After days of extensive reporting, PREMIUM TIMES brought out a clearer picture of what happened at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20. It was immediately clear that what happened in Lekki was exactly a reenactment of what happened in Zaria between December 12 and 13 2015. REFLECTION-ONLINE looks at the similarities and differences.
Lekki: At about 6:45 p.m. on October 20, men in military uniform arrived at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos in three Toyota Hilux vans and almost immediately began shooting into a crowd of peaceful protesters gathered there waving the Nigerian green-and-white flag and reciting the national anthem. Protesters and other witnesses at the toll gate claimed several people were injured and killed in the shooting.
Zaria: At about 12:15 pm on December 12, 2015 men in military uniform arrived at the front of the Hussainiyyah Islamic Center in Zaria in a military truck. They did not start shooting immediately like in Lekki, but took position in front of the Hussainiyah with their boxes of ammunition. There were no protests or protesters at that point.
Lekki: A popular Disc Jockey, DJ Switch, who streamed the incident live on Instagram, claimed that the soldiers, after the shooting, took the dead away. She also claimed that a team of police officers arrived later to mop up after the soldiers. She said the military initially prevented first responders and ambulances from reaching the injured but later allowed them through. She said she saw at least 15 corpses and claimed that security agents took the bodies away. Several people who watched her Instagram live broadcast claimed they saw protesters being fired upon by soldiers. They said some protesters died of bullet wounds while others were left with mild to critical injuries.
Zaria: The military men unexpectedly opened fire on members of the Islamic Movement who were at the time making preparation for the symbolic change of the Islamic flag, from the black mourning to the green ceremonial one to herald the start of the Muslim month of Rabiúl Awwal, the birth month of the Prophet (S). The initial shooting resulted in the death of about 15 people and injured many others. The military was seen dragging the bodies of their initial victims into military truck and Road safety vehicles (Video clip below, first 90 secs). Some of the bodies were successfully taken into the Hussainiyyah and were receiving first aid (Video clip below, 60 secs).
Lekki: Similarly, a rights group, Amnesty International,claimed 10 people were killed during the shooting at the toll gate, and two others at the Alausa protest ground.
Zaria: Amnesty International produced the report below:
Nigeria: Military cover-up of mass slaughter at Zaria exposed
Mass slaughter of hundreds of men, women and children by soldiers in Zaria and the attempted cover-up of this crime demonstrates an utter contempt for human life and accountability, said Amnesty International as it publishes evidence gathered on the ground revealing how the Nigerian military burned people alive, razed buildings and dumped victims’ bodies in mass graves.
The true horror of what happened over those two days in Zaria is only now coming to light. Bodies were left littered in the streets and piled outside the mortuary. Some of the injured were burned alive
The report, Unearthing the truth: Unlawful killings and mass cover-up in Zaria, contains shocking eyewitness testimony of large-scale unlawful killings by the Nigerian military and exposes a crude attempt by the authorities to destroy and conceal evidence.
Prior to that, the army had denied killing anyone.
Lekki: However, the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who described the shooting as a “dark note in the history of the state” and blamed the shooting on forces beyond the “direct control” of his government, originally said no life was lost in the shooting.
He later admitted that two persons died from the incident, one of them from blunt force trauma.
On Monday, during an interview on CNN, Mr Sanwo-Olu continued to discredit the accounts of witnesses about the number of deaths and wounded from the shooting. He said no bloodstain was found at the scene of the shooting when he visited
“What has happened is that there have been so many footages that were seen, that people have shown, but we have not seen bodies,” he said. “We have not seen relatives, we have not seen anybody truly coming out to say I am a father or a mother to someone and I cannot find that person. Nobody has turned up. I have been to the ground, there is no scratch of blood anywhere there.”
Zaria: We witnessed a different reaction from the state governor, Nasiru El-Rufai, while not getting himself into the debate of whether or not military opened fire, laid the entire blame on the members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria. He accused them of forming a state within a state. He accused them of not recognizing him as the governor or Buhari as the President. There were many other allegations in his state broadcast. He then said a judicial Commission of Inquiry would be set up.
There was little or virtually no international coverage, especially the CNN and other Western media like in the case of Lekki.
Lekki: Despite accounts by witnesses and video posted online, the Nigerian Army denied that its personnel fired upon protesters.The army initially claimed its troops were not at Lekki that night. However, it later admitted that soldiers were deployed on the request of the Lagos State government. The army, however, insists that its personnel did not open fire on the protesters, let alone kill any.
Zaria: In the same vein, the military maintained that they didn’t kill any Shiites despite numerous video clips to the contrary. At the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, they remained adamant that anyone was killed. The Chief of Army Staff submitted to the National Human Rights Commission that only 7 Shiites lost their lives. Even after the exposure of mass grave by Amnesty International after a meticulously carried out investigation, the military men became uncooperative with the Judicial Commission. The military flouted the allegation that the Shiites had plotted to assasinate the Chief of Army Staff by blocking his path in front of their Hussainiyyah. It didn’t explain what took them to the Gyellesu residence of Sheikh Zakzaky some 5km away from the alleged spot, whom by the way was not at the Hussainiyyah. It also didn’t explain what took them to Darul Rahamah in the outskirt of Zaria some 15km away from the Hussainiyyah. In fact, it didn’t explain why they went to demolish Sheikh Zakzaky’s mother’s home and grave.
