the federal and Lagos State governments, as well as agencies of the former have been highly inconsistent and shifty in their positions and submissions thus far, including the Nigerian Army countering the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

Only last week, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, described the incident as the world’s first massacre without blood or corpses.

Mohammed’s submission was in the wake of an investigative report by a United States-based Cable Network News (CNN), which, among other things, claimed that soldiers fired live bullets at #EndSARS protesters at the tollgate.

While a number of human rights and pro-democracy activists uphold their positions that unarmed protesters were “massacred” by the Nigerian Army, Mohammed has insisted that evidence on ground negates their narrative.

As the ding-dong affair continues, some Nigerians are calling on all parties to keep calm and allow the judicial panels to do their jobs, while sparing a thought for policemen that were killed by hoodlums that got into the mix.

According to them, while the police reform gets underway, the families of affected policemen should be factored in so that their losses would not be aggravated.

Yesterday, a Coalition of Civil Society For Human Rights and Good Governance Africa (CSHRGGA) condemned in its entirety, the CNN report describing it as “fake, repulsive, and a concocted piece of deliberate falsehood by an otherwise reputable international cable network.”

The coalition in a statement jointly signed by Prof. Bankole Amuda, Prof Uzodima Anakwe, Balarabe Hassan Ningi, and (Mrs.) Grace Osaze, corroborated the position of the Nigerian Army to the effect that no protester was killed on the said day, as only blank ammunition were used by soldiers to restore normalcy.

The coalition, which claimed that its position was based on thorough investigations conducted by a crack team of independent forensic experts, warned the CNN and its co-travellers against deliberate attempts to undermine Nigeria’s sovereignty, even as it called on the Federal Government to remain firm and apply the full weight of the law against local and foreign saboteurs.

The statement reads: “We condemn CNN and all their evil collaborators for the fake report of the alleged massacre at the Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020, as nothing can be further from the truth.

“We are of the firm view that the CNN only relied on fake videos posted on the Internet by enemies of the state, to draw a conclusion of a massacre, that only exists, or existed in their fertile mind and that of its collaborators – local and international.

“We recognise the right of CNN to carry out exclusive investigative activities around the world, in a bid to expose corruption, human rights violation and other ills perpetrated by governments or groups/individuals, as the case may be.

“In the face of this, however, we hasten to warn against attempts to package falsehood in the guise of truth, to satisfy pre-conceived agenda to destroy Nigeria.

“May we warn CNN and the like, that Nigeria is not a banana republic, where cases of provocation and incitement against a constitutional government will be allowed or tolerated.”

Asked to assess the extent to which the CNN report could impede the work of the judicial panel, a former Nigerian ambassador to Ethiopia, and founder of the Gender and Development Action Nigeria, Mrs. Nkoyo Toyo said: “A judicial and investigative panel has its terms of engagement. It is governed by those terms and the outcomes are usually independent of what a news channel provides. The panel has a responsibility to look at different sources of the fact, weigh them and arrive at the most plausible set of facts. If the view expressed by CNN confirm, or conflict with their findings, they must show how in order to restore confidence in the overall work of the committee. It is my hope that in arriving at its recommendations, the panel will disabuse the public of some of the “unfounded” or “founded” claims going around on social media

On how impressed or otherwise she was by the Federal Government’s handling of the CNN’s report. She said, “I am not sure I know what the purpose of such an approach is. Could it be to assure Nigerians that CNN cannot be trusted, or that there is a sinister motive on the side of CNN against Nigeria? Well in the end what Nigeria does ultimately will determine whether CNN was right or wrong. In matters like this, I would say it’s only a matter of time. However, when government has many variants of a set of events, doubt sets in and third parties fill the gap by providing what may appear to be credible information.”

