Who is afraid of Lekki shooting panel?

Hardball

 

WHAT actually happened at the Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos, on the evening of October 20, 2020?  Did soldiers indeed “massacre” civilians engaged in a peaceful protest against abuse of power by the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police Force, known as SARS?  The Lekki protesters were the focal point of the nationwide #EndSARS protests.

Of course, the Nigerian Army is at the centre of the probe by the Lagos State Judicial Panel on Restitution for Victims of SARS-related Abuses and Other Matters.

But there are indications that the army is not cooperating with the investigators. The General Officer Commanding 81 Division, Maj. Gen. Godwin Umelo, and the Commanding Officer, 65 Battalion, Bonny Camp, Victoria Island, Lagos, Lt. Col. S.O. Bello, have failed to appear before the panel, which has summoned them twice. In particular, Lt. Col. Bello is a person of interest because he led the battalion involved in the Lekki shooting under investigation.

The Commander of 81 Division, Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Taiwo, had testified before the panel, denying claims that soldiers shot #EndSARS protesters with live bullets during the operation. However, the panel was not expected to limit its probe to Brig. Gen. Taiwo’s testimony, which explains why it summoned Maj. Gen. Umelo and Lt. Col. Bello.

It is unclear why the two officers shunned the panel’s invitation. But there is no justification for their failure to honour the invitation. They are expected to appear before the panel not only to clarify the issue but also to exculpate the army. Their non-cooperation is bad for the army’s image.

The army should be concerned about its image. It should avoid being seen as acting as if it is above the law. It should be conscious that it is supposed to operate under the law in a democracy.

It is reassuring that the panel’s chairman, retired Justice Doris Okuwobi, ordered that fresh summons be issued to the concerned officers. “Service shall also be made to the Office of the Chief of Army Staff…,” she said.  It remains to be seen how the army boss, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, will respond.

It is noteworthy that the army’s version of the Lekki incident is marked by twists and turns. The army initially claimed its personnel were not at the toll gate when the incident happened, then later admitted it had deployed soldiers to the place with live and blank bullets, maintaining that soldiers shot into the air and did not kill any protester.

If the army has nothing to hide and is not afraid of the panel, it should cooperate with the investigators.

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Source: The Nation

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