TEXT OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE ADDRESSED BY THE HON. MINISTER OF
INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, IN ABUJA ON THURSDAY, 19 NOV. 2020 ON THE ENDSARS PROTEST AND ITS AFTERMATH
Good morning gentlemen, and welcome to this press conference. It’s no longer news that the EndSARS protest last month degenerated into mindless violence after it was hijacked by hoodlums. In the aftermath of the protest, however, there are lingering issues, hence this press conference to take a holistic look at such issues.
2. Before we delve into those issues, let’s look at the demand of the EndSARS protesters, whose campaign was aimed at ending police brutality and disbanding the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), and the response of the Federal Government:
THE FIVE DEMANDS OF THE #ENDSARS MOVEMENT:
i) Immediate release of all arrested protesters.
ii) Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and
appropriate compensation for their families.
iii) Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and
prosecution of all reports of police misconduct within 10 days.
iv) In line with the new Police Act, psychological evaluation and
retraining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded
SARS officers before they can be redeployed.
v) Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated
for protecting the lives and property of citizens.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE:
Gentlemen, the EndSARS campaign had barely begun last month when the
Inspector-General of Police announced, on Oct. 11th 2020, the immediate disbandment of SARS across the 36 State Police Commands and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
A day later, on Oct. 12th, 2020, President Muhamadu Buhari addressed the nation, stating: ”The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms in order to ensure that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives and livelihood of our people. We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct or wrongful acts are brought to justice.
Following up quickly on that, the IGP on Oct. 13 2020, ordered all defunct SARS personnel to report at the Force Headquarters, Abuja, for debriefing as well as psychological and medical examination. The officers were to undergo this process as a prelude to further training and reorientation before being redeployed into mainstream policing duties. The medical examination was carried out by the new Police Counselling and Support Unit (PCSU).
On Oct. 13th 2020, the presidential panel on the reform of SARS formally accepted the five-point demand of the #EndSARS protesters.
On Oct. 15th 2020, the National Economic Council (NEC) directed the immediate establishment of State-based Judicial Panels of Inquiry across the country to receive and investigate complaints of police brutality or related extra-judicial killings, with a view to delivering justice for all victims of the dissolved SARS and other police units. The panel will include representatives of Youths, Students, Civil Society Organizations and would be chaired by a respected retired State High Court Judge. The panels have six months to complete its assignment.
Other decisions by NEC on the Demands:
– State Governors and the FCT Minister should take charge of interface and contact with the protesters in their respective domains.
– State Governors should immediately establish State-based Special Security and Human Rights Committees to be chaired by the Governors in their States, and to supervise the newly-formed police tactical units and all other security agencies located in the States. This will ensure the protection of citizens’ human rights. Members will also
include Representatives of Youths and Civil Society, as well as the head of police tactical units in each of the States.
– Establishment, by the Special Committee on Security and Human Rights, of a Human Rights Public Complaints Team of between 2 to 3 persons to receive complaints on an ongoing basis. That team would be established by the Special Committee on Security and Human Rights.
– State Governors to immediately establish a Victims Fund to enable the payment of monetary compensation to deserving victims.
3. Finally, on the Federal Government’s response, the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission was directed to expedite action on the finalization of the new salary structure of members of the Nigeria Police Force.
4. Gentlemen, you can see, from the above, that the Federal Government was not only responsive but was also very responsible in its handling of the demands of the EndSARS protesters. The five demands were met (some with an immediate pronouncement and others by kickstarting the process of meeting them). Despite this, the protest continued and the demands kept expanding, until the protest was hijacked, leading to unprecedented violence characterized by killings, maiming, arson, looting etc.
THE ROLE OF FAKE NEWS, DISINFORMATION IN THE ENDSARS VIOLENCE 5. As I said earlier, what started as a peaceful protest against police brutality quickly degenerated into incredible violence despite an immediate response to the demands by the government. Keen watchers of the developments cannot fail to notice the role played by the social media in the EndSARS protest. As a veritable tool for mass mobilization, the organizers of the protest of course leveraged heavily on social media for that purpose. But on the other hand, the same social media was used to spread fake news and disinformation that catalyzed the violence that was witnessed across the country.
