The 65 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, the formation alleged to have been involved in the October 20 Lekki shooting, has said soldiers only fired blank ammunitions at protesters.
In a petition submitted to the Judicial Panel of Inquiry set up by the Lagos State Government, the army insisted that no one was shot dead as soldiers only fired blank ammunition at the protesters.
Despite evidence of people being killed and injured at the Lekki incident, the army representatives said they did not fire at the protesters.
In the copy of the petition obtained by PUNCH, the Commander, 9 Brigade, Nigerian Army, Musa Etsu-Ndagi, said he was informed about the shooting by the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, around 7.23 p.m. on October 20.
The army officer said the governor informed him that a certain “Lt Col Bello, the Commanding Officer, 65 Battalion, Bonny Camp, Victoria Island” was reportedly shooting at the Lekki tollgate where #EndSARS protesters were gathered.
Etsu-Ndagi, a Brigadier General, one of the four army witnesses, said Mr Bello told him that he only fired blank ammunition into the air.
Speaking on the October 20 incident, the army said protesters were happy to see the soldiers and had no reason to kill anyone.
Bello said while moving towards the Lekki-Ajah Expressway at around 6.45 p.m., he heard gunshots before reaching the toll gate and saw that “the crowd had turned from peaceful protesters to a mob, infiltrated by hoodlums.”
Bello told the army authority that “the protesters were happy to see the soldiers at the tollgate,” adding that he personally offered the protesters water and drinks while persuading them to go home and observe the 24-hour curfew declared by the Lagos State Government.
“On getting to the tollgate, I persuaded the crowd to go home and observe the 24-hours curfew declared by the state government. But surprisingly, the hoodlums continued throwing stones, bottles, and other dangerous objects at us and were burning tyres. I again fired some blank ammunition upward to scare the hoodlums away. But some protesters who were still at the tollgate sitting down quietly were given water and drinks by me while pleading with them to go home.”
“We did not fire at the protesters. Blank ammunition were fired upward to scare the hoodlums from the crowd. Nobody was shot dead at the Lekki tollgate, there was no massacre as claimed. The claim that the military took away dead bodies was not true. The protesters were happy to see us as indicated in some of the video clips of 20th October 2020,” he said.
The army maintained that there was no massacre at the Lekki toll gate as no live ammunition was used on the #EndSARS protesters. The army also denied taking dead bodies away.
Recall that Sanwo-Olu, the Lagos state governor, also visited many protesters at the hospitals, adding that two people were confirmed dead from the incident.
Despite this evidence, the army insisted there was no shooting of live ammunition at the protesters.
Another army witness, Francis Omata, a brigadier, said the protest had turned from peaceful to violent by the time they arrived at the tollgate.
They claimed they were pelted with stones and broken bottles when they arrived at the tollgate and that in response, all they did was fire blank ammunition into the air to disperse the crowd.
“On arrival at the tollgate at about 7.30pm, I met a rowdy situation. I also met the Commanding Officer, 65 Battalion (Bello), who briefed me on the situation. He briefed me that he met a hostile crowd, hoodlums mixed with the protesters, who were chanting and throwing stones at them. I was able to disperse the crowd by firing blank ammunition into the air.
“At this point, stones and sticks were being thrown at us. Then I moved to a safe area and briefed General Officer Commanding 81 Division, Maj Gen Godwin Ahamefuna Umelo by phone.
“The General Officer Commanding directed me to pacify the hostile crowd and move the troops back to base. However, the crowd still continued chanting #EndSARS. I then instructed the troops to withdraw to base,” Mr Omata said.