Some prominent Nigerians, including a former Provost Marshal of the Nigeria Army, Brig Gen Idada Ikponmwen (rtd) and some senior lawyers, including Chief Mike Ahamba and Mr. Monday Ubani, have berated the Nigerian Army over its inconsistencies in response to the alleged shooting of #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Toll Plaza, Lagos.
Saying that the initial denial and subsequent recanting do not portray the army in good light and may have damaged the military’s reputation, the eminent personalities attributed the recent shootings of protesters to the wrong use of the military.
In the unfortunate incident which occurred on Tuesday, October 20, 2020, some armed men believed to be soldiers, dressed in military camouflage, had stormed the venue of the #EndSARS protests and opened fire on some of the unarmed protesters.
Ikponmwen, who expressed disappointment at the turn of events, especially the denials and buck passing by the Nigeria Army and the government of Lagos State, said recent testimonies and evidence emanating from several quarters have put question marks on the earlier denials.
Arguing that there was no need for the denials, the retired soldier said the mere existence of Operation MESA in Lagos and similar outfits in other states, was evidence that the military authorities including the President and Commander- in -Chief of the Nigeria Armed Forces were aware that military men have been placed at the disposal of the governors as Chairmen of the Security Councils in their states. According to him, the practice of setting up multi security agency task force in states has been the order of the day since the beginning of civil rule in 1999.
“The system puts the military commanders in various states under the governors as chairmen of the Task Force which means that those who approved the task force know that the military has been subjected to the governors’ command. “This is a contravention of the rule that the military is not meant to be subordinated to state officials including the governors. The military operates under their Commander- in-Chief and cannot work under the authority of the governors.
“So, Operation MESA means a violation of our constitution and a violation of international best practices where the military reports to only military commands. Whenever you put the military under a civilian, you are endangering the populace because he may not even know the implication of military force. “We are running the same system as the United States but in the US, you cannot use troops to enforce civil law.
The constitution and other relevant laws put the military under the President and Commander in Chief and prescribe punishment for anybody who goes against the law. “There is nowhere in any civilised system that you can subject the military to the authority of governors. This is exactly what our constitution says from the provisions of Section 217 and Section 305.
The combined effect of these two sections is that no military force is deployed until there is an insurrection and the President declares a State of Emergency, gazettes it and transmits same gazette or proclamation to the National Assembly,” he said.
Under the law, Ikponmwen said, the Nigeria Armed Forces are a representation of the sovereignty of Nigeria and cannot be deployed for internal security operations without following due process. “I have been saying this for the past twenty (20) years. Since Obasanjo’s regime, we have been using the military wrongly.
We have been involving the military in the day to day assignments and for routine law enforcement. This practice has relegated the police to the background, rendered them inefficient and irrelevant. “This is why the average Nigerian now feels that, without soldiers, there can be no security.
It is a contradiction of the provisions of our constitution and a country that is not run in line with its constitution is swimming in illegality. It is covered from head to toe with illegalities.
“We cannot continue with these illegalities. Long ago, I warned that this issue was gathering momentum and unless we changed our style of doing things, it will get us into a state of anarchy. We are already there now. The people don’t believe in government anymore,” he said. Ahamba, Ubani, others express displeasure Speaking on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ahamba, expressed his displeasure at the inconsistencies in army’s submissions on the incident.
He said: “I take serious exceptions to the inconsistencies in their explanations and it’s unfortunate that the army was not definite in its explanations about the shootings at Lekki. It is more disheartening that the army does not know the whereabouts of its personnel when such a grave incident occurred. “Besides, it is also disturbing for the army to say that the video of the shooting was fake.
I also want to advice that comments should be stopped until the panel of inquiry that has the mandate to investigate the incident concluded its assignment. Let’s wait for the panel to come up with its findings, and then we will know what to say”.
In the same vein, a former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Monday Ubani, described the army’s responsas inappropriate, saying it showed that something is amiss. “The response of the army is inappropriate and this goes to show that there were plans to cover up something. You could remember that at the initial stage when videos about the incident were circulating online, the army described them as fake news.
“You also remember that Lai Mohammed was also trying to hide under the army’s fake news mantra to call for the regulation of social media. So, for the army to admit the reality that there were soldiers at the scene, that there were shootings at the place and that lives were lost is an indication that there were initial plans to cover up.
“The social media has also been there to expose every wicked acts of government and that is why those in authority want to ensure that the social media is killed in Nigeria, but I know they will not succeed. If anyone offends the law while using the social media, there are a number of ways by which he or she can be brought to justice.
“I also want to call for the setting up of an independent panel devoid of any government’s interference to look into the incident at Lekki”, Ubani said. In his own submission, a rights activist, Mr. Ige Asemudara, also faulted army’s response to the Lekki incident saying it has portrayed the military in bad light.
He said: “The response by the military is not the best and it has portrayed them in bad light. Well, the incident is now a subject of judicial enquiry and so my comments will be limited in order not to prejudice the outcome. “Having said that, I am not in a position to know who gave orders to the military personnel to come to that toll gate to do what they did there. However, it is clear that by law, the Governor of Lagos State or any governor for that matter does not have powers over the military in any manner whatsoever.
“It then leaves us with the Federal Government who alone has such powers. I firmly believe that every Nigerian has a right to protest, which is integral to the freedom of expression in the Constitution and also among the rights guaranteed in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights properly domesticated in Nigeria by legislation drawing strength from Section 12 of the Constitution.
“The only thing I see is that the government also has the power to impose curfew if it becomes clear that law and orders are breaking down as it happened. So, in dispersing the obstinate crowd upon the imposition of curfew, there are rules of engagement. The panel of enquiries should let us know what happened”, he explained.