*Asks for sanction against the international news medium
*Insists Army killed none at Lekki
*Charges relations of “killed” victims to approach Lagos panel with evidence
*Says security agencies not after DJ Switch
By Adelola Amihere
The Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has asked for sanctions against international broadcast giant, the Cable News Network (CNN), over it’s recent report on the “killing of EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate” in Lagos.
The CNN had published what it dubbed “verified evidence and exclusive” report of killings and other atrocities perpetrated by the Army at Lekki during the EndSARS protests.
Although the minister did not specify the nature of sanctions sought against CNN, or the agency that should slam the sanctions, he however dismissed the entire CNN report as “a hoax, out rightly falsehood, unfounded and most unprofessional”.
Lai Mohammed spoke at a press conference at the Army Resource Center, in Abuja, yesterday.
He asked the CNN to equally sanction the reporter(s) that filed the report, by applying their internal disciplinary procedures.
He wondered how an international news medium like the CNN could base their reports on unverified information but on unverified information picked through the social media, stressing that “we still ponder as to how they can file report of killing without body or blood”.
According to the Minister, “Like everyone else, I watched the CNN report. I must tell you that it reinforces the disinformation that is going round, and it is blatantly irresponsible and a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organization.
“CNN engaged in incredible sensationalism and did a great disservice to itself and to journalism.
“In the first instance, CNN, which touted its report as an exclusive investigative report, sadly relied on the same videos that have been circulating on social media, without verification.
“This is very serious and CNN should be sanctioned for that. CNN merely said the videos were ”obtained by CNN”, without saying wherefrom and whether or not it authenticated them”.
The minister asked” “Were CNN reporters and cameramen at the Lekki Toll Gate that evening? If the answer is no, on what basis were they reporting?
“Relying on second or third hand information and presenting it as ”CNN Investigation”?
“Why didn’t the CNN balance its story by showing the compelling testimony of Brig-Gen. Ahmed Ibrahim Taiwo before the Judicial Panel in Lagos?
“Is this one-sided reporting what is expected from an international media organization or any serious news organization”?
According to him, “If CNN had done its investigation properly, it would have known how fake news and disinformation were trending during the EndSARS crisis.
“The BBC even did a report on this, and we recommend that report to CNN. Talking about the BBC, a reporter with the BBC’s Pidgin Service, Damilola Banjo, was at Lekki Toll Gate protest ground that night.
“She was quoted as saying soldiers were indeed at the Toll Gate but they shot ‘’sporadically into the air’’ and not at the protesters. CNN that was not at the scene reported otherwise.
“I ask again, if there is anybody or anyone who knows anybody who was at the Leki Toll Gate and is missing, such a person should please approach the panels set up on the incident”.
He debunked insinuations that the Central Bank acted unlawfully by freezing the bank accounts of some of the participants and sponsors of EndSARS, pointing out that “the CBN went to court and obtaining d a court order to do what they did.
“In other words, we will not go beyond the law to do anything not permitted by law”.
Mohammed asked DJ Switch (Obianuju Catherine Udeh) to come out of hiding, pointing out that “there is no law enforcement agency that is looking for her”.
He also said there was no contradiction in asking the #EndSARS protesters to bring their leaders that government want to dialogue with them.
***Below is the full text of the address to the Media by the Minister yesterday at the Army Resettlement Center, Abuja.
“Good morning gentlemen, and welcome to this press conference. It’s no longer news that the EndSARS protest last month degenerated into mindless violence after it was hijacked by hoodlums. In the aftermath of the protest, however, there are lingering issues, hence this press conference to take a holistic look at such issues.
2. Before we delve into those issues, let’s look at the demand of the EndSARS protesters, whose campaign was aimed at ending police brutality and disbanding the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), and the response of the Federal Government:
THE FIVE DEMANDS OF THE #ENDSARS MOVEMENT:
i) Immediate release of all arrested protesters.
ii) Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and
appropriate compensation for their families.
iii) Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and
prosecution of all reports of police misconduct within 10 days.
iv) In line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation and
retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded
SARS officers before they can be redeployed.
v) Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated
for protecting the lives and property of citizens.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE:
Gentlemen, the EndSARS campaign had barely begun last month when the
Inspector-General of Police announced, on Oct. 11th 2020, the immediate disbandment of SARS across the 36 State Police Commands and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
A day later, on Oct. 12th, 2020, President Muhamadu Buhari addressed the nation, stating: ”The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms in order to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihood of our people. We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct or wrongful acts are brought to justice.
