After a series of denials, retractions and admissions, the Nigerian Army has stated that its men actually shot at protesters at the Lekki toll gate.
Brig. Gen. Musa Etsu-Ndagi, Commander, 9 Brigade of the Nigerian Army who represented the Army on the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry, set up to investigate the shooting of #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, insisted that his men did not kill any of the protesters.
Brig. Gen. Etsu-Ndagi who is one of the top four military officers listed as witnesses of the Nigerian Army before the Panel, gave his evidence on oath filed at the panel’s registry on Friday, November 6.
The other Army officers who are listed as witnesses on the panel include the Commander of 81 Military Intelligence Brigade, Victoria Island, Lagos, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Taiwo; the Chief of Staff, 81 Division, Nigerian Army, Lagos, Brig. Gen. Nsikak Edet; and the Commander, 81 Division Garrison, Brig. Gen. Francis Omata.
Etsu Ndagi explained that it was the governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who called to inform him that the leader of the team, Lt. Col. Bello was “shooting at the Lekki Toll Gate where #EndSARS protesters were gathered.”
Etsu-Ndagi said he immediately put a call to Lt. Col. Bello, who, incidentally, is the Commanding Officer, 65 Battalion, Bonny Camp, Victoria Island, and that he (Bello) told him he only fired blank ammunition into the air to disperse the protesters.
Etsu-Ndagi and the other Nigerian Army top brass, however, insisted that soldiers never shot directly at the protesters, neither was anyone killed at the Toll Gate on the night of October 20.
The Army officers strongly denied using live ammunition on the #EndSARS protesters, adding that soldiers did not take away any dead body as allegedly reported in some media outlets.
Brig. Gen. Omata and Lt. Col. Bello told the panel that by the time they arrived at the Toll Gate, the protest had turned violent and they had to fire blank bullets into the air to disperse the crowd which had become restive.
They added that on arrival at the Toll Gate, the soldiers were pelted with stones and broken bottles and to control them and disperse the crowd, they had to fire blank bullets into the air.
“On arrival at the Toll Gate at about 7.30pm, I met a rowdy situation. I also met the Commanding Officer, 65 Battalion, Lt. Col. 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 GOC 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,” Brig. Gen Omata said.
Bello who also gave his account of the incident said:
“On getting to the Toll Gate, I persuaded the crowd to go home and observe the 24-hours curfew declared by the state government. But surprisingly, the hoodlums continued throwing stones, bottles and other dangerous objects at us and were burning tyres.
I again fired some blank ammunition upward to scare the hoodlums away. But some protesters who were still at the Toll Gate sitting down quietly were given water and drinks by me while pleading with them to go home.”
Bello also insisted that at no time did his men fire directly at the protesters.
“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 Toll Gate; 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.”
This came after the Army had initially denied ever being at the toll gate, as it tagged initial reports that soldier shot at protesters fake news.
The Army later admitted being at the toll gate but denied shooting at the protesters, even as it stated that the state governor had requested for soldiers to enforce a curfew imposed on the state.