Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has said that the Lekki shooting incident was a ‘massacre without bodies’.
On October 20, Army officers stormed the Lekki tollgate where #EndSARS protesters were protesters.
While the Lagos state government says only two persons died, eyewitnesses including DJ Switch alleged that about 15 bodies were dumped at the feet of the military after the incident. Many reports have described the incident as a massacre of Nigerian youths who were simply protesting and demanding an end to police brutality.
In an interactive session with newsmen on Thursday November 19, Lai Mohammed, said the incident being portrayed so far was a “social media massacre” or a “hoax massacre.”
“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”.
Speaking further, Lai Mohammed said that it is surprising that till date, family members of those who have been claimed to have been killed at the tollgate haven’t come forward to speak.
“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,” he said.
He said incidents like this give credence to the plans by the Federal government to regulate social media.
“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.
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.
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,” he said.