The Lekki Shooting: Checking the facts
Piecing together details of on-the-ground reporting, credible information posted online by citizens, accounts by witnesses and victims as well as information obtained from top military sources, PREMIUM TIMES can now paint a clearer picture of what happened at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20.
The newspaper’s investigative team set out to unravel what actually happened on the evening of the shooting and the hours that followed.
As this medium gathered evidence for this investigation, Sodiq Adeoye, an employee of research firm SBM Intelligence, informed one of our reporters after the shooting that some residents of Admiralty Way, Lekki Phase 1, a highbrow neighbourhood, about two kilometres from the Lekki Toll Gate, found a body floating in the lagoon just behind their houses.
The Zaria Massacre: Checking the facts
The massacre in Zaria differs from the Lekki shootings in many respects. Firstly, the Zaria massacre occurred in multiple sites, almost simultaneously, over three days, from 12th December to 14th December, 2020 (days inclusive). A team of investigative journalists and human rights activists investigated these multiple sites, gathering evidences, talking with witnesses and survivors and scrutinizing all available video clips and pictures from memory sticks of survivors. This painstaking exercise produced valuable evidence, which we will share a little with the public.
While army reached Hussainiyyah shortly after 12 Noon and took positions and opened fire without provocation some minutes after, they arrived Gyellesu at about 9 pm and heralded their presence with multiple shots fired from all directions. By that time, they had cordoned off Hussainiyyah, thereby trapping hundreds of mostly women and children.
As they shot their way to the residence of the Sheikh, it was relatively quiet at Hussainiyyah until at about 2 am when they shone a bright light that illuminated the whole edifice. They started making announcements that people should come out. When however, they started getting out, the soldiers opened fire killing them instantly. So the others decided to remain within the building. That remained until around 5 am, when the soldiers threw an explosive that shattered the front of the building. Almost immediately, they started demolishing the northern wall and making their way into the compound, shooting almost anything and anybody that moved.
At the same time, those of them at the Gyellesu residence of Sheikh Zakzaky had also reached the southern and western walls of the compound. All along their path to the house, piles of corpses lay. Within the compound, they shot at injured people who could not run. Those who ran into the various rooms and spaces were locked and the rooms set ablaze.
While all these atrocities were being perpetrated by the Nigerian army at Hussainiyyah and Gyellesu residence of Sheikh Zakzaky, another battalion was despatched to wreck havoc at the Darl Rahama, a multi-purpose plot in the suburb of Zaria, which served as a burial ground, film village and mosque located almost 15 km away from Hussainiyyah. The degree of destruction there was no less than the other places. Graves were desecrated.
Lekki: Mr Adeoyo said the residents suspected the floating body could be one of the protesters fired upon by soldiers and alleged by witnesses to have been carried.
On this newspaper’s request, Mr Adeoye sent a brief time-stamped video of the corpse floating in the water. A Google map coordinate he sent indicated that the body was floating close to Bay Lounge, an upscale restaurant.
At around 6 a.m on Saturday, accompanied by a friend, Deji Ashiru, this reporter drove to the Nigerian Army Post Exchange (NAPEX) Car Park Jetty in Victoria Island, where he and his team hired a boat to search for the body.
As the boat approached the bank of the lagoon, behind the imposing Oriental Hotel, the reporter saw a shanty ahead. The shanty is on the left side of the Lekki Toll Gate if one was travelling from Victoria Island. Due to its proximity to the toll gate, it immediately occurred to the reporter that residents of the community might have witnessed things that happened during the crackdown that was not yet in the public domain. His instinct was right.
He told the driver of the boat to stop his team at the shanty. It seems the residents had been waiting for someone to tell the stories of what they saw on the evening of the shooting because team members had hardly introduced themselves or even disembarked from the boat when they started recounting gruesome details about the evening. The residents, some of whom suffered bullet wounds and other injuries, during the shooting, alleged that several people were killed and injured by the soldiers. They also corroborated the story told by DJ Switch and other protesters that after the shooting soldiers took bodies of those killed away. When asked if the protesters were killed and whether they saw soldiers carry bodies away, one of the residents said: “Of course, everyone saw it. Those that were present saw it. “Even the one that died in our presence, wey be say the ekelabe (policemen) carry am go. They shot am there,” another resident said. “Boss, if you want to camera, you can camera,” said the second speaker who later identified himself as Ray. “Let me tell you something. This is my country. I am not afraid of anything. Let me say what I saw on that day. I was here from the beginning to the end of everything. What the soldiers and police did was absolutely wrong. Why would soldier come and shoot on us when we were having a peaceful protest,” he said. When asked if he saw soldiers carry bodies away, Ray responded: “Of course, I saw dead bodies. They packed bodies. They came with their vans. Their trucks.” Ray, who expressed displeasure that President Muhammadu Buhari did not mention the Lekki shooting in his broadcast to the nation a couple of days ago, said Mr Sanwo-Olu visited the scene of the shooting in the early hours of Wednesday and saw some of the dead. “Why is Sanwo-Olu denying? Because immediately after when that thing happened Sanwo-Olu himself came. He came. He parked at the toll gate. He saw some dead bodies on the ground. Why is he denying,” he asked. Ray’s account of the event was also corroborated by other residents of the community.
