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Post-EndSARS: 100 killed, 269 assets burnt, says govt

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  • Six soldiers, 37 policemen among dead
  • CNN stands by Lekki shooting report

The grim reality of the looting spree and massive destruction that followed last month’s #EndSARS protests came to the fore on Thursday.

No fewer than 100 people – including six soldiers and 37 policemen – were killed in the orgy of violence.

Destroyed, vandalised or looted were 269 private and companies’ assets.

Not less than 243 government facilities were burnt or vandalized and 81 government warehouses looted.

1,957 inmates were set free from eight Medium Security Custodial Centres in six states  and 31 employees of the Prisons Service were injured. The states are: Edo, Lagos, Abia, Delta, Ondo and Ebonyi.

There were about 196 injured policemen, 164 police vehicles destroyed and 134 police stations burnt.

Minister of Information Lai Mohammed gave the statistics in Abuja at a news conference.

The figures are an update on what Inspector-General of Police Mohammed Adamu released on October 30. Adamu put the nationwide death toll as 73.

But the figure of 205 destroyed police stations he gave is higher than the figure given yesterday by the minister.

The government insisted that there was no massacre of demonstrators during the #EndSARS protest in Lekki, Lagos.

Mohammed said what is being portrayed as “social media massacre” or a “hoax massacre,” a case of massacre without bodies.

The government condemned Wednesday’s CNN report on #EndSARS protest in Lekki as “irresponsible journalism.”

It said the CNN should face sanctions for relying  on unverified and doctored videos.

Worried by the carnage, the government said there is no going back on its plan to regulate the social media.

It said social media was used to guide arsonists and looters to certain properties.

Mohammed asked the international community not to be misled by posts on social media seeking imposition of sanctions on Nigeria.

He said: “The role of the human rights organizations, in particular, became suspect after they simply ignored the brutal killing and maiming of security agents during the crisis and instead continued to dwell on the bodiless and bloodless ‘massacre’ at Lekki Toll Gate.

“They did not see anything wrong in the public and private properties that were burnt or looted, neither did they see anything wrong in the fact that some of the businesses that were looted belonged to struggling young men and women. All they could see in their biased view of the whole situation was a hoax massacre.”

He said the Army, the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Nigeria Customs Service and Nigeria Immigration Service were attacked by hoodlum during the #EndSARS crisis.

He said: “The Federal Government will therefore not accept a situation in which some so-called human rights bodies and jaundiced media organisations will continue to harass the security agencies over their roles during the crisis.

“Soldiers, policemen and other security agents deserve commendation, not condemnation, except, of course, their critics are saying they are not human beings and that their own rights do not matter.

“It is depressing and demoralizing to continue to vilify men and women in uniform, who themselves were victims of senseless violence unleashed by hoodlums.”

He said the government was satisfied with the roles of the military and the police during the crisis.

He added: “At this point, it is important to say that the Federal Government is very satisfied with the role played by the security agencies, especially the military and the police, all through the EndSARS crisis. The security agents were professional and measured in their response.

“Even when their lives were at stake, they exercised uncommon restraint. Their professionalism and measured response saved many lives and properties. For example, despite arresting hordes of looters during the violence in Lagos, the army treated them humanely and even counseled them before handing them over to the police.

“The same cannot be said of those who unleashed mayhem on the security agents, killing and maiming them, sometimes in such a barbaric manner that is unprecedented in these parts.”

The Minister asked countries that had made hasty judgment on #EndSARS protest to seek the truth.

He said it was regretful that some people and the international community have been calling for sanctions against Nigeria

Mohammed said:” Sadly, the purveyors of fake news and disinformation succeeded in deceiving the world that indeed there was mass killing in Lekki, even when, till date, not a single body has been produced and not a single family or relative has come out to say their child or ward was killed at Lekki.

“More surprising and irresponsible is the fact that some people have been calling for sanctions against Nigeria or against Nigerian government officials on the basis of a hoax. This is one of the dangers of fake news and disinformation.

Once fake news is out, many run with it, without looking back, even when the truth is eventually revealed. We therefore want to use this opportunity to ask those who have alleged massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate to go to the Judicial Panel to present their evidence(s) to the world or simply admit that they have goofed.

“While we await the Judicial Panel in Lagos to unravel what transpired at the Lekki Toll Gate, what we can say, based on testimonies available in the public space, is that the world may have just witnessed, for the very first time ever, a MASSACRE WITHOUT BODIES! Some have tagged it ‘social media massacre’.

