Lekki shootings: Buratai ordered deployment of trainee soldiers, general tells panel

The Commander of 81 Military Intelligence Brigade, Victoria Island, Lagos, Brigadier General Ahmed Taiwo, said on Saturday that the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, ordered the deployment of soldiers undergoing training at military schools for the Lekki exercise due to the shortage of troops.

This was part of the revelations at the ongoing Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry probing the alleged shooting of unarmed #EndSARS protesters by soldiers on the night of October 20 at the Lekki tollgate. The soldiers were deployed to enforce the curfew imposed on the state by the governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

When he appeared to testify before the panel, Taiwo said because “the 81 Division was short of troops, the Chief of Army Staff gave an extraordinary order that all Army schools should be shut down and everybody should be brought to the operation.”

He said incidentally he had only a day before, as an examiner of the Nigerian Army Intelligence, taught the trainee soldiers about internal security techniques, adding that he pointed out to them on the operation day how it was unbelievable that only a day after learning the rules, they were going for an operation in internal security.

…says army unhappy Sanwo-Olu denied inviting soldiers

Taiwo added that the Nigerian Army was unhappy that the governor denied inviting the army, adding that it was also unhappy that the governor said two persons died from the military operation at the tollgate.

The general, who made power-point presentation and showed video footages before the panel, described the #EndSARS protest, particularly from October 18 as “nothing but violence and lawlessness,” stressing that the protest plunged the state into a state of anarchy.

He said he believed that inviting the army was the best decision the governor could have taken given the burning of police stations and looting of firearms and ammunition; killing of policemen, blockage of roads and extortion of money from innocent citizens by hoodlums, who, he said, hijacked the #EndSARS protest.

Taiwo said since the police had been overrun, the intervention of the army was justified, but he said the Army frowned upon Sanwo-Olu’s denial of calling on them.

While showing the panel the footage of a scene where a mob killed someone, set the body ablaze and hoodlums talking about sharing body parts, he said the anarchy was reminiscent of the Liberian civil war.

He said, “These scenes are reminiscent of the Liberian Civil War when the fighters believed that once they consumed human body, they would be fortified, they would be strong.

“It was these incidents that made the governor of Lagos State to ask for military intervention and, in my opinion, that was the correct thing to do since the police had been overrun and policemen were fighting for dear lives.”

Taiwo said, “There are two things the Nigerian Army is not happy about. First is his denial that he asked us to intervene. I spoke with the governor and said Army was unhappy that he said he did not ask the Army to intervene. But I am sure that after you watched everything (video footages), you saw he had more than enough grounds to ask for Army’s intervention; perhaps it was the way everything went.

“The second was that he said two people died and he said, yes, one person died at Admiralty Road due to blunt force trauma. Admiralty Road is about 3 Kilometres from that place (Lekki tollgate).”

He said in trying to seek military intervention, Sanwo-Olu first called the Commander of the 9 Brigade, who told him that he had to follow the correct procedure by contacting the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, and the General Officer Commanding.

He said Sanwo-Olu subsequently called Buratai, the GOC and the Chief of Staff to the President.

He said, “He called the Chief of Army Staff, following which 81 Division, Nigerian Army was ordered into Phase four of internal security operation. The call was in the afternoon, before 4pm.”

Gov didn’t communicate change in curfew commencement time to us –Army

The general said the army was told that the 24-hour curfew declared by Sanwo-Olu would start from 4pm and that the military was not informed after the commencement time was shifted to 9pm.

He said, “Due to the urgency of the situation, it was no wonder that the governor declared a 24-hour curfew, which was supposed to start by 4pm. Analysing that further, it shows that the situation was dire and they wanted everyone off the streets; if you like sleep in your office, or at home, just stay off the streets and let us deal with the criminals.

“After some observation, this timing was shifted till 9pm. However, this timing was not communicated to the Nigerian Army. But be that as it may, the Nigerian Army deployed immediately to forestall further violence and loss of lives.

“The deployment, contrary to what is out there, was done throughout Lagos State upon receipt of instruction to activate Phase four of internal security. The deployment was all over Lagos State, not only Lekki tollgate and the rules of engagement for internal security were strictly followed.”

‘Soldiers used expended bullets’

Taiwo insisted that troops neither shot at nor killed any of the #EndSARS protesters at the tollgate, saying only expended bullets were used. He said this was despite that “hoodlums came to challenge the soldiers and started pelting them with stones and bottles.”

“Blank expended ammunition contains only gunpowder, which just makes noise and a flash,” he said.

He explained that if live bullets were used, many of the protesters would have died, as one live bullet shot at a close range would kill at least three persons.

He stated, “If it hits you in the head, it will deposit the brain on the ground and go out. The entry hole is thin while the exit is wide, if it hits you in the chest or the bowels, the intestines (will) come down.

“I am an expert in ammunition, having stayed so long in the Army. Blank ammunition is slower and can do no damage to the flesh and you have nothing to fear except you take a rifle, put it against your eye and fire.

“Even if you put it against your skin and fire you will only have burn marks to show for it.”

Soldiers served water and drinks to protesters

The general showed a footage of soldiers serving water and drinks to protesters, which he said was at the Lekki tollgate after a substantial number of the protesters had been dispersed.