The residents also alleged that after the soldiers who initially opened fire on the protesters left the scene, police officers led by Raji Ganiyu, a chief superintendent of the police, and the Divisional Police Officer of the nearby Maroko Division, arrived the scene and continued the attack on defiant protesters who stood their ground despite the military attack. Showing us spent bullet casings they collected at the toll gate after the shooting, they accused the team led by Mr Ganiyu, whom they described as wearing a white native attire on the day, of shooting and killing some protesters, including a mentally ill man who was often seen around the area.
“DPO of Maroko we see am face to face wey e blow one person head pull the skull off. Pistol. E wear white and white,” one of them said in Pidgin. “Na only one him kill?” another resident interjected in Pidgin. “What of the mad boy wey he shoot for our front here. Close range. There was a guy that was abnormal, he was sat at that speaker. He just came immediately, saw the boy, the boy didn’t do anything. He didn’t run, he didn’t harass him, he just removed his pistol and blew the boy’s head,” yet another resident said. The Maroko Police Division is directly opposite the shanty and on the right of the toll gate. When reached for comments, Mr Ganiyu declined to respond, saying all requests for comment should be directed to the Lagos Police Public Relation Department. Also, the police public relation officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, said any question about the shooting incident at Lekki Toll Gate would be decided by the judicial panel of inquiry set up by the state government into alleged atrocities committed by law enforcement officers. “No comment on this for now,” he said. The narratives of the residents of the event of Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning correlate with that of DJ Switch. In a video posted on Instagram three days after the shooting, DJ Switch spoke about the involvement of the police and explained that it was one aspect of the shooting many were not talking about. “Yes, there were soldiers there,” she said. “Another part that people are not really talking about; the police also came. The SARS people we are talking about also came. Maybe 40-45 minutes after the soldiers left.” she said.
Zaria Mass grave: Unlike in Lekki, there was no lagoon in Zaria to throw victims, but there were mass graves. The existence of mass graves was made known from the time these were being dug by the Nigerian army. Perhaps more intriguing was the fact that it was dug at night some 100km away from the scene. The burial took hours to complete as they covered hundreds in unmarked shallow graves, all in an attempt to hide their crimes.
There was minimal police involvement in the Zaria massacre at the initial stages. It was completely “Military affair” like the presidency said in December 2015.
“No scratch of blood” – Sanwo-Olu lied
During the CNN interview, Mr Sanwo-Olu, in what appears an attempt to discredit witnesses’ accounts of the shooting, said when he visited the toll gate, he did not find a “scratch of blood.” However, video and photo evidence verified as being from the incident as well as witnesses and victims accounts of the shooting showed the governor’s claim as inaccurate.
One of the photos showed a young man wearing a zip sweatshirt over a Versace t-shirt, with his head lying in a pool of blood. Witnesses said that the man was shot in the head by the police officers who arrived the scene after the soldiers left the scene.
Photo verification tools such as Google and Bing reverse searchers and Tineye indicated that the photo had not previously appeared anywhere else online.
Zaria Massacre: President, Governor ElRufai, COAS Buratai all repeatedly lied:
Immediately following the Zaria Massacre, there was a Presidential Media Chat during which the President was asked naturally, about Zaria happenings. He lied he didn’t know about it and that he was not informed. When he was pressed further, he accepted that he was shown a video clip where “an excited youth was beating the chest of a general.” This was a lie. The video, which was produced by the military, showed that the alleged beating of the chest was done by the military man against a youth. Secondly, there was no general in the clip. Colonel Usman Kukasheka was the military man in the clip, and he was not a general at the time. In fact, his promotion was a direct sequelae of the role he played in the massacre. It is not a coincidence that this same Kukasheka, although now retired, had an explanation in the Lekki shooting, insisting that rubber bullets were used instead of live ammunitions, and according to him, don’t kill. This is at a time when his paymasters were still insisting that they didn’t even shoot at all.
The President later owned up that he knew about the military action against Sheikh Zakzaky and the Islamic Movement and even justified it. This was when he visited Qatar in March 2016, while fielding questions from a foreign media.
All the military men that had a say in Zaria massacre in whatever role, repeatedly lied. The GOC 1 division at the time who provided the troops that carried out the massacre and supervised it, serially lied. He was the first person that flouted that “protective custody”matter, which the government used in court. That neither the Sheikh nor his wife was in detention, but in protective custody. He was the one that insisted that nobody was killed. This he even told the Judicial Commission of Inquiry under oath. After the Commission established the killing of hundreds of people, he had to be recalled to face the Commission again, but he remained evasive.
To be continued