Salisu Bello, commanding officer of 65 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, has said contrary to widespread reports, soldiers did not shoot #EndSARS protesters at Lekki tollgate on October 20, but that his men were attacked instead.
He made the assertion in his statement on oath filed before Lagos state judicial panel probing the Lekki shooting and cases of police brutality, ThePunch reports.
It would be recalled that security operatives said to be soldiers brutally opened fire on peaceful #EndSARS protesters at Lekki, which led to the death of some and several others sustaining injuries.
The army initially denied being at the scene of incident but later admitted that Lagos State Government invited them to ensure peace and calm in the street amid the protest.
They also vehemently denied using live ammunition on the #EndSARS protesters who gathered at the tollgate, adding that soldiers did not take any dead bodies away, contrary to reports by eyewitnesses.
Giving a statement at the panel on Saturday, Bello, who denied the report that soldiers killed some protesters at the tollgate, averred that soldiers did not kill any protester as they were all happy to see the officers.
The commander reportedly said that he personally offered protesters water and drinks, while persuading them to go home.
Bello revealed that while he was moving towards the Lekki-Ajah Expressway around 6.45pm, he heard gunshots before the tollgate and later realised that the crowd had turned from peaceful protesters to a mob.
On getting to the tollgate, I persuaded the crowd to go home and observe the 24-hour curfew declared by the state government. But surprisingly, the hoodlums continued throwing stones, bottles and other dangerous objects at us and were burning tyre. I again fired some blank ammunition upward to scare the hoodlums away. But some protesters who were still at the tollgate sitting down quietly were given water and drinks by me while pleading with them to go home. We did not fire at the protesters. Blank ammunition were fired upward to scare the hoodlums from the crowd. Nobody was shot dead at the Lekki tollgate, there was no massacre as claimed. The claim that the military took away dead bodies was not true. The protesters were happy to see us as indicated in some of the video clips of 20th October 2020.
On his part, Commander, 81 Division Garrison, VI, Brig Gen Francis Omata said;
On arrival at the tollgate at about 7.30pm, I met a rowdy situation. I also met the Commanding Officer, 65 Battalion (Bello), who briefed me on the situation. He briefed me that he met a hostile crowd, hoodlums mixed with the protesters, who were chanting and throwing stones at them. I was able to disperse the crowd by firing blank ammunition into the air.
At this point, stones and sticks were being thrown at us. Then I moved to a safe area and briefed General Officer Commanding 81 Division, Maj Gen Godwin Ahamefuna Umelo by phone.
The General Officer Commanding directed me to pacify the hostile crowd and move the troops back to base. However, the crowd still continued chanting #EndSARS. I then instructed the troops to withdraw to base.
However, the absence of the two youth representatives serving on the panel stalled proceedings on Saturday November 7, and the army officers could not testify.
The duo, Temitope Majekodunmi and Olorunrinu Oduala, boycotted the panel in protest against the freezing of the bank account of Oduala and 19 others whose accounts were linked to #EndSARS protests.
Doris Okuwobi, chairperson of the nine-member panel, said due to the absence of the youth reps, proceedings will not hold because the panel could form a quorum.
Read Also: #EndSARS: Lagos Judicial Panel Suspended As Rinu, Majekodunmi Boycott Sitting Over Protesters’ Frozen Accounts By CBN
We are confronted with a situation which prevented her from coming. We do not know if the two youth representatives will eventually pull out. We do not want a situation where proceedings will go on and it is impugned that with controversy due to a lack of quorum. In all matters, we have to wait for them to join us, without them we are handicapped.
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