“The testimony of Brig.-Gen, Ahmed Ibrahim Taiwo of the Nigerian Army before the Panel was compelling, and I am sure many of you have listened to or watched it.

“The highlights, for those who may not have watched the testimony, are:

  • Soldiers were deployed all over Lagos, including Lekki Toll Gate, after the other security agencies were overwhelmed on Oct. 20th 2020, upon the request of the state government.
  • Before deployment, the soldiers were briefed on the Rules of Engagement, which they adhered to all through
  • Soldiers at Lekki Toll Gate fired blank ammunitions into the air
  • Blank ammunition cannot do any damage to the flesh, not to talk of killing anyone
  • Firing live ammunition into the crowd, as some have alleged, would have led to mass killing, which never happened..

Govt demands sanctions for CNN

The Minister, who faulted the CNN report on the #EndSARS protest at Lekki Toll Gate, said the international TV channel should be sanctioned for peddling falsehood.

He said: “Like everyone else, I watched the CNN report. I must tell you that it reinforces the disinformation that is going round, and it is blatantly irresponsible and a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organization.

“CNN engaged in incredible sensationalism and did a great disservice to itself and to journalism. In the first instance, CNN, which touted its report as an exclusive investigative report, sadly relied on the same videos that have been circulating on social media, without verification. This is very serious and CNN should be sanctioned for that. “CNN merely said the videos were ”obtained by CNN”, without saying wherefrom and whether or not it authenticated them.

“Were CNN reporters and cameramen at the Lekki Toll Gate that evening? If the answer is no, on what basis were they reporting? Relying on second or third hand information and presenting it as ”CNN Investigation”? Why didn’t the CNN balance its story by showing the compelling testimony of Brig.-Gen. Taiwo before the Judicial Panel in Lagos? Is this one-sided reporting what is expected from an international media organisation or any serious news organisation?

“If CNN had done its investigation properly, it would have known how fake news and disinformation were trending during the EndSARS crisis. The BBC even did a report on this, and we recommend that report to CNN. Talking about the BBC, a reporter with the BBC’s Pidgin Service, Damilola Banjo, was at Lekki Toll Gate protest ground that night. She was quoted as saying soldiers were indeed at the Toll Gate but they shot ‘’sporadically into the air’’ and not at the protesters. CNN that was not at the scene reported otherwise.

“In airing its so-called investigative report, CNN conveniently forgot that on Oct. 23rd 2020, it tweeted, from its verified twitter handle, that the military killed 38 people when it opened fire on peaceful protesters on Tuesday, Oct. 20th 2020. Less than a month later, the same CNN, in what it called an EXCLUSIVE report based on a rehash of old, unverified videos, was only able to confirm that one person died in the same incident.

“In its jaundiced reporting, CNN was blind to the fact that six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed in unprovoked attacks. Obviously, CNN did not consider the security agents human enough. CNN, in its ‘investigation’, was blind to the wanton destruction of property in Lagos and across the country.

“Also, CNN was blind to the burning of police stations and vehicles all over the country. Instead, it went to town with unverified social media footages, in its desperation to prove that people were killed at the Lekki Toll Gate. Again, this is irresponsible journalism for which CNN deserves to be sanctioned.

“We insist that the military did not shoot at protesters at Lekki Toll Gate. They fired blank ammunition in the air. Again, anyone who knows anyone who was killed at Lekki Toll Gate should head to the Judicial Panel with conclusive evidence of such.”

But the CNN yesterday insisted that it stood by its story on the Lekki shooting.

Mohammed said: “This development has reinforced the campaign against fake news and disinformation, which we launched in 2018. As a matter of fact, as far back as 2017, when we dedicated that year’s National Council on Information to the issue of fake news and disinformation, we had been expressing concerns on the dangers posed by irresponsible use of the new media platform. “The concerns culminated in the launch of the national campaign which I referred to earlier.

“The social media was used to guide arsonists and looters to certain properties, both public and private. Pictures of persons, including some celebrities, who were supposedly killed at the Lekki Toll Gate by soldiers, were circulated widely, only for those persons to refute such claims or for the discerning to disprove such posts. As we have said many times, no responsible government will stand by and allow such abuse of social media to continue.

“The fake news/disinformation purveyors have latched on to our concerns to allege that the Federal Government is planning to shut down social media. No, we have no plans to shut down the social media.

“What we have always advocated, and what we will do, is to regulate the social media. Nigeria is not alone in this regard. The issue of social media regulation is an ongoing debate not just in Nigeria but around the world, including in the United States, which is the flag flyer of constitutional democracy. Even the owners of the various social media platforms, including Facebook, are increasingly joining the call for content regulation.

