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Lekki shooting: Preempting and prejudging the White Paper

By Idowu Akinlotan

The programmed leakage of an unsigned and insufficiently edited version of the Justice Doris Okuwobi-led EndSARS panel report should worry every patriot. The leakage occurred, presumably through a panel member, on the very same day the panel submitted its report last Monday. Some reports claimed the leakage was prompted by trust issues. This is balderdash. It had nothing to do with mistrust of the state government.

The leakage was specifically and deliberately designed to foul the well of public trust, sway unsuspecting Nigerians into a preconceived and hardened position, and panic the government and the four-member White Paper review panel into abandoning or softening the critical examination of the true panel’s report promised by the government, especially in light of the many sweeping generalisations and errors that riddle the report.

It is of course not certain that the leaked report bears a close resemblance to the original one submitted to the Lagos government, as indeed a member of the panel reluctantly conceded. It is, therefore, a perilous task commenting on what is clearly not the true copy, as many media organisations, public commentators, and international bodies have done. This piece will try to anticipate that trap. But in receiving the real report, the Lagos State government, cognisant of the keen and massive public interest in the subject, has given itself a breakneck two-week deadline to examine the report and produce a White Paper.

The panel’s sittings lasted for more than a year; the state could afford to take more than two weeks to produce a paper it can defend for thoroughness and objectivity.

Many newspaper columnists and television anchors, judging from their write-ups and interviews, including their curious preconceived positions, have taken sides and given the unwholesome impression that any other ‘truth’ would be unacceptable or amount to brutal doctoring. It is not clear what percentage of youths think this way, but quite a large number of youths are adamant about what transpired at Lekki Tollgate on October 20, 2020. They brush aside, as indeed the leaked report panel also managed to do, logical worries about what constitutes a massacre, and insist there was a massacre. The leaked report gives them what they want, but in very curious ways, describing the still unsubstantiated death toll at the Lekki Tollgate as violence which in “the manner of assault and killing could in context be described as a massacre.” Sophistry can sometimes be elegant.

It is unlikely that the leaked report is the same report submitted to the state government. The substantiations were slim, skinny, and far-fetched, the language worrisome, judgemental, and activist and the style and presentation riddled with errors and offensive presumptions. In the leaked report, the Lekki Tollgate protesters were sitting on the ‘floor’ rather than the ground, and colourful, emotive, and superfluous adjectives were deployed calculatingly to whip up emotions, stoke anger, and lead everyone to a predetermined and hysteric end.

The panel was supposed to find and expose unvarnished facts of what transpired on that bilious, controversial night; instead, it discountenanced hours and tons of evidence which many viewers, including this writer, watched on television during hearings, and came willy-nilly to very dire, apocalyptic and unsubstantiated conclusions, not to say unmerited awards. Surely the leaked report can’t be the original. It is too damaged to be, and it does a huge disservice to every member of the putative panel that produced it.

The leaked report was also calculated to whip up international disapproval of Nigeria’s behaviour even before the true report and the White Paper were officially released. The question many commentators railing against the army and the government, and particularly against the excitable Information minister Lai Mohammed, are not asking themselves is why the leaked report should be believed and treated as the authentic report when hours after the leakage doubts about its authenticity were raised.

It has become distressingly common for Nigerians, particularly disaffected youths exasperated by the planlessness and profligacy at the pinnacle of state and federal administrations, to repose confidence in foreign opinions and commentaries about Nigeria. That weakness will not abate anytime soon.

A disproportionate number of Nigerians have invested Europe and the United States with the status of the policemen of the world, imbued with superior ethics and unassailable political and financial systems. Despite their torrid records of open and horrifying racism, not to say histories of genocide that have not been required, unquestioning and mesmerised Nigerians, mostly youths, swear by what the ‘world policemen’ say and judge. It will take decades to exorcise these infatuations from Nigerians, perhaps not even in this generation.

Already, though the world policemen know the rules of inquiries and due process, and though they were aware that the panel’s report was leaked with all the associated risks of forgery and inaccuracies, they have been sounding off and giving besotted Nigerians meat to consume.

They have warned that there must be no attempt by the Nigerian government to muzzle the report or fail to fully implement the recommendations. Nigerian media emblazoned those foreign comments on their front pages and broadcasts. Lawyers and broadcast journalists have also warned that no other truth would be admissible other than the ones they have gleaned from the leaked report.

Due process is rubbished simply because of preconceived positions. Even Mr. Mohammed, the Information minister, has been shocked into peculiar reticence, and the presidency in its characteristic buck-passing has said it would defer to the states before taking action. They said the same thing over the 2015 Zaria massacre – 347 were recorded killed – but ended up declining to obey court orders.

Lagos has a responsibility to carefully examine the panel’s report, the original, that is. They must be bold and courageous. They should not allow themselves to be stampeded. That leaked report is a horrendous example of how not to conduct a judicial investigation.

But if it bears significant resemblance to the true report, as a member of the panel has said, then Nigeria is in trouble. It would indicate that truth has been redefined, and the country is seething with plots to cause crises and disaffection, of course not in the vein of the president’s wild goose chase about youths trying to unseat him.

