NIGERIAN Army witness before the #EndSARS judicial panel of inquiry in Lagos State has revealed that the chief of army staff Lt General Tukur Buratai deployed trainee soldiers to the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20 to confront unarmed protesters there.
Yesterday, the panel of inquiry resumed sitting after suspending sittings for a week because the youth representatives pulled out over government prosecution of their members. They had boycotted the panel in protest against the freezing of the bank accounts of supporters of their protest by the federal government through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Last Saturday, the Justice Doris Okuwobi-led panel was forced to suspend its sittings due to the boycott of the panel sitting by the two youth representatives on the panel Oluwarinu Oduala and Temitope Majekodunmi. One of the accounts frozen by the CBN belonged to Mr Oduala but after it was unfrozen, he resumed his place on the panel.
At yesterday’s hearing, Brigadier Ahmed Taiwo, the commander of the 81 Military Intelligence Brigade of the Nigerian Army, gave a three-hour testimony on his feet. In his testimony, he revealed that General Buratai ordered the deployment of soldiers undergoing training at military schools for the Lekki exercise due to a shortage of troops.
According to Brigadier Taiwo, only a day before, as an examiner at Nigerian Army Intelligence, he taught the trainee soldiers about internal security techniques. He added that he pointed out to them how it was unbelievable that only a day after learning the rules, they were going for an operation in internal security.
Brigadier Taiwo said: “Because the 81 Division was short of troops, the chief of army staff gave an extraordinary order that all army schools should be shut down and everybody should be brought to the operation.”
He added that since the police had been overrun, the intervention of the army was justified, but said the Nigerian Army frowned upon Governor Babajide Sanwoolu’s denial about calling out the soldiers. According to Brigadier Taiwo, in trying to seek military intervention, Governor Sanwoolu first called the commander of the Nine Brigade, who told him that he had to follow the correct procedure by contacting the chief of army staff and the then the general officer commanding the division.
Brigadier Taiwo added: “He called the chief of army staff, following which the 81 Division of the Nigerian Army was ordered into Phase Four for an internal security operation. The call was in the afternoon, before 4pm.”
In addition, he said the army was told that the 24-hour curfew declared by Governor Sanwoolu would start from 4pm and that the military was not informed after the commencement time was shifted to 9pm. Brigadier Taiwo insisted that troops neither shot at nor killed any of the #EndSARS protesters at the tollgate, saying only expended bullets were used.
“Despite that, hoodlums came to challenge the soldiers and started pelting them with stones and bottles. Blank expended ammunition contains only gunpowder, which just makes noise and a flash,” he added.
Brigadier Taiwo showed footage of soldiers serving water and drinks to protesters at the Lekki tollgate after a substantial number of the protesters had been dispersed. He said having been in the military since the 80s, he could tell from experience that once a protest last beyond three days it would be hijacked by hoodlums.