Following up quickly on that, the IGP on Oct. 13 2020, ordered all defunct SARS personnel to report at the Force Headquarters, Abuja, for debriefing as well as psychological and medical examination. The officers were to undergo this process as a prelude to further training and reorientation before being redeployed into mainstream policing duties. The medical examination was carried out by the new Police Counselling and Support Unit (PCSU).
On Oct. 13th 2020, the presidential panel on the reform of SARS formally accepted the five-point demand of the #EndSARS protesters.
On Oct. 15th 2020, the National Economic Council (NEC) directed the immediate establishment of State-based Judicial Panels of Inquiry across the country to receive and investigate complaints of police brutality or related extra-judicial killings, with a view to delivering justice for all victims of the dissolved SARS and other police units. The panel will include representatives of Youths, Students, Civil Society Organizations and would be chaired by a respected retired State High Court Judge. The panels have six months to complete its assignment.
Other decisions by NEC on the Demands:
– State Governors and the FCT Minister should take charge of interface and contact with the protesters in their respective domains.
– State Governors should immediately establish State-based Special Security and Human Rights Committees to be chaired by the Governors in their States, and to supervise the newly-formed police tactical units and all other security agencies located in the States. This will ensure the protection of citizens’ human rights. Members will also
include Representatives of Youths and Civil Society, as well as the head of police tactical units in each of the States.
– Establishment, by the Special Committee on Security and Human Rights, of a Human Rights Public Complaints Team of between 2 to 3 persons to receive complaints on an ongoing basis. That team would be established by the Special Committee on Security and Human Rights.
– State Governors to immediately establish a Victims Fund to enable the payment of monetary compensation to deserving victims.
3. Finally, on the Federal Government’s response, the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission was directed to expedite action on the finalization of the new salary structure of members of the Nigeria Police Force.
4. Gentlemen, you can see, from the above, that the Federal Government was not only responsive but was also very responsible in its handling of the demands of the EndSARS protesters. The five demands were met (some with an immediate pronouncement and others by kickstarting the process of meeting them). Despite this, the protest continued and the demands kept expanding, until the protest was hijacked, leading to unprecedented violence characterized by killings, maiming, arson, looting etc.
THE ROLE OF FAKE NEWS, DISINFORMATION IN THE ENDSARS VIOLENCE 5. As I said earlier, what started as a peaceful protest against police brutality quickly degenerated into incredible violence despite an immediate response to the demands by the government. Keen watchers of the developments cannot fail to notice the role played by the social media in the EndSARS protest. As a veritable tool for mass mobilization, the organizers of the protest of course leveraged heavily on social media for that purpose. But on the other hand, the same social media was used to spread fake news and disinformation that catalyzed the violence that was witnessed across the country.
6. This development has reinforced the campaign against fake news and disinformation, which we launched in 2018. As a matter of fact, as far back as 2017, when we dedicated that year’s National Council on Information to the issue of fake news and disinformation, we had been expressing concerns on the dangers posed by irresponsible use of the new media platform. The concerns culminated in the launch of the national campaign which I referred to earlier.
7. The social media was used to guide arsonists and looters to certain properties, both public and private. Pictures of persons, including some celebrities, who were supposedly killed at the Lekki Toll Gate by soldiers, were circulated widely, only for those persons to refute such claims or for the discerning to disprove such posts. As we have said many times, no responsible government will stand by and allow such abuse of social media to continue. The fake news/disinformation purveyors have latched on to our concerns to allege that the Federal Government is planning to shut down social media. No, we have no plans to shut down the social media. What we have always advocated, and what we will do, is to regulate the social media. Nigeria is not alone in this regard. The issue of social media regulation is an ongoing debate not just in Nigeria but around the world, including in the United States, which is the flag flyer of constitutional democracy. Even the owners of the various social media platforms, including Facebook, are increasingly joining the call for content regulation.