6. This development has reinforced the campaign against fake news and disinformation, which we launched in 2018. As a matter of fact, as far back as 2017, when we dedicated that year’s National Council on Information to the issue of fake news and disinformation, we had been expressing concerns on the dangers posed by irresponsible use of the new media platform. The concerns culminated in the launch of the national campaign which I referred to earlier.
7. The social media was used to guide arsonists and looters to certain properties, both public and private. Pictures of persons, including some celebrities, who were supposedly killed at the Lekki Toll Gate by soldiers, were circulated widely, only for those persons to refute such claims or for the discerning to disprove such posts. As we have said many times, no responsible government will stand by and allow such abuse of social media to continue. The fake news/disinformation purveyors have latched on to our concerns to allege that the Federal Government is planning to shut down social media. No, we have no plans to shut down the social media. What we have always advocated, and what we will do, is to regulate the social media. Nigeria is not alone in this regard. The issue of social media regulation is an ongoing debate not just in Nigeria but around the world, including in the United States, which is the flag flyer of constitutional democracy. Even the owners of the various social media platforms, including Facebook, are increasingly joining the call for content regulation.
8. Some respected opinion leaders have been playing to the gallery on the issue of social media regulation by making inciting and incendiary statements, while some other individuals and groups have been threatening fire and brimstone over the issue of social media regulation. What they have failed to understand is that the only reason we are even able to have this debate is because we have a country. If we allow the abuse of social media to precipitate uncontrolled internecine violence, the kind of which was narrowly averted during the EndSARS crisis, no one will remember or be able to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, for whatever purpose. It is incumbent upon us all, therefore, to strike a balance between free speech – which this Administration is committed to upholding – and fake news/disinformation, which it is determined to fight..
‘SOCIAL MEDIA MASSACRE’ AT LEKKI TOLL GATE
9. While we await the Judicial Panel in Lagos to unravel what transpired at the Lekki Toll Gate, what we can say, based on testimonies available in the public space, is that the world may have just witnessed, for the very first time ever, a MASSACRE WITHOUT BODIES! Some have tagged it ‘social media massacre’. The testimony of Brig.-Gen, Ahmed Ibrahim Taiwo of the Nigerian Army before the Panel was compelling, and I am sure many of you have listened to or watched it. The highlights, for those who may not have watched the testimony, are:
– Soldiers were deployed all over Lagos, including Lekki Toll Gate, after the other security agencies were overwhelmed on Oct. 20th 2020, upon the request of the state government.
– Before deployment, the soldiers were briefed on the Rules of Engagement, which they adhered to all through
– Soldiers at Lekki Toll Gate fired blank ammunitions into the air
– Blank ammunition cannot do any damage to the flesh, not to talk of killing anyone
– Firing live ammunition into the crowd, as some have alleged, would have led to mass killing, which never happened.
10 Sadly, the purveyors of fake news and disinformation succeeded in deceiving the world that indeed there was mass killing in Lekki, even when, till date, not a single body has been produced and not a single family or relative has come out to say their child or ward was killed at Lekki. More surprising and irresponsible is the fact that some people have been calling for sanctions against Nigeria or against Nigerian government officials on the basis of a hoax. This is one of the dangers of fake news and disinformation. Once fake news is out, many run with it, without looking back, even when the truth is
eventually revealed. We therefore want to use this opportunity to ask those who have alleged massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate to go to the Judicial Panel to present their evidence(s) to the world or simply admit that they have goofed.
CNN’s REPORT OF KILLINGS AT THE LEKKI TOLL GATE
11. Like everyone else, I watched the CNN report. I must tell you that it reinforces the disinformation that is going round, and it is blatantly irresponsible and a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organization. CNN engaged in incredible sensationalism and did a great disservice to itself and to journalism. In the first instance, CNN, which touted its report as an exclusive investigative report, sadly relied on the same videos that have been circulating on social media, without verification. This is very serious and CNN should be sanctioned for that. CNN merely said the videos were ”obtained by CNN”, without saying wherefrom and whether or not it authenticated them. Were CNN reporters and cameramen at the Lekki Toll Gate that evening? If the answer is no, on what basis were they reporting? Relying on second or third hand information and presenting it as ”CNN Investigation”? Why didn’t the CNN balance its story by showing the compelling testimony of Brig.-Gen. Taiwo before the Judicial Panel in Lagos? Is this one-sided reporting what is expected from an international media organization or any serious news organization? If CNN had done its investigation properly, it would have known how fake news and disinformation were trending during the EndSARS crisis. The BBC even did a report on this, and we recommend that report to CNN. Talking about the BBC, a reporter with the BBC’s Pidgin Service, Damilola Banjo, was at Lekki Toll Gate protest ground that night. She was quoted as saying soldiers were indeed at the Toll Gate but they shot ‘’sporadically into the air’’ and not at the protesters. CNN that was not at the scene reported otherwise.