On whether there were sufficient grounds to believe that a massacre actually took place she responded: “I have read a whole lot about what is a massacre. Is it the number that died; the manner of execution of the raid on protesters; or the fact that the use of the term “massacre” is counter intuitive to a peaceful protest, and the shooting into a crowd of helpless, unarmed civilians with the intention to maim and kill. I think the question is, was killing intended by the actions? And if so, what were the likely outcomes. The reference to numbers though persuasive, does not tell the whole story.”

As many continue to duel on the number of dead protesters, as well as those maimed, while no sympathy is shown to deceased police officers killed by hoodlums, Toyo said: “You make an important distinction between the protesters and hoodlums. Either way, these are citizens of Nigeria and we cannot make distinction about one life being better than the other. I believe that when the country finally sits down to examine what went wrong, it will apportion blame and recommendations for what needs to happen, bearing in mind the complexity of wrongs embedded in the #ENDSARS protest.”

She, however, wants the fallen cops to be honoured by restoring dignity to the police.  “An #EndSARS struggle must also be a struggle for decency, probity and accountability to the police and all the citizens of Nigeria, whether male or female, from the North or South, East or West, young or old, armed or unarmed, etc.”

For a former president of Igbo Think Tank, Aka Ikenga, Chief Goody Uwazurike, the government’s altercation with the CNN was unnecessary.

“Our government should have continued with the way it was managing the scenario, even though it initially fumbled by being inconsistent with information in the aftermath of the #EndSARS carnage at the Lekki tollgate.”

According to Uwazurike, “The CNN documentary could have been better managed if the government had a better image making system. The Buhari public relations team is negative on this matter. Lai Mohammed’s attack on CNN was wrong. To be honest, the Federal Government messed up because it should have asked the outfit to submit its documentary to the panel of inquiries already in place for analysis instead of the altercation.”

He equally carpeted claims that the documentary could have an impact on the credibility of the outcome of the panels saying: “I don’t think so. The only thing that can impede such is the Nigeria government itself.”

He, however, lamented the loss of police officers in the crisis stressing that, “whosoever is found guilty of killing police officers during the carnage must be made to face the wrath of the law just as it is important for the government to give justice to those innocent Nigerians that were killed during the crisis.”

Also weighing in on the matter, a former Minister of Information and founding member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Prince Tony Momoh said: “The CNN documentary was a mere report of what transpired while the Minister of Information was only doing his job, which is to defend the government and ensure that the image of the administration is not destroyed locally and before the international community.”

Momoh, who expressed worry over the depth of emotion and politicisation attached to the development, urged Nigerians not to lose their heads over whether the CNN documentary would affect the credibility or whatever report the panels would come up with.

“I personally don’t think that it would affect the outcome. Such will never happen. A news medium can report and the subject of its report can be subjected to test whether it is true or not. If CNN is convinced about its report, it can submit it to the panel for further investigation. We cannot also blame the minister who was only defending the image of the government under which he is serving. The CNN’s documentary alone is not enough to use as a weapon to condemn the government.”

What however baffles the renowned Professor of Economy and Political Science, Pat Utomi is the initial conflicting narratives of the government, which he said portrays the authorities as liars not just before critical Nigerians, but also the international community.

According to him, “Irrespective of the CNN documentary, it is becoming worrisome the way and manner the government is handling the matter. The narratives we have been hearing in the aftermath of the #EndSARS mayhem is hurting Nigerians and something serious must be done about it. The ultimate lies with the government.”

Utomi faulted what he tagged confrontational approach deployed by the Information Minister in his evaluation of the CNN report, saying, “It is better for the administration to find a way to resolve the issue instead of fighting CNN. There is need to apply a different approach instead of the confrontational method the minster applied.”

The former presidential candidate further sympathized with relatives of the deceased police officers that died during the carnage just as he also said cogent steps must be taken to look into the travails of the Nigerians who suffered in whatever form during and after the protests.

A leader of the Northern Elders Council, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai said it was unfortunate that Nigeria is facing the challenges at a time when the people have perfected manipulation of facts.