Protest beyond three days prone to hijack

Taiwo said having been in the military since the 80s, he could tell from experience that once a protest last beyond three days it would be hijacked by hoodlums.

He said, “It was not the aim of the genuine #EndSARS protesters to foment that kind of violence. This, I wholeheartedly believe. However, many of us have lived through the 70s, 80s, 90s and what I can tell you is that once a peaceful protest goes beyond three days, there are hoodlums waiting in the wings to hijack it and cause mayhem. This was not different.

“Things took a turn for the worse on October 20 when hoodlums began burning police stations, looting and stealing arms and ammunition from police stations and as if that was not enough, they were killing policemen in the most gruesome manner.”

Taiwo said the #EndSARS protest gave way to anarchy during which hoodlums began to attack and loot banks and businesses in the state.

He said the Nigerian Army evacuated about N2bn from banks in Lagos State to shield the money from criminals, adding that he was most hurt to see even women leading their children to break into private business places to loot. He added that the palace of the Oba of Lagos was attacked in a way that the Queen of England would never be attacked under any situation.

“We were able to help banks evacuate about N2bn after two days,” he added.

Army alleges misinformation campaign, knocks DJ Switch

The general lamented alleged misinformation against the Nigerian Army on the Internet in relation to its role in the Lekki tollgate incident.

According to him, some of the people peddling false information against the Army were doing it for pecuniary gains.

He accused a popular disc jockey, DJ Switch, who said she counted not less than 15 dead bodies at the tollgate, of being one of such persons.

Taiwo said, “Some people take delight in misrepresenting Nigeria and particularly the Nigerian Army to the international community and our fellow Nigerians. This, I believe, is done for pecuniary gains.

“Quite recently, a Nigerian, Catherine Umeh, also known as DJ Switch, claimed the Nigerian Army was looking for her. There is nothing farther from the truth.

“My Lord, we have bigger fish to fry; and that is how to stabilise Lagos. We can’t be bothered chasing one or two people. Where she got that from, I do not know.”

He said, “We have those who constantly seek to drive a wedge between us and the citizens, forgetting that the result of a hated Armed Forces and hated security agencies is anarchy. We have seen it happen in Nigeria before; the Boko Haram crisis started as a quarrel by Boko Haram against the Federal Road Safety Corps over the use of helmet.

“Some citizens were supporting Boko Haram; it graduated to attacks on the police, then it went on to attacks on the Armed Forces and the Army and they were happy; yes, we are attacking the police; we are attacking the Army. Where do we find ourselves now? The same Boko Haram is attacking and killing innocent civilians. I am sure they regret their support initially.”

Army rescued Oba of Lagos — General

Taiwo also told the judicial panel that the military rescued the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, when hoodlums invaded his palace.

He said, “Both the Oba and his family were ferried to safety by the Nigerian Army,” Taiwo said as he played a video recording of the monarch and his family being rescued and taken into a military pickup truck.

“The business district areas were looted and offices were ransacked and destroyed. The hoodlums attempted to invade the Government House, but it was repelled.”

Lagos lawyer cross-examines general

Shortly after the Commander of 81 Military Intelligence Brigade, Victoria Island, Lagos, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Taiwo, testified before the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry, he was cross-examined by the counsel to the Lagos State Government, Mr Abiodun Owonikoko(SAN). Below is the excerpts.

Owonikoko: Who made that call? Is it a military decision or decision of the governor of the state? Who made the call that ‘we were now at Phase 4, guys move?’ The decision of the governor is to say this thing is out of our hand; the police are overwhelmed; the threat is real and we need additional force. It is a request; he made a request. Is that not so?

General Taiwo: Yes

Owonikoko: Mr President makes the decision whether that request, as at that time, was warranted. Is that not so? You have confirmed here that the governor tried to get the President and the Chief of Army Staff.

General Taiwo: I didn’t say Mr President. I know he (the governor) spoke to the Chief of Staff to Mr President, he spoke to the Chief of Army Staff and the GOC, 81 Division. Also before then, he had spoken to the Commander, 9 Brigade but the commander does not have the power to deploy troops in that manner.

Owonikoko: I am very happy with what you said. Now, with all these calls, Mr Governor has no …. power to who…whether his request made sense or not. Am I right sir?

General Taiwo: I don’t know….

Owoniko: Please General, let’s not dabble into politics and constitutionalism. You know I asked you before that when the President made an order in terms of security in the state, the governor has no right to veto it. He must comply. What I am saying is that, the request to deploy armed forces by a governor is just what it is – a request. The decision whether that will be done is left to the Commander in Chief and his team of security officers. That is simple; it’s obvious.

General Taiwo: What you are saying is that when the governor called for intervention, we should ….. pack off.

Owonikoko: No, that is not what I am saying. I am saying that he has to do that because he has no right of command over the forces so he went to the higher authorities and said, ‘look this is where we are, we need it.’ Then the authorities made an informed judgment based on facilities and intelligence…..So what I am trying to find out from you, sir is that if Mr President considered that it was unnecessary for the military to be deployed that day, would the governor be in a position to direct you to go out?

General Taiwo: Obviously no.

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