EndSars Protests: Is Sanwo-Olu A Victim or Villain ?

By Lekan Lawani

Events of Tuesday, October 20, 2020 which eventually culminated in the shooting of innocent protesters at Lekki was without doubt a sad chapter in the nation’s history. Sad episode of the night was nonetheless avoidable; just in the same manner that the attendant violent reactions that greeted the unfortunate shooting could have also been avoided.

Meanwhile, many questions have continued to beg for truthful answers. However, in the midst of utter confusion and distorted information, the truth has sadly remain elusive. In a desperate bid to unearth what went wrong on that night, eyewitness accounts have regretably become discountenanced on the ground of lack of demonstrable and credible evidence.

Notwithstanding the genuine concern and prompt response of the Lagos State Government to the unfortunate shooting incident at Lekki, mood of the public seemed to have become uncontrollably beclouded by heavy emotion and negative sentiments. This sentimental leaning also to a very large extent, perhaps, unfortunately beclouded the sense of judgement of the populace. The factor has till this day been responsible for the measure of disbelief toward the well intended efforts of Lagos State Government after the EndSars protests.

Some people may have formed different opinions on Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu based on his roles before, during and after the EndSars protests. However, irrespective of whatever opinion that may have been formed about the governor, he is nonetheless more of a victim in the entire
violent imbroglio.

It is an undeniable fact that Governor Sanwo-Olu was the first governor in Nigeria to identify with the EndSars protesters by carrying a placard alongside other peaceful protesters. Even, until the very minute that obvious circumstances necessitated the imposition of
curfew in Lagos State, Sanwo-Olu never hid his support for the protesters. Meanwhile, it must be stated that the unavoidable curfew was imposed by Governor Sanwo-Olu because of the worsening security situation in the state at the time.

To underscore the concern of Governor Sanwo-Olu for the protesters as well as Lagosians in general, the imposed curfew was initially slated to kick -off by 4:00pm, but the governor quickly extended it till 9:00pm even with another proviso that those trapped in traffic should not be molested. Meanwhile, the whole essence of the curfew was to restore sanity and public order to the Center of Excellence a the time.

It was most unfortunate however, that the military moved into Lekki, perhaps too early at about 6.30pm, when the curfew was expected to take effect from 9:00pm. Regretably, peaceful protesters were all seated and waving Nigerian flag and singing the national anthem when the military came calling. But, it could not be denied in clear conscience that Army did not shoot into the protesters with live bullets. And of course, some protesters got injured while a few may have also died in the process. But it must be underscored that the protesters could not have possibly injured or killed themselves if not precipitated by the bullets of soldiers.

Many thoughts provoking questions have been raised on what led to the unfortunate episode that chronicled the sad events of that fateful Tuesday. However, the most critical of the questions was who actually called for the deployment of soldiers in Lagos State. Agreed that Brigadier General Ahmed Taiwo had mentioned at the Lagos Judicial Panel that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu called for the deployment of soldiers. The governor must have possibly made the request because the police were clearly overstretched and overwhelmed at the time.

Nevertheless, the governor never denied inviting the Army alongside other security agencies. It must be noted however, that Sanwo-Olu was not categorical in his initial response. But, he was palpably more disturbed by the very news of bloodshed and fatalities in Lekki. Naturally, any innocent governor would perhaps be more preoccupied with saving the lives of the injured, absolving himself and his government from any complicity in the alleged killings. These much as well as helping to quench the already stoked fire of violence were the preoccupation of Governor Sanwo-Olu at the time.

Moreso, the seeming oversight of Governor Babajide may have angered more than a few persons in the state. But the conspicuous sincerity of the governor and that of his team manifested in a follow up statement issued by one of his media aides. The aide admitted unequivocally that the governor had actually invited the military alongside other security agencies to enforce the curfew statewide. Sadly, however, people failed to take any serious cognisance of this important clarification.

In in the face of imminent complete breakdown of law and order in Lagos State, the governor could be said to have acted appropriately by inviting the army and other security agencies to help restore normalcy. But it is not within the powers of Sanwo-Olu to dish out Rules of Engagement to the soldiers. Moreover, the invited soldiers were expected to have been fully briefed by their superiors and therefore comply strictly with the acceptable non-kinetic approach.

Moreso, inviting the military to maintain the terms of an imposed curfew by the state should not have been abused in any way. It could never have been imagined by the governor and anyone else in his cabinet that the invited soldiers could have acted unprofessionally; let alone resort to unbridled violation of citizens rights and reckless raining of live bullets on innocent, peaceful and unarmed protesters.

Inasmuch as Governor Sanwo-Olu
does not determine the terms of engagement of the military in the discharge of a lawful order, he should also not be held guilty for any form of open misuse and application of overly excessive force in containment of civil disobedience.

Curiously, the army had attempted, albeit unsuccessfully to pass bucks of the needless killings to the Lagos State Government as well as the Governor. The army had attempted to capitalize on the noticed communication lapse of the state at the time of the crisis to shift blame of culpability. Notwithstanding the buck passing efforts of the army, its attempt to push blame of the alleged Lekki killings to Governor, this effort will continue to remain a charge that
does not and cannot stick.

Truth will constantly remain as the truth irrespective of any embellishment given to lies. Governor Sanwo-Olu could not have openly declared support for the peaceful EndSars protesters from the beginning and still instruct the military to use live bullets on them. This does not align with good reasoning. Therefore, Nigerian Army, and not Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu should be held liable for the alleged unfortunate killings of innocent youths at the Lekki Toll Gate in the dark of Tuesday, October 20, 2020.

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