Events that transpired at Lekki on October 20, during the #EndSARS protests which culminated in the shootings of protesters continue to unravel as CNN released a detailed investigative report on the incident today, Wednesday, November 18, 2020.
What happened to the #EndSARS protesters on October 20, and into the early hours of October 21, at the Lekki toll gate; a key piece of Lagos’ road network — has stunned the country.
The protesters who were present have told CNN it was a “massacre” with multiple people killed and dozens wounded.
However, the government has continuously denied what happened.
Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu admitted to CNN that footage showed uniformed soldiers firing on peaceful protesters. However, he claimed only two #EndSARS demonstrators were killed.
But, he then said there was “not a scratch of blood” at the toll gate when he visited. The governor said no families had approached authorities, saying they were missing relatives.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the Nigerian Army denied any involvement, describing reports of the incident as fake news; before backtracking and saying that soldiers were present but fired their weapons in the air and used blanks, not live rounds.
On November 14, during a judicial inquiry into the shooting, Army representative Brigadier Ahmed Taiwo said; “There’s no way officers and men will kill their brothers and sisters. I repeat no way. We have those who constantly seek to drive a wedge between us and between the citizens of Nigeria…”
The Army also said at the hearing that it was the governor who called soldiers to the scene because the police were overrun.
Sanwo-Olu has denied this, saying he does not have the authority to call in the army. The Army has continued to restate that they did not fire live rounds.
But an investigation by CNN into the disputed events has cast doubt on authorities’ shifting and changing statements.
Evidence of bullet casings from the scene matches those used by the Nigerian Army when shooting live rounds; according to current and former Nigerian military officials.
Verified video footage — using timestamps and data from the video files — shows soldiers who appear to be shooting in the direction of protesters.
— CNN Africa (@CNNAfrica) November 18, 2020
Further, accounts from eyewitnesses establish that after the Army withdrew; the second round of shooting by operatives of the Nigerian Police happened later in the evening.
The shootings at Lekki toll gate followed weeks of #EndSARS protests against police brutality that had burst onto the streets of cities across Nigeria.
For almost a fortnight, thousands of young Nigerians protested, with calls for an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad; a police unit widely and repeatedly accused of kidnapping, harassment, extortion and extrajudicial killing.
The Police hierarchy had agreed to disband the controversial unit but #EndSARS protests continued. It would be the fourth time it was being disbanded.
There were peaceful marches, candlelight vigils, multi-faith prayer sessions, and DJ performances that attracted backing and solidarity from celebrities; as well as the Nigerian diaspora and supporters around the world.
Soon, the #EndSARS movement quickly widened beyond police brutality to other grievances; capturing the frustrations of a young population demanding an end to bad governance in the oil-rich country.
The Lekki toll gate became a focal point of the movement.
However, about 10 days into the protests, the demonstrations were hijacked by “thugs and sponsored hoodlums” who attacked protesters; causing deaths and injuries, according to Amnesty International Nigeria.
In response, on October 20, hours before the shooting, Governor Sanwo-Olu imposed a strict curfew starting at 4pm. The curfew was imposed as a result of looting and vandalism in other parts of the state. It was later moved to 9pm to allow commuters to get home. The timeline for when the curfew was imposed has become a point of contention between the Governor and the military.
The army said their soldiers were unaware of the change to the later time; according to the Army spokesperson’s testimony to the eight-person judicial panel on November 14.
For 24 hours, only essential service providers were to be allowed on the streets of Lagos.
Less than three hours after the original curfew time came into effect, army trucks left the Bonny Camp barracks on Victoria Island and headed towards the toll gate plaza and the protesters, according to videos reviewed by CNN.
Two eyewitnesses told CNN they saw soldiers arriving in a Toyota Hilux pickup truck with “OP Awatse” written on it; the name of a joint military task force that operates in Lagos State.
Videos examined by CNN show the army trucks approaching the protesters from both sides of the toll gate; barricading them in.
DJ Switch, a local musician whose real name is Obianuju Catherine Udeh, was streaming live on Instagram when it all happened and the shooting began.
The shooting started almost immediately, with no warning given. Panic ensued as protesters attempted to flee.
“There was a guy that was running, and he just… he fell, and we looked at him. He was shot in the back,” DJ Switch, 29, told CNN; as she tried to talk during an interview while crying.
“Please explain to me how, in which part of the world, do you go to a protest with live bullets,” she said.
From multiple videos, CNN has pieced together a timeline that shows that shooting by the army lasted from 6:43pm. until at least 8:24pm., according to video evidence.
The videos capturing some of those 101 minutes tell a story of terror and chaos. They show graphic injuries and people bleeding on the ground.
The Army has denied that anyone was taken to hospital with gunshot wounds and that they only shot into the air.
Speaking in front of the judicial panel, the army spokesman Brigadier Ahmed Taiwo continued to deny that anyone was shot.
DJ Switch told CNN that protesters lifted bodies with bullet wounds and put them at the soldiers’ feet.
“I said, why are you killing us? Why are you doing this,” she said. “He expressly told me: ‘I am acting on orders from above.'”
CNN has examined bullet casings found at the scene and confirmed with current and former Nigerian military sources that the bullet casings match those used by the army.
Two ballistics experts have also confirmed with CNN that the shape of the bullet casings indicate they used live rounds, which contradicts the army’s claim they fired blanks.
Also, working with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network; CNN has established that several of the bullets from the Lekki toll gate originated from Serbia.
Export documents CNN has seen show that Nigeria purchased weaponry from Serbia almost every year between 2005 and 2016.