The Commander, 9 Brigade, Nigerian Army, Brig Gen Musa Etsu-Ndagi, representing the Nigerian Army on the Lagos State Security Council, has said he received a phone call from the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, around 7.23pm on October 20,2020 informing him that a certain Lt Col Bello was reportedly shooting at the Lekki tollgate where #EndSARS protesters were gathered.
Etsu-Ndagi said he immediately called Bello, who is the Commanding Officer, 65 Battalion, Bonny Camp, Victoria Island, and he (Bello) told him that he only fired blank ammunition into the air.
Etsu-Ndagi, who is one of the top four military officers listed as witnesses of the Nigerian Army before the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry probing the Lekki tollgate shootings, stated this in his statement on oath filed at the panel’s registry on Friday.
The top Nigerian Army officers insisted that soldiers never shot at or killed anyone and there was no massacre at the Lekki tollgate on the night of October 20.
They vehemently denied using live ammunition on the #EndSARS protesters who gathered at the tollgate, adding that soldiers did not take any dead bodies away.
Bello said the protesters were, in fact, 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.
The other army officers who deposed to witness statements before the panel are the Commander of 81 Military Intelligence Brigade, Victoria Island, Lagos, Brig Gen Ahmed Taiwo; the Chief of Staff, 81 Division, Nigerian Army, VI, Lagos, Brig Gen Nsikak Edet; Commander, 81 Division Garrison, VI, Brig-Gen Francis Omata.
Specifically, Omata and Bello told the panel that by the time they arrived at the tollgate, the protest had turned from peaceful to violent.
They said on arrival at the tollgate, they were being pelted with stones and broken bottles and that in response all they did was fire blank ammunition into the air to disperse the crowd.
Omata said, “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.”
Giving his own account of the incident, Bello said while he was moving towards the Lekki-Ajah Expressway at around 6.45 pm, he heard gunshots before the tollgate and on coming down he saw that “the crowd had turned from peaceful protesters to a mob, infiltrated by hoodlums.”
He said, “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.”
Bello stressed that “we did not fire at the protesters. Blank ammunition was 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.”