12 In airing its so-called investigative report, CNN conveniently forgot that on Oct. 23rd 2020, it tweeted, from its verified twitter handle, that the military killed 38 people when it opened fire on peaceful protesters on Tuesday, Oct. 20th 2020. Less than a month later, the same CNN, in what it called an EXCLUSIVE report based on a rehash of old, unverified videos, was only able to confirm that one person died in the same incident.
13 In its jaundiced reporting, CNN was blind to the fact that six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed in unprovoked attacks. Obviously, CNN did not consider the security agents human enough. CNN, in its ‘investigation’, was blind to the wanton destruction of property in Lagos and across the country. Also, CNN was blind to the burning of police stations and vehicles all over the country. Instead, it went to town with unverified social media footages, in its desperation to prove that people were killed at the Lekki Toll Gate. Again, This is irresponsible journalism for which CNN deserves to be sanctioned. We insist that the military did not shoot at protesters at Lekki Toll Gate. They fired blank ammunition in the air. Again, anyone who knows anyone who was killed at Lekki Toll Gate should head to the Judicial Panel with conclusive evidence of such.
THE ROLE OF THE SECURITY AGENCIES
14. At this point, it is important to say that the Federal Government is very satisfied with the role played by the security agencies, especially the military and the police, all through the EndSARS crisis. The security agents were professional and measured in
their response. Even when their lives were at stake, they exercised uncommon restraint. Their professionalism and measured response saved many lives and properties. For example, despite arresting hordes of looters during the violence in Lagos, the army treated them humanely and even counseled them before handing them over to the police. The same cannot be said of those who unleashed mayhem on the security agents, killing and maiming them, sometimes in such a barbaric manner that is unprecedented in these parts. As I said earlier, six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed all over the country during the crisis. This is in addition to 196 policemen who were injured; 164 police vehicles that were destroyed and 134 police stations that were razed.
15 Also, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Nigeria Customs Service and Nigeria Immigration Service all lost infrastructures, equipment and other valuables to attack by hoodlums during the crisis. Eight medium security custodial centres in six
states (Edo, Lagos, Abia, Delta, Ondo and Ebonyi) were attacked, with 1,957 inmates set free and 31 staff injured.
16. The Federal Government will therefore not accept a situation in which some so-called human rights bodies and jaundiced media organizations will continue to harass the security agencies over their roles during the crisis. Soldiers, policemen and other security agents deserve commendation, not condemnation, except, of course, their critics are saying they are not human beings and that their own rights do not matter. It is
depressing and demoralizing to continue to vilify men and women in uniform, who themselves were victims of senseless violence unleashed by hoodlums. The role of the human rights organizations, in particular, became suspect after they simply ignored the brutal killing and maiming of security agents during the crisis, as well as the orgy of violence that left 57 civilians dead, 269 private/corporate facilities burnt/looted/vandalized, 243 government facilities burnt/vandalized and 81 government warehouses looted, and instead continued to dwell on the bodiless and bloodless ‘massacre’ at Lekki Toll Gate. They did not see anything wrong in the public and
private properties that were burnt or looted, neither did they see anything wrong in the fact that some of the businesses that were looted belonged to struggling young men and women. All they could see in their biased view of the whole situation was a hoax massacre.
17. Still on the alleged Lekki Toll Gate massacre, one of the purveyors of fake news and disinformation during the EndSARS crisis was DJ Switch, real name Obianuju Catherine Udeh, even though she claimed to have authentic evidence of mass killings. Surprisingly, instead of presenting whatever evidence she may have to the Judicial Panel, she chose to escape from the country under the pretext that her life was in danger. I ask: in danger from whom? The military has come out to say they never sought after her. To the best of our knowledge, the police never declared her wanted. Her conduct thus becomes suspect. Who is she fronting for? What is her real motive? Who are her sponsors? If she has any evidence of killings, why is she not presenting it to the Panel? If she was so desperate for asylum in any country, does she have to resort to blatant falsehood to tarnish the image of the country just to achieve her aim? In the fullness of time, this lady will be exposed for what she is, a fraud and a front for
divisive and destructive forces. At this juncture, we want to appeal to countries that have made hasty judgements on the basis of fake news and disinformation emanating from the EndSARS crisis to endeavour to seek and find the truth.
