A week after it triggered a global outrage over its alleged shooting of #EndSARS protesters in Lagos, the Nigerian Army yesterday broke its silence on the incident, denying that it fired at the marchers.
It also disputed the claim by Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, that he knew nothing about troop deployment in Lekki Tollgate where soldiers were accused of shooting protesters for allegedly flouting the curfew imposed on the state to curb the social unrest unleashed by hoodlums who had seized the #EndSARS protest.
However, a statement by the Acting Deputy Director, 81 Division Army Public Relations, Major Osoba Olaniyi, which provided further clarification on the troop deployment during the protests, categorically denied that civilians were shot at.
Sanwo-Olu, in his first reaction after the shooting, had blamed the shooting on "forces beyond my control."
However, in his first major interview after the shooting, the governor who was on ARISE NEWS Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, denied ordering the army to the state, saying such powers is beyond any state governor.
He said: "I don't know how the officers got it all wrong because the instruction was that police won't be out until 10-10:30 p.m. when all citizens should have gotten to their various homes. This is totally against what we stand for.
"The army does not report to me, I have reported the matter to the highest command in the military. It's not something we are going to gloss over. A judicial panel will be set up to investigate it. I have escalated it to the highest level of the military."
Also, when former Lagos State Governor, Senator Bola Tinubu, visited the governor last Saturday, he said he asked Sanwo-Olu "if he didn't order the attack, who ordered the attack? That's all I needed from him".
He, however, didn't state the response he got from the governor.
Safe for a "fake news" tag it placed on its Twitter handle on a viral video showing men in army camouflage shooting in the midst of protesters at the tollgate, the army hierarchy had been silent on the incident.
It, however, broke this earlier stance and issued the release last night, admitting troop's deployment but insisting that its soldiers did not shoot protesters.
This, some analysts said last night, might be a reaction to a statement recently attributed to Sanwo-Olu, where he admitted that the CCTV captured the military, adding that the perpetrators would be held accountable.
The governor, on Monday, was, however, more forthcoming on the involvement of the army in the shooting as he told the CNN that the CCTV showed the presence of the military at the scene.
During the interview, he said: "From the footage that we could see, it seems to be... there would be men in military uniform, who should be Nigerian Army or something."
But when pressed further by the CNN, the governor said: "Yes, they were there. That's what the footage shows."
But the army in yesterday's statement said the state government invited it to enforce the curfew and that it did not shoot any protesters.
The Nigerian Army described allegations bordering on massacre as untrue and unfounded.
The statement, titled: 'Alleged Massacre of Protesters at Lekki Toll Plaza,' read: "The attention of Headquarters 81 Division Nigerian Army has been drawn to a viral video on social media in which it was alleged that civilian protesters were massacred by soldiers at Lekki Toll Plaza.
"This allegation is untrue, unfounded and aimed at causing anarchy in the country. At no time did soldiers of the Nigerian Army open fire on any civilian.
"From the onset of the ENDSARS protest, there was no time personnel of 81 Division Nigerian Army Lagos were involved.
"However, the decision to call in the military was taken by the Lagos State Government (LASG) after a 24-hour curfew was imposed.
"This was as a result of the violence, which led to several police stations being burnt, policemen killed, suspects in police custody released and weapons carted away.
"The situation was fast degenerating into anarchy. It was at this point that LASG requested for the military to intervene in order to restore normalcy.
"The intervention of the military followed all laid down procedures for internal security operations and all the soldiers involved acted within the confines of the Rules of Engagement (ROE) for internal security operations.
"Finally, Headquarters 81 Division, Nigerian Army, reiterates that in the discharge of its constitutional responsibilities, it did not shoot at any civilian as there are glaring and convincing evidence to attest to this fact."
The statement described the allegation as the handiwork of mischief makers who will stop at nothing to tarnish the image of the Nigerian Army.
It urged the public to discountenance the allegation as there is no iota of truth in it.
However, the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on New Media, Mr. Jubril Gawat, while reacting to the statement from the army, said the governor never denied calling in the army.
He said: "Mr. Governor never denied this. They were supposed to come after curfew."
On whether the army didn't get the curfew extension addendum, he responded: "It was well posted."
