Nigeria: Lekki Protests, CNN and the Secret Truth

24 November 2020
opinion

In his dealings with American Cable News Network (CNN), the Minister of Information Lai Mohammed would be well advised to bear in mind the adage that "trouble dey sleep make yanga no go wake am!" Roughly translated, it advises people not to go looking for unnecessary trouble which they can't handle. CNN aired what they described as a "careful and meticulous" report on "extensive investigations and verification" of what transpired at the recent Lekki Tollgate protests. The minister did the federal government a disservice when he alleged that CNN had a "preconceived stance" and relied heavily on unverified and possibly doctored videos as well as information sourced from questionable sources.

Apparently confusing the image of the current administration with the image of the nation, he claimed the report was doctored in order to tarnish the image of the country. Nothing has done more to tarnish the image of the nation than the mismanagement of security and the economy. There is no good image left to tarnish! The fact is that whatever happened has happened, and the important thing is for it not to happen again.

That the truth of what happened is a matter for conjecture is already a failure of government information management. Lamentably, the main source of questionable information on what exactly transpired has been statements issued by government officials. Human rights and pro-democracy activists alleged there was a massacre of defenceless peaceful protestors. One of the easiest things to do in life is to apologise, admit being wrong and learn from your mistakes. However, this never seems to be an option with federal government's spokespersons. The facts are difficult to ascertain because so much effort, energy and time are being wasted by government officials telling conflicting stories to cover up culpability. Army spokespersons initially denied that soldiers were sent to the tollgate. The Attorney-General of the Federation even incredulously claimed that "hoodlums" wearing army uniform shot protestors!

The Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said the recordings by functional CCTV cameras would soon be released and army spokespersons recanted and claimed they were there under his invitation. Sanwo-Olu initially denied this and replied that he had no authority to order soldiers, however, he later recanted saying he requested the Commander-in-Chief to deploy soldiers.

After all these accusations, denials and recanting, the governor said two people were killed even as army sources claimed they only fired rubber bullets. With these contradictory stories and shifting positions, how can government justify their claim to be fighting and curbing fake news? Condemning CNN may have been considered to be a smart move, but it wasn't a wise one. Smart people know what to say, but wise people know whether or not to say it. The powers that be fail to realise that the only way to "sanction" CNN is to come up with a truthful and factual narrative of what happened which not only proves them wrong but also tallies with what is already in the public domain.

Fortunately for CNN, their offices are not located in Nigeria otherwise the odds are that they would by now be under lock and key. Perhaps by now even their bank accounts would have been frozen or they would have had to pay a hefty fine. Despite Nigeria being a democracy, the current administration serially attempts to suppress uncomplimentary reports. They have a well earned reputation for regularly harassing the Newspapers and TV. Daily Trust, This Day, Channels TV, Arise TV, and AIT among others have all suffered the wrath of government for merely doing their job. The minister charged them with not authenticating information before broadcasting it.

He appears not to realise that there is nobody to authenticate from in Nigeria because the greatest disinformation on matters comes from government sources pushing conflicting narratives. The problem for Lai Mohammed is that at the end of the day his aggressive attitude will not work against foreign press. They are used to being restricted by laws of libel and defamation, and not coercion by security agencies or fines by supervising agencies.

CNN is simply doing its job of investigative reporting. The irony of the situation is that Nigeria professes to operate "US style" democracy, yet despite all the disparaging publicity, CNN has given to US President Donald Trump even going as far as calling him a "liar", he has never once called for their censorship or sanction. Calls to sanction mainstream media in these modern days simply harp back to an obsolete dictatorship syndrome. Almost 200 years ago when he was asked to muzzle the press, the 3rd US President, Thomas Jefferson, made his legendary quote that "our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost."

Lai Mohammed's unwarranted rant against CNN revealed his lack of familiarity with modern technology. He asked in a self-satisfied manner "were CNN reporters and cameramen at the Lekki Toll Gate?" It's mind-boggling that he isn't familiar with geospatial intelligence in which satellite images are used to analyse human activity on earth using imagery which visually depicts physical features and movements in geographically referenced locations on earth. Satellite images captured soldiers leaving Bonny Camp, arriving at the tollgate, and the shots being fired.

Furthermore, CNN was also able to trace the bullet casings left at the scene to purchases made from Serbia on behalf of the Nigerian Army. As a lawyer, the minister quite illogically approbated and reprobated by saying "while the judicial panel of enquiry works to unravel what actually transpired at the Lekki Tollgate, available evidence so far points to the world's first case of massacre without blood or bodies." He apparently forgot that during the holocaust, the Germans used gas to massacre Jews and then disposed of their bodies. So students of history know that there have been occasions of massacres without blood or bodies. Indeed a "massacre" is defined as an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of many people.

The term doesn't necessarily imply a multitude of victims because there is no objective definition of how many people need to be killed or how much blood needs to be left at the scene for it to constitute a massacre. The overriding consideration when describing a massacre isn't the number of people involved, but rather the fact that it has a quality of being morally unacceptable. In full glare of the whole world, cameras were disconnected, dismantled and carried away, and the lights were switched off. If there is one thing certain about events during the Lekki Tollgate protests, it's not that they can't happen again, but rather it's that the whole episode is likely be just another occasion in Nigeria in which the truth will remain a secret.

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