By Festus Adedayo
The excitement about the unNigerianness of the report of the panel of inquiry into last year’s massacre at the Lagos Lekki Toll Gate lasted for fleeting hours. The Nigerian virus then wriggled itself into the report almost immediately. In the leaked report, the Nigerian military that had made mealy-mouthed denials of its culpability in the shooting and killing of unarmed Nigerian youths who were protesting police brutality in Lekki, got deeply bruised and stripped naked.
Leaked just a few hours after its submission to the Lagos state government, the panel found that 48 casualties were recorded in the calamity, with 11 people killed, and four people missing. Their names were affixed to the report. The panel concluded that what happened on that eerie night in Lagos was indeed a “massacre,” a gross departure from official mendacity of the last one year which claimed that opposition blew it out of proportion. Apart from shooting and killing defenceless protesters, the report said that the Nigerian Army personnel at the Toll Gate that night even committed the unpardonable and inhumane sin of blocking ingress and egress around the protest area, specifically to block ambulances from rescuing victims.
The initial commendation actually went to the Lagos State Government. In a Nigeria where the hearts of people in government are as dark as tar, it was very unNigerian that a report set up by government would end up indicting that same government. It was the scenario of a piper whose tune was its crucifix. Those who could think deeply concluded that the report indicated one of two things: Either that the Lagos government gave the panel a wide range of latitude to be independent or that there was a huge dislocation between the Lagos and Federal governments, for the sake of politics.
No sooner had the report been submitted than systemic spanners began to be thrown into the works to destroy the achievement made for the Nigerian state by the report. Fifth columnists, ostensibly on the payroll of federal and perhaps the Lagos state government, went into action to discredit and dissemble it, preparatory to a White Paper that will be a total negation of the report. The disagreements of the vultures sent out to mop up the carcass of the victims of the massacre, with the report range from typographical to the content of the report, with some wondering why the panel was unprofessional as to allow its leakage.
One of those who went to the media to discredit the report was Abiodun Owonikoko, SAN. His submissions are so tepid and incongruous with reality that the only justification for them is an excuse that he was merely trying to earn his pay as counsel to the government of Lagos State. Not only did Owonikoko travel on that discredited route of denial of massacre in Lekki, he waffled effeminately on Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s complicity in the bid to cover up the truth and shamelessly embraced technicalities in the service of that subterfuge. Can you imagine Owonikoko bothering about a supposed breach of confidentiality by the panel and abandoning the eerie cries of victims killed dastardly in their prime? The question to ask the SAN is, did people die at Lekki and did they die of natural causes?
The reality that is visible to the whole world is that the panel didn’t have any reason to make up the victims of that massacre. Also, Nigerians know that the philosophy of the panel’s operations synchronizes with that of the Nigerian people who are victims of their government.
The whole scenario of the brutality inflicted on unsuspecting youths at the Lekki Toll Gate smacks of same brutality inflicted on protesters at the black township of Sharpeville on March 21, 1960. Sharpeville, in South Africa, witnessed same horrific scene of police firing on a defenceless crowd of Black people during a countrywide demonstration against apartheid. The protesters had specifically called for the abolition of the notorious pass laws in South Africa.
Just like Nigeria where the panel report of the brutality has helped the world to have a window into the messy state of human rights under the Muhammadu Buhari government, the Sharpeville massacre report also helped the world to focus international lens on South Africa’s apartheid policy and the need to abandon it. The white government was never the same after the Sharpeville massacre. Thankfully, America and some governments of the world have weighed in on the report, asking the Buhari government to implement the recommendations.
While it is obvious that the federal government is totally embarrassed about the revelations of the panel and how the lid on its mendacious binge was blown so effortlessly, it is better advised to implement the report as the only self-regenerating route out of its self-imposed mess. Soldiers and police who committed those gross atrocities must be named, shamed and sanctioned so that their families would forever be held as the vermin that punctured and licked the blood of innocent children. Government must also face the task of providing a future for the Nigerian youth, a future that is more cogent and definite than the tokenism that it is engrossed in at the moment. More fundamentally, government must collapse the huge colony of termites it had unleashed on the information highway; termites busy polluting the space with revisionism, cants, sophistry and raw lies in the name of offering the other view about what happened on October 20, 2020.
*Dr. Festus Adedayo, journalist, lawyer and public affairs analyst, writes from Ibadan