The Question the President Failed to Address in his Broadcast
By: Deji Yesufu
President Muhammadu Buhari finally spoke to the Nigerian people yesterday evening. His speech was coming after many people had condemned his loud silence that accompanied the shooting of peaceful protesters at Lekki Toll Gate on Tuesday night by unknown soldiers. Unfortunately the President’s speech touched on everything except the most important matter in the country today: the killing of innocent Nigerians who were protesting peacefully about the matter of police brutality in the nation. President Buhari said that his administration had acceded to the demands of protesters by scrapping the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police. He added that the protesters thought that government was weak in quickly agreeing to end SARS. He went on to warn against continuous break down of law and order. His speech, which was a little over ten minutes, said nothing about the killings at Lekki Toll Gate and this is very sad indeed.
Lest we forget, on the night of Tuesday, 20th October, 2020, soldiers opened fire on peaceful protesters at Lekki Toll Gate. Conflicting stories continues to emerge on the number persons that might have died following the shooting. Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, stated on Wednesday that no one died in the shooting; although a number of persons were injured. But by the close of the day yesterday, the same Governor reported that at least two persons had died. Emotions have been raging since the shooting. Lekki Toll Gate has been burnt down and a number of buildings in that vicinity were touched. On Wednesday, a day following the shooting, media houses and businesses, belonging to Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Governor of Lagos State and a chieftain of the All Progressive Congress (APC), the ruling party in the country, were burnt down. The palace of the Oba of Lagos has been ransacked by thugs. Despite a 24-hour curfew imposed on the state, Lagos has not known any rest. The question on everybody’s minds is simply this: who ordered the shooting at Lekki? What is clear is that the military has a chain of command and soldiers do not just take up weapons and shoot civilians. Someone directed those soldiers to open fire on protesters. And until that person is fished out, the public will continue to direct their frustrations on government.
The day following the shooting, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, a chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party, and a known critic of the present administration, published photos of one Brig. Gen. Francis Omata as the person who led the attack on the protesters. There are too many things wrong with this allegation: first, it was becoming clear that too much fake news was running around the Lekki Shooting, as many of those who were said to have died in the shooting had come out to say they were alive. Second, no one sends a General to quell a riot; talk less of a few protesters. By the close of that day, Gen. Omata, who is a military commander of a Lagos Garrison, had come out to explain his own side of the story: He said he was in his house when reports reached him that soldiers were shooting at peaceful protesters at Lekki Toll Gate. He arrived the toll gate 36 minutes after the shooting began and managed to stop the carnage. He explained that he had to keep shouting out his name at the soldiers to identify himself before they stopped. Gen. Omata explained that the person who led the attack on the protesters was one Lt. Col. S. O. Bello and that all those involved in the incident are already being questioned by army authorities.
This explanation by Omata may have left him off the hook but it still leaves many more questions unanswered. The primary question that still must be answered in this matter is this: who ordered the shooting? Who instructed Bello and his men to kill innocent protesters? I believe the answer lies in what Mr. President left untouched in his speech yesterday. It does not matter who ordered the shooting of the protesters, the responsibility for the safety of the lives of Nigerians lies at the feet of the President, who is also the commander in chief of the Nigerian army. This is the reason why a few hours after the shooting of those young people, former presidential aspirant of Democratic Party in the United States, Hilary Clinton, stated in a tweet that Buhari should stop killing protesters. And in response to the outcry of the international community, the President of Nigeria said in his speech yesterday that the international community should not delve into matters that concern a sovereign state like Nigeria. In other words Mr. President is not ready to answer the question regarding who directed the shooting of protesters. He clearly did not touch on the subject of the Lekki Killings because he did not see himself as accountable to the Nigerian people. The best way for the President to have absolved himself from the killings on Tuesday was to have spoken on the Lekki Killings and explained to the Nigerian people that the people who authorized the shooting are being investigated. Since he did not touch on it, he leaves the public to reach any conclusion they wish to reach on the matter.
One aspect of this protest that many commentators have tried to downplay is the north/south dichotomy of it. Unfortunately the more we ignore it, the more it stares itself in our faces. Since the protest began, northern youths have refused to join. In fact while people in the south have been calling on an End to SARS, pockets of protests were going on in the north asking government to continue with SARS. Besides this, in Abuja, counter EndSARS protests were going on alongside the EndSARS protests. Some protesters were even attacked in the process. A little investigation into these counter protests reveal that many of those involved in it were paid. Suddenly (if the report by Omata is true) a bastion of soldiers led by a northern officers, open fire on protesters who are mostly from southern Nigeria. While indeed we should not bring in religious and tribal sentiments into this matter, it cannot be easily ignored. If Kano State was experiencing the same thing that Lagos State experience in the past few days, will the President of Nigeria give a speech and not mention the sad event that led to killing and maiming of young Nigerians?
It need to be said here that some of us may have earned the right to speak like this because we put our lives and reputation on the line to see Muhammadu Buhari come to office. We told people that Buhari was not a religious or tribal bigot. We explained that with Buhari in power this country will know greater security, peace and development. We explained that Buhari will abolish corruption. Today, we have been put to shame. Even if this administration has no idea on how to solve the problem of incessant insecurity in the country; if they do not know how to end corruption and revitalize the economy, they can at the least leave this country the way they met it. This government owes it as a duty to explain to Nigerians who ordered the killing of young Nigerians at Lekki Toll Gate on Tuesday 20th October, 2020. While we await their explanation, I appeal to all Nigerians to be law abiding and to maintain the peace.