It would mean that those behind the Lekki Tollgate protests have other sinister objectives other than ending SARS and getting the police reformed and the government made accountable. It would also mean that the Lekki protesters have extenuated the sheer incompetence of their protests, which received initial and thunderous support, and have perfected the art of procuring power without responsibility. They did not own up to their poor judgement; and now through the leaked report, they hope to procure victory and canonisation.

More importantly, too, Lagos has the additional responsibility of exposing the leaker of the unsigned and unedited report. The leaker should be investigated to find out what motives were behind the spontaneous and extraordinary step of attempting a second time to stoke crisis in the state. It was bad enough last year that after some groups put Lagos to the torch, federal and state governments let the matter rest.

This is appallingly wrong. Hundreds of buses were burnt, courts were set on fire, and scores of businesses and at least a palace were either burnt or ransacked. Not to talk of individuals and policemen who lost their lives, with much of those losses glossed over in the activist report leaked to the press simply because the leaker does not trust the government. Assuming the state badly redacted the report and came out with a jaundiced White Paper, could the ‘right’ report not be leaked thereafter to justifiable applause? It was wrong not to expose the criminals who put Lagos to fire last year; it would be wronger now not to expose the leaker of a disputed document that reads more like a justification of EndSARS youths and a condemnation of the government and security institutions.

Lagosians and Nigerians are stakeholders in their nation, as defective and presumptuous as Nigeria’s founding document might be. They have equal responsibility to rebuild and run a country that is just and fair. But the campaigns to deliver those goals must themselves be anchored on truth, fairness, and justice.

There is no indication that last week’s prejudicially and preemptively leaked report adhered to due process and objectivity. The Zaria massacre of 2015 was rightly and properly established as a massacre, and neither the military nor the Kaduna State government disputed the facts.

What they railed against was the motive for the killings, and whether the military acted justly. Lagos State has a responsibility to ensure that the Lagos judicial panel did the right thing, worked within its terms of reference, and established the truth rather than conjure indefensible and unsubstantiated facts which some vested interests now want to ram down the throats of Nigerians, after taking care to rouse global sentiments and animosities.

The US has appeared to take the front seat in commenting on the report. It should not get its fingers burnt. It should read the report first and study the White Paper.

Decades ago, Asian countries weaned themselves off the breast milk of Western powers, and have since run their economies and devised, adapted, or designed independent and self-sustaining political systems. Their youths, as the politically conscious Chinese exemplify, have learnt to denounce and rebuff foreign interferences in their countries’ domestic affairs. Nigerian youths, not to say their political elders whose political consciousness is below average, use the West as their political benchmark, social yardstick, and embarrassingly, their policemen to whip their degenerate leaders into shape. It is shameful the route some vested interests are taking to achieve their aims of mediating a fair, egalitarian, and just society.

But it is impossible to build truth and progress on falsehood. The leaked report is damaged in many parts. It is true that Nigerian leaders have been remiss since 1960, if not before, in running a just society, and have enthroned and cuddled oppressive policies and rogue institutions, including subverting the justice system.

Before the campaign was botched, EndSARS protests drew attention to the rot and cruelty that have made Nigeria nearly unworkable, particularly its law enforcement. But despite these anomalies, it is time to stop pampering those who seek to undermine the country, open it up to foreign interlopers responsible in the first instance for the obnoxious foundations Nigeria is still grappling with today.

Hopefully, the real report, when it is finally released, will prove to be substantially different in language, in respect for facts and evidence, the temper of arguments and conclusions, and coherence and consistency. The leaked report is full of contradictions, not one, not two; many in fact. It had no pretext to be called a report, let alone a judicial panel report. It is a disservice to members of the panel.

The true report should be markedly different, despite the unsolicited statement by one of the panelists that other than typographical errors, the leaked report bore a close resemblance to what the panel produced. It is impossible.

In any case, should the leaked report bear a close resemblance to the true report, the state government must have the courage to repair the immense damage both have caused to the integrity of our political and judicial systems.

Lagos will be under intense pressure; it must not buckle and produce a diluted and compromised White Paper. The presidency has passed the buck to the state, insisting that Abuja would act only when the state had done its part.

*Commentators, some of whom have jumped the gun by heading to the International Criminal Court (ICC) with tens of thousands of signatures of those who have not read the report, are threatening fire and brimstone, alleging without proof that a cover-up was afoot. A few of those threats have disappointingly come from members of the panel, a reflection of how divided Nigeria has become, and how discouragingly problematic and obfuscatory discourse has become in these parts. Commentators and activists have become extremists who insist on their point of view or nothing else, extremists who stigmatise opponents as either lapdog of the government or deniers of the truth.

Sadly, many journalists find themselves in this increasingly irrational group that is no longer open to reason or discussions or logic. Lagos should boldly strikeout and avoid being sandwiched between a dithering federal government and raucous and prejudiced activists. Get the truth out, and stand by it, even if it disappoints those who have made up their minds to believe nothing else but their preconceived positions and opinions. This will be hard, but it is not impossible, for even going by the leaked report, within its jumbled hysteria and deliberate non-sequiturs are the unassailable facts of what transpired on that controversial October night at Lekki.*

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