CP: Six Policemen Killed, 38 Injured in Lagos
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Police Command yesterday said six policemen were killed, while 38 others were injured with some still in critical condition.
The state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Hakeem Odumosu, told reporters in Lagos that 29 formations, 71 police vehicles and 62 exhibit vehicles were either burnt or vandalised by hoodlums who hijacked the peaceful #ENDSARS protests.
Shocked by the massive destruction of lives and property in the state, the South-west caucus of the Senate said it would push a motion to urge the federal government to assist in rebuilding the state.
Odumosu also paraded 520 suspects arrested for their alleged involvement in the wanton destruction and looting of both private and public property.
The police also recovered some of the stolen loot from private businesses.
Odumosu listed the six policemen killed as ASP Yard Edward, attached to Denton Police Station; Inspector Olayinka Erinfolami of the defunct Anti-kidnapping Unit (AKU);
Inspector Adegbenro Aderibigbe attached to Meiran Division, Sergeant Abejide Abiodun of Department of Operations (DOPs), State Headquarters, and two others attached to Orile Division.
He said 58 police vehicles were burnt, 13 vandalised, while 62 vehicles belonging to individuals and those connected with some pending cases (exhibits) were burnt. The hoodlums also vandalised nine other vehicles.
Odumosu added that 15 motorcycles and tricycles were torched and 65 vandalised at various locations across the state.
After the widespread violence, Odumosu said the police arrested a total of 520 suspects for various offences ranging from arson, robbery, murder, rioting, malicious damage and unlawful possession of firearms.
Among those arrested, Odumosu said, was one Olamilekan Ibrahim, 19, alleged to have been among those who broke into a commercial bank and carted away cash and other valuables in Lekki.
The police boss said he was arrested with N250, 000 alleged to be his share of the loot from the bank, as well as a locally-made pistol.
He said two suspects identified as Ebere Reuben, 29, and Samuel Oyediran, 16, were also arrested by RRS operatives for their involvement in the burning of BRT terminal at Berger and TVC Station in the state.
They were allegedly caught with the leftover of some quantities of petroleum products with which they set the places ablaze.
The police boss who acknowledged that those arrested were not peaceful #ENDSARS protesters stated that it was a known fact that armed hoodlums hijacked the protests and were responsible for the series of killings, arson and looting recorded.
He said: "A thorough investigation into the cases has commenced. Members of the public should be rest assured that they will be updated as investigation progresses."
However, most of the suspects denied involvement in the violence, alleging that they were picked up randomly during raids.
South-west Senators to Lobby FG to Compensate Lagos
The South-west caucus of the Senate has said that it will push a motion to urge the federal government to assist in rebuilding Lagos State in view of the massive destruction of lives and property recorded during violence in the state.
Senator Boroffice Ajayi, representing Ondo North, stated this yesterday on behalf of the 17-member caucus during a courtesy call on Sanwo-Olu in Lagos to commiserate with him on the recent civil unrest in the state.
He told reporters after watching footages of some damaged property that: "We (Senate South-west Caucus) are indeed very unhappy that at this stage in our history that this type of damage has been done to Lagos State.
"We pray that this type of thing will not happen again and we also hope that those who are in governance and those who are out of governance, we all have a role to play to ensure that this country moves forward.
"We are aware of the role the media can play, and we want to plead with you that in the discharge of your duty, you put Nigeria´s unity first.
"We are working with the government to ensure that those demands that require constitutional approval will be done by us expeditiously."
Sanwo-Olu Approves Full Reopening of Markets
Sanwo-Olu has approved the full reopening of markets in the state.
The Commissioner for Local Government and Community Affairs, Dr. Wale Ahmed, in a statement yesterday, said both food markets and non-food markets can reopen every day of the week.
Before the announcement, food and non-food markets were allowed to operate three days a week - Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
The state government had regulated the opening of the markets to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the state.
The statement, made available by the governor's Senior Special Assistant on New Media, Gawat Jubril, said: "Mr. Governor took the decision to further enhance trade and commerce and mitigate the hardship of recent times and ensure that Lagosians can recover fast.
"Mr. Governor also advised the continued observance of all safety protocols.
"Traders and their customers must adhere strictly to the covid-19 protocols for their safety and the citizenry at large."