Sunday, May 19, 2024

EXCLUSIVE: What President Buhari told ministers about #LekkiMassacre, #EndSARS

Yemi Osinbajo and others at the FEC meeting did not question the president’s decision to deploy soldiers against civilians in Lagos, a source said.

• October 22, 2020
Bloody Nigerian flag and Buhari
Bloody Nigerian flag and Buhari used to illustrate Lekki Massacre story

On Tuesday night, at least nine lives were lost after Nigerian soldiers fired live rounds at citizens protesting decades of police brutality in Lagos. 

The military’s extra-judicial carnage, which came after lights and security cameras were conveniently put out, set off additional chaos as rampaging vandals overwhelmed existing security and law enforcement mechanisms, causing untold deaths, injuries and destruction of high-valued assets in almost every neighbourhood of the nation’s commercial capital. 

The shootings in the affluent Lekki district and the meltdown that followed in Lagos and other parts of the country gripped the nation, with most of the country’s 200 million population seeing it as a clear escalation of a string of increasingly sponsored attacks aimed at neutralising the #EndSARS campaign.

President Muhammadu Buhari declined to comment on the crises as they surged, disregarding immediate and loud calls that said his address could mitigate the situation.

Not on agenda

On Wednesday, the Federal Executive Council, a weekly meeting of the president, vice-president and all cabinet members, also failed to include the widespread chaos on its agenda, Peoples Gazette can report, according to two senior administration officials who were at the meeting. 

The meeting only addressed what a minister described to the Gazette as ‘boring issues’ like establishment of a duplicatory medical department and plastic waste disposal. 

But after the meeting proper had wrapped up, a minister commented about the fatal military attacks on citizens chorusing the national anthem in Lekki, which Mr. Buhari then decried it as unfortunate.

The president also asked all ministers to return to their states with a message that the citizens, especially the youth, should shun violence and lead a lawful life.

“The president said all ministers should return to their respective states and explain to constituents what the administration is doing to address the crises,” an administration official told Peoples Gazette. 

Another senior official who was at the meeting, which had some ministers physically present while others joined via video conference, said the president was concerned, but did not want to address the matter further.

“There were complaints that when the president briefly addressed the #EndSARS at a public appearance last week, he was thoroughly mocked for it,” an official said. “So he did not think issuing an address at 7:00 a.m. or 7:00 p.m. would make any difference to the crises.”

Officials also told Peoples Gazette that everyone at the Federal Executive Council meeting was too terrified to directly ask the president about how soldiers were deployed against Lekki protesters.

“It was really, really tragic,” the official said. “But nobody at the meeting, including the vice-president, could question the commander-in-chief on how he took the decision to use the military asset under him.” 

The officials requested anonymity to disclose discussions at cabinet meeting, which satisfied our editