Nigeria’s federal government has rejected a report by a judicial panel that concluded the October 2020 shooting of protesters at Lekki toll gate could be described as a massacre by the military that officials tried to cover up.
Information Minister Lai Mohammed Tuesday said the panel’s report, which was leaked and widely shared on social media last week, was “nothing but the triumph of fake news.”
Speaking at a press conference in the nation’s capital Abuja, Mohammed doubled down on the government’s persistent denial of the Lekki shooting, saying: “That report is nothing but the triumph of fake news and the intimidation of a silent majority by a vociferous lynch mob.”
The minister also criticized CNN for “celebrating” the report in a “rush to claim vindication.”
However, a member of the panel Segun Awosanya told CNN Wednesday that the panel’s findings were based on objectivity and facts.
He added that the minister’s comment was improper coming at a time the country was still healing from the Lekki incident.
“Whatever it is that Alhaji Lai Mohammed had said at his press conference … is not the proper way that such an issue should be addressed in a nation that wants healing, justice and wants to win the trust of the public,” Awosanya said, adding that “the panel worked objectively and surgically … towards ensuring that the truth and the facts are allowed to appear, and we gave our recommendations based on that.”
Reacting to Mohammed’s claim that the leaked report “cannot be relied upon because its authenticity is in doubt,” Awosanya told CNN that hard copies of the report had been sent to the Lagos government.
“The report is not a public document. A leak or no leak shouldn’t be the problem of the government… What matters to us is that we submitted hard copies to the government, and the government has promised to respond to it in two weeks through a white paper and make the same public. We wrote the report, we put it together and we have a consensus on it,” he said.
The Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution at the Lagos Court of Arbitration had documented in its year-long report that the shooting of young protesters who were protesting peacefully against alleged police brutality by Nigerian security forces at the Lekki toll gate, could be considered a “massacre.”
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called for action once the panel’s report has been released officially. “There may be reforms that are necessary” to ensure a similar event is not repeated, he said.
“If there are individuals that, as it emerges from this report, are responsible for committing abuses, there has to be accountability in terms of those individuals,” he told CNN.
A Nigerian government narration of the incident has long denied that protesters were shot at the toll gate, despite video evidence and multiple witness accounts collated by CNN.
Mohammed’s rejection of the report came a week after the Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said his government would implement the panel’s recommendations, according to local media.
A statement released by the Lagos government also quoted the chairperson of the panel, Justice Doris Okuwobi, to have said around 70 victims of police brutality have been awarded a total of 410 million naira (around $1 million) as compensation.
The panel’s report was welcomed by Amnesty International, which noted that “the panel’s findings reveal the truth about what happened at Lekki toll gate and contradict the blatant denial by the Nigerian government that deadly force was used against peaceful #EndSARS protesters.”
The US Mission in Nigeria also welcomed the conclusion of the panel’s sittings, stating that it looks forward to the Lagos government’s response.
President Muhammadu Buhari had recently told Blinken, during an official visit in Abuja that the Nigerian government will wait for pronouncements from panels set up by other states to investigate police brutality in the country before taking further steps.