8. Some respected opinion leaders have been playing to the gallery on the issue of social media regulation by making inciting and incendiary statements, while some other individuals and groups have been threatening fire and brimstone over the issue of social media regulation. What they have failed to understand is that the only reason we are even able to have this debate is because we have a country. If we allow the abuse of social media to precipitate uncontrolled internecine violence, the kind of which was narrowly averted during the EndSARS crisis, no one will remember or be able to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, for whatever purpose. It is incumbent upon us all, therefore, to strike a balance between free speech – which this Administration is committed to upholding – and fake news/disinformation, which it is determined to fight..
‘SOCIAL MEDIA MASSACRE’ AT LEKKI TOLL GATE
9. While we await the Judicial Panel in Lagos to unravel what transpired at the Lekki Toll Gate, what we can say, based on testimonies available in the public space, is that the world may have just witnessed, for the very first time ever, a MASSACRE WITHOUT BODIES! Some have tagged it ‘social media massacre’. The testimony of Brig.-Gen, Ahmed Ibrahim Taiwo of the Nigerian Army before the Panel was compelling, and I am sure many of you have listened to or watched it. The highlights, for those who may not have watched the testimony, are:
– Soldiers were deployed all over Lagos, including Lekki Toll Gate, after the other security agencies were overwhelmed on Oct. 20th 2020, upon the request of the state government.
– Before deployment, the soldiers were briefed on the Rules of Engagement, which they adhered to all through
– Soldiers at Lekki Toll Gate fired blank ammunitions into the air
– Blank ammunition cannot do any damage to the flesh, not to talk of killing anyone
– Firing live ammunition into the crowd, as some have alleged, would have led to mass killing, which never happened.
10 Sadly, the purveyors of fake news and disinformation succeeded in deceiving the world that indeed there was mass killing in Lekki, even when, till date, not a single body has been produced and not a single family or relative has come out to say their child or ward was killed at Lekki. More surprising and irresponsible is the fact that some people have been calling for sanctions against Nigeria or against Nigerian government officials on the basis of a hoax. This is one of the dangers of fake news and disinformation. Once fake news is out, many run with it, without looking back, even when the truth is eventually revealed. We therefore want to use this opportunity to ask those who have alleged massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate to go to the Judicial Panel to present their evidence(s) to the world or simply admit that they have goofed.
CNN’s REPORT OF KILLINGS AT THE LEKKI TOLL GATE
11. Like everyone else, I watched the CNN report. I must tell you that it reinforces the disinformation that is going round, and it is blatantly irresponsible and a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organization. CNN engaged in incredible sensationalism and did a great disservice to itself and to journalism. In the first instance, CNN, which touted its report as an exclusive investigative report, sadly relied on the same videos that have been circulating on social media, without verification. This is very serious and CNN should be sanctioned for that. CNN merely said the videos were ”obtained by CNN”, without saying wherefrom and whether or not it authenticated them. Were CNN reporters and cameramen at the Lekki Toll Gate that evening? If the answer is no, on what basis were they reporting? Relying on second or third hand information and presenting it as ”CNN Investigation”? Why didn’t the CNN balance its story by showing the compelling testimony of Brig.-Gen. Taiwo before the Judicial Panel in Lagos? Is this one-sided reporting what is expected from an international media organization or any serious news organization? If CNN had done its investigation properly, it would have known how fake news and disinformation were trending during the EndSARS crisis. The BBC even did a report on this, and we recommend that report to CNN. Talking about the BBC, a reporter with the BBC’s Pidgin Service, Damilola Banjo, was at Lekki Toll Gate protest ground that night. She was quoted as saying soldiers were indeed at the Toll Gate but they shot ‘’sporadically into the air’’ and not at the protesters. CNN that was not at the scene reported otherwise.
12 In airing its so-called investigative report, CNN conveniently forgot that on Oct. 23rd 2020, it tweeted, from its verified twitter handle, that the military killed 38 people when it opened fire on peaceful protesters on Tuesday, Oct. 20th 2020. Less than a month later, the same CNN, in what it called an EXCLUSIVE report based on a rehash of old, unverified videos, was only able to confirm that one person died in the same incident.
13 In its jaundiced reporting, CNN was blind to the fact that six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed in unprovoked attacks. Obviously, CNN did not consider the security agents human enough. CNN, in its ‘investigation’, was blind