The Nigerian Army yesterday broke its silence on the #EndSARS protest which led to the Lekki shooting incident that was condemned globally, as the military command denied that it fired at the marchers.
It also disputed the claims by Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu that he knew nothing about troop deployment in Lekki Tollgate where soldiers were accused of shooting protesters for allegedly flouting the curfew imposed on the state to curb the social unrest unleashed by hoodlums who had seized the #EndSARS protest.
A statement by the Acting Deputy Director, 81 Division Army Public Relations, Major Osoba Olaniyi, which provided further clarification on the troop deployment during the protests, categorically denied that civilians were shot at.
Sanwo-Olu, in his first reaction after the shooting, had blamed the shooting on “forces beyond my control.”
The governor had earlier denied ordering the army to the state, saying he has no such powers to bring invite the army.
He said: “I don’t know how the officers got it all wrong because the instruction was that police won’t be out until 10-10:30 p.m. when all citizens should have gotten to their various homes. This is totally against what we stand for.
“The army does not report to me, I have reported the matter to the highest command in the military. It’s not something we are going to gloss over. A judicial panel will be set up to investigate it. I have escalated it to the highest level of the military.”
However, the statement from the Nigerian Army has proved that the governor, Mr. Sanwoolu was aware of the deployment of soldiers. Although, the statement issued, denied that soldiers did not shoot protesters.
Initially, the Nigerian Army had also denied their presence at the Lekki toll gate, but observers believe that the interview granted by the governor on CNN International could have initiated the response of the army, revealing the involvement of the governor in the deployment of soldiers.
In the interview, the governor said: “From the footage that we could see, it seems to be…there would be men in military uniform, who should be Nigerian Army or something.”
But when pressed further by the CNN, the governor said: “Yes, they were there. That’s what the footage shows.”
The army in yesterday’s statement said the state government invited it to enforce the curfew and that it did not shoot any protesters.
The Nigerian Army however denied allegations bordering on massacre as untrue and unfounded.
The statement, titled: ‘Alleged Massacre of Protesters at Lekki Toll Plaza,’ read: “The attention of Headquarters 81 Division Nigerian Army has been drawn to a viral video on social media in which it was alleged that civilian protesters were massacred by soldiers at Lekki Toll Plaza.
“This allegation is untrue, unfounded and aimed at causing anarchy in the country. At no time did soldiers of the Nigerian Army open fire on any civilian.
“From the onset of the ENDSARS protest, there was no time personnel of 81 Division Nigerian Army Lagos were involved.
“However, the decision to call in the military was taken by the Lagos State Government (LASG) after a 24-hour curfew was imposed.
“This was as a result of the violence, which led to several police stations being burnt, policemen killed, suspects in police custody released and weapons carted away.
“The situation was fast degenerating into anarchy. It was at this point that LASG requested for the military to intervene in order to restore normalcy.
“The intervention of the military followed all laid down procedures for internal security operations and all the soldiers involved acted within the confines of the Rules of Engagement (ROE) for internal security operations.
“Finally, Headquarters 81 Division, Nigerian Army, reiterates that in the discharge of its constitutional responsibilities, it did not shoot at any civilian as there are glaring and convincing evidence to attest to this fact.”
The Nigeria Army urged the public to discountenance the allegation of massacre, as there is no iota of truth in it.