SANCTIONS ON SOME TV STATIONS
18. In the aftermath of the EndSARS crisis, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) fined three broadcast stations for using unverified and dangerous information from social media. Commentators, many of whom didn’t even know why the NBC imposed the fine, rushed to allege an attempt to stifle free speech. Unknown to them, the stations themselves know that they breached the Broadcasting Code. Two of them have paid their fines in full, while the third has paid a part of the fine, with an appeal for time to pay the balance.
19. The position of the Federal Government is that not only were the fines justified, the NBC was indeed lenient. It is sad to see the traditional media jettisoning the age-long gate-keeping process and instead rushing to rely on the free-wheeling social media – devoid of any gate keeping – for news. Sadly, there is an emerging trend in which even the traditional media is freely using materials from social media without taking the pains to verify their authenticity. This is a dangerous trend that must be curbed, in the interest of the media practitioners themselves, the profession and indeed the country.
20. Had the NBC wielded the big stick, some broadcast media organizations would have faced more severe sanctions than mere fines. Recall that an otherwise reputable broadcast media organization had carried a fake report that the Ecumenical Centre in Abuja was on fire during the violence that followed the protest. Though the organization in question later retracted the story, the kind of reprisal attack this could have sparked is better imagined. Also, another reputable broadcast media organization featured a report that identified a maintenance worker atop a bank building overlooking the Lekki Toll
Gate as a sniper, leading to attacks that destroyed many of the bank’s branches. The organizations have not even been sanctioned for this terrible disinformation, yet rabble rousers have latched on to the fines to make all sorts of baseless allegations.
21. In conclusion, gentlemen, let me reiterate the following:
a) The Federal Government was responsive and responsible in meeting the demands of the EndSARS protesters
b) The irresponsible use of social media by some unscrupulous persons aggravated the violence that erupted in the wake of the EndSARS protest and helped to precipitate the violence. While the government has no plans to shut down the internet, it will work with stakeholders to regulate the social media to curb abuse
c) Those who use the social media responsibly have nothing to fear, but those who abuse it have every reason to be worried, as no responsible government will stand by and allow a few unscrupulous elements to set the country ablaze.
d) CNN goofed in its preconceived stance that the soldiers who were deployed to Lekki Toll Gate indeed shot at protesters, killing some of them. CNN relied heavily on unverified and possibly-doctored videos, as well as information sourced from questionable sources, to reach its conclusion. This should earn CNN a serious sanction for irresponsible reporting.
e) While the Judicial Panel sitting in Lagos works to unravel what really transpired at the Lekki Toll Gate, available evidence so far points to the world’s first case of MASSACRE WITHOUT BLOOD OR BODIES.
f) The Federal Government commends the security agencies for acting professionally and showing utmost restraint all through the EndSARS protest and the ensuing violence, an action that saved lives and properties
g) Human Rights Organizations should note that the security agents are also human beings and they have rights too. Even if the organizations, for whatever reasons, are reluctant to recognize the human rights of security agents, they should quit vilifying them as they are wont to do. It is also disheartening that the human rights organizations have not seen anything wrong in the mindless violence that was perpetrated in the name of EndSARS.
h) DJ Switch (Obianuju Catherine Udeh) should quit peddling falsehood and present her case, with verifiable evidence, to the Judicial Panel sitting in Lagos. No agency of government has declared her wanted hence she has no reason fleeing or seeking asylum anywhere.
i) The sanctions imposed on some broadcast media organizations by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) are justified, in view of the unprofessional acts of the organizations which were in clear breach of the Broadcasting Code, as stated by the Commission. It is also imperative for the traditional media to authenticate information
from the social media before pushing such to the public
22. Gentlemen, I thank you for your kind attention. I will now take your questions which must be strictly on the issues I have addressed here.