“Some respected opinion leaders have been playing to the gallery on the issue of social media regulation by making inciting and incendiary statements, while some other individuals and groups have been threatening fire and brimstone over the issue of social media regulation.

“What they have failed to understand is that the only reason we are even able to have this debate is because we have a country.

“If we allow the abuse of social media to precipitate uncontrolled internecine violence, the kind of which was narrowly averted during the EndSARS crisis, no one will remember or be able to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, for whatever purpose.

“It is incumbent upon us all, therefore, to strike a balance between free speech – which this Administration is committed to upholding – and fake news/disinformation, which it is determined to fight.

Minister takes on DJ Switch

The Minister took some swipes at Obianuju Catherine Udeh, who claimed to have evidence of mass killings at the Lekki Toll Gate.

He described DJ Switch as a  fraud and a front for divisive and destructive forces.

He said: “Still on the alleged Lekki Toll Gate massacre, one of the purveyors of fake news and disinformation during the EndSARS crisis was DJ Switch, real name Obianuju Catherine Udeh, even though she claimed to have authentic evidence of mass killings. “Surprisingly, instead of presenting whatever evidence she may have to the Judicial Panel, she chose to escape from the country under the pretext that her life was in danger. I ask: in danger from whom? The military has come out to say they never sought after her.

“To the best of our knowledge, the police never declared her wanted. Her conduct thus becomes suspect. Who is she fronting for? What is her real motive? Who are her sponsors? If she has any evidence of killings, why is she not presenting it to the Panel? “If she was so desperate for asylum in any country, does she have to resort to blatant falsehood to tarnish the image of the country just to achieve her aim? In the fullness of time, this lady will be exposed for what she is, a fraud and a front for divisive and destructive forces.

“DJ Switch (Obianuju Catherine Udeh) should quit peddling falsehood and present her case, with verifiable evidence, to the Judicial Panel sitting in Lagos. No agency of government has declared her wanted hence she has no reason fleeing or seeking asylum anywhere.

“At this juncture, we want to appeal to countries that have made hasty judgements on the basis of fake news and disinformation emanating from the EndSARS crisis to endeavour to seek and find the truth.”

Imposition of fines

Regarding fines imposed on some electronic media by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Mohammed said they were justified.

He said: “In the aftermath of the #EndSARS crisis, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) fined three broadcast stations for using unverified and dangerous information from social media. Commentators, many of whom didn’t even know why the NBC imposed the fine, rushed to allege an attempt to stifle free speech.

“Unknown to them, the stations themselves know that they breached the Broadcasting Code. Two of them have paid their fines in full, while the third has paid a part of the fine, with an appeal for time to pay the balance.

“The position of the Federal Government is that not only were the fines justified, the NBC was indeed lenient. It is sad to see the traditional media jettisoning the age-long gate-keeping process and instead rushing to rely on the free-wheeling social media – devoid of any gate keeping – for news.

“Sadly, there is an emerging trend in which even the traditional media is freely using materials from social media without taking the pains to verify their authenticity. This is a dangerous trend that must be curbed, in the interest of the media practitioners themselves, the profession and indeed the country.

“Had the NBC wielded the big stick, some broadcast media organizations would have faced more severe sanctions than mere fines. Recall that an otherwise reputable broadcast media organization had carried a fake report that the Ecumenical Centre in Abuja was on fire during the violence that followed the protest.

“Though the organization in question later retracted the story, the kind of reprisal attack this could have sparked is better imagined.

“Also, another reputable broadcast media organization featured a report that identified a maintenance worker atop a bank building overlooking the Lekki Toll Gate as a sniper, leading to attacks that destroyed many of the bank’s branches.

“The organisations have not even been sanctioned for this terrible disinformation, yet rabble rousers have latched on to the fines to make all sorts of baseless allegations.”

But a group under the auspices of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) yesterday faulted the minister’s comment and reaction to the CNN ‘s report.

HURIWA, in a statement by his national coordinator Emmanuel Onwubiko, described the minister’s remarks as “irrational and unwarranted”.

Onwubiko said: “It is shameful that rather than applaud and commend the CNN for it’s deployment of the highest quality of technology to ascertain what exactly took place on October 20th at Lekki toll gate, Lagos State, a cabinet level minister in Nigeria paid by the public is rather engaging in warfare against the public.

“What took place today as press conference by the minister has nothing informative and cultural about it. The reason for saying this is that the minister is promoting misinformation by fighting qualitative dissemination of information as was done by the cable news network CNN. (NATION)

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