“It is possible for any documentary to have been doctored and the fact that CNN may have gotten the video from the third party is a strong reason the video should be subjected to test. I think CNN did not want to admit the fact that the video is most likely to have been doctored.”

Yakassai also said there is no way the CNN documentary could have negative impact or, in anyway, impede the job of the panels as long as the government has the strong and political will to face the fact.

But in a contrary view, a delegate to the 2014 National Conference, Col. Tony Nyiam (rtd) said it would be difficult for him to react because the government contradicted itself on several instances. “This confusion alone on the part of the government has created bias in the mind of Nigerians and the freezing of the bank accounts of some of the identified peaceful protesters after the #EndSARS protests further compounded the position of the government.”

When asked if the CNN documentary is capable of affecting the outcome of the panels of inquiries, Nyiam said, “There is a court of law and a court of the people. Irrespective of the CNN documentary, the people shall have their opinion.”

But the spokesman of Lagos APC, Mr Seye Oladejo believed said the report by CNN report could throw spanner in the works of the judicial panel.

Oladejo said the CNN report was a ‘piece of fiction’ fuelled by rumours and it contrasts sharply with the balanced reportage by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) which had correspondents at the scene of the incident.

According to him, “while the BBC had correspondents on ground for professional and ethical coverage, the CNN put its controversial reports together a month after the incident relying on eye witnesses, rumours and the deployment of technology from the comfort of their London studio.

“While the technology could capture the military deployment and the purported shooting, it couldn’t show us the alleged carting away of the victims by military. It also remains a mystery that we didn’t see a blood soaked Lekki toll gate after the incident. The series of resurrections of hitherto announced dead victims was conveniently left out just like the fluctuating number of fatalities.”

A dedicated Lawyers Forum, a group of legal professionals also flayed CNN, saying, the media outfit owes Nigerian government an apology by relying only on social media report to form its opinions and for describing the #EndSARS protest as a massacre.

Convener of the group, Mr. Damola Akinlaja said while CNN is entitled to its opinion, it is disheartening for Nigerians to be “celebrating the report as if it is the final authority on the matter.”

Akinlaja said his group supported the position of the federal government on this matter that CNN should be sanctioned for spreading fake news on its platform all in the name of investigative journalism.

He said CNN has apologised for making mistakes in the past and “we are sure same will happen on this issue, despite their claim that they stand by their report.” Akinlaja is angered that all talks is about protesters killed, which is yet to be verified. “Why is nobody talking about policemen that were innocently killed too?”

Rotimi Fashakin, a chieftain of the APC said the Lekki incident wouldn’t have happened had the protesters not overreached themselves despite all that was done by the federal government and Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos in meeting their demands.

Also speaking,  Alhaji Tunde Balogun,  the APC chairman in Lagos  said Governor Sanwo-Olu deserves commendation on his handling of the recent #EndSARS protest in Lagos, saying he couldn’t have done better than the governor if he was in his capacity as governor of Lagos state.

In the same vein, a retired Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Chief Ikechukwu Mba said that the reportage of the CNN on the #EndSARS protests and Lekki incident in Lagos were over exaggerated, insisting that there was no way the level of casualty figures could have been recorded without verifiable evidence.

He stated that CNN’s position should not affect the mission of the judicial panel of inquiry on the #EndSARS protests, as according to him, “the reports were more speculative and no panel can rely on speculations if it wants to do a good job.” He stated however, that should the panel feel strongly about the incident in Lekki, it should call for the video recording to assist it in its work.

Mba, a security consultant and lawyer said: “From the look of things, I think the CNN report seems over exaggerated. It is over exaggerated because the issue of human life is not something you do and erase evidence. The moment somebody is shut down, some people will run away, others will see the corpse on the ground. But in all honesty, I don’t think that up to 15 families can come up boldly and claim that their own was killed in the Lekki saga.”

On how he feels about the way the federal government is handling the CNN report, he said that it was the duty of the government to put the records straight, noting that the CNN failed in all fairness by not reaching the federal government on their reaction to the report before publishing it.