The Commander of 81 Military Intelligence Brigade, Victoria Island, Lagos, Brigadier General Ahmed Taiwo, has explained that Phase Four of military internal security operation, which was deployed at the Lekki tollgate on the night October 20, involved the use of both live and blank ammunition.
He said the soldiers took live bullets to the scene for the purpose of self defence
Taiwo said a portion of the troops that operated at the tollgate on that night were indeed armed with live bullets.
He, however, maintained that only soldiers with blank bullets fired shots into the air.
The general stated this on Saturday at the resumed proceedings of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry probing the alleged killing of EndSARS protesters at the Lekki tollgate on the night of October 20 by soldiers.
Taiwo, who had earlier made a presentation before the panel in defence of the Nigerian Army on November 14, returned on Saturday for cross-examination by two counsel for EndSARS protesters, Messrs Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika (SAN) and Mr Adesina Ogunlana.
When Olumide-Fusika asked Taiwo if soldiers who went to the tollgate carried guns, Taiwo said, “When you are talking of guns, you are talking about high-calibre guns. They were carrying rifles; not guns.”
On further pressing by Olumide-Fusika, Taiwo added, “Definitely, a portion of the Force will carry live bullets, in case they are attacked. But the soldiers that formed the firing team, who fired, used blank bullets. And that is why you watched the video and saw exactly what happened.”
Also, under cross-examination by Ogunlana, Taiwo explained that in Phase Four military internal security operation “soldiers would be given both live and blank bullets.”
He said, “In this particular case, we saw that the peaceful protest had been infiltrated by hoodlums. They were peaceful protesters, no doubt, but there were also hoodlums who sought to take advantage, that was why they were armed with blank bullets in addition with live bullets.”
Seven military trucks deployed at tollgate, CCTV reveals
Meanwhile, the panel concluded the viewing of the CCTV footage submitted by the Lekki Concession Company, operator of the Lekki tollgate.
The CCTV footage showed that the Nigerian Army deployed no fewer than seven vehicles to the tollgate in the evening of October 20.
The footage showed that the scene was calm until about 6.43pm when people could be seen running towards the tollgate from the Oriental Hotel end. Two minutes later, at 6.45pm, military vehicles, with flashing headlights, arrived on the scene. The some of the military trucks were white coloured, while the others were black.
At 6.53pm, about eight minutes after the arrival of the military vehicles, the tollgate went into a blackout. Two minutes later, at 6.55pm, one of the military vehicles drove through the tollgate to the other end where the crowd of protesters was gathered.
Soldiers started shooting at 6.43, says general
When asked by Olumide-Fusika when the soldiers began shooting, Taiwo said, “From the video we watched, I reckon by 6.43pm.”
Olumide-Fusika pointed out that the soldiers did not start shooting immediately they arrived at the tollgate, suggesting that they were waiting for the light to go off, so they could operate under the cover of darkness, but Taiwo responded, “It is absolutely untrue.”
Taiwo told the panel that the soldiers disembarked from the vehicles before they arrived at the tollgate. According to him, the soldiers were confronted by hoodlums pelting them with stones around the Oniru junction before the tollgate.
“When the soldiers disembarked and cleared the hoodlums, everybody started running. By the time the soldiers fired a few shots into the air, the hoodlums hightailed it,” he said.
When asked if any of the soldiers sustained an injury, Taiwo was one soldier was hit by a stone on the lips.
No gunshot signs at tollgate during my visit – General
Taiwo told the panel that he was not personally at the tollgate on October 20 but went there the following day. When Olumide-Fusika asked him, “What were your observations at the tollgate on the day you visited?” the general replied, “I didn’t see any signs of gunshots.”
But Olumide-Fusika said a number his clients, “for whom I am here, claimed they were shot and suffered gunshot injuries and it happened at the Lekki tollgate. Your account was that nobody died?”
Responding, Taiwo maintained that nobody died.
“When you got to Lekki, was there any other uniform organisation that you met on the ground?” Olumide-Fusika asked. In response, Taiwo said, “Definitely, members of the Nigeria Police were around that vicinity, Oriental Hotel.”
‘Sanwo-Olu misinformed about tollgate deaths’
When Olumide-Fusika pointed out that the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, had, during interaction with the press, said about 27 persons were injured and two died, Taiwo said, “The governor was probably misinformed; whoever gave him that information, he was misinformed.”
‘Why we initially denied that soldiers went to tollgate’
When Olumide-Fusika asked Taiwo if he was aware that the Nigerian Army initially denied that soldiers were at the tollgate, the general said, “The first statement was borne out of the fact that we did not have the full facts at that time. The fact is that nobody was sent to the Lekki tollgate to break up any protest,” stressing that the soldiers were only passing through the tollgate on their way towards Epe.
“But you were there,” Olumide-Fusika told him, in reply, Taiwo said, “I was not at that tollgate.”
Taiwo also said he was not aware of the statement by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN),that hoodlums in military uniform might be behind the shooting at the tollgate.
‘Soldiers went back to barracks after tollgate shootings’
Though Taiwo maintained that the soldiers were only passing through the tollgate on their way to Epe when they met the protesters at the tollgate, he said the soldiers went back to their barracks at the shootings at the tollgate.
“They later went out at about 11pm,” he said.
Asked by Ogunlana if the protesters at the tollgate violated the curfew imposed by the governor, Taiwo said the soldiers were not sent out to enforce the curfew.
“About the curfew, it is with hindsight that we realised that the curfew was shifted. The truth is that the troops were not there to enforce the curfew. But since it was 6-7pm and the curfew was to start by 9pm, they were not in breach.”
‘Why we submitted BBC report’
Asked why the military singled out a report by the British Broadcasting Corporation and submitted to the panel, rather than reports by any of the other international media, including Aljazeera and the Deutsche Welle, Taiwo said it was only the BBC report that the military saw.
“You presented only the BBC report because the report was palatable to you; you didn’t present Aljazeera and Deutsche Welle because they were not palatable to you,” Olumide-Fusika said, in response, Taiwo said, “It was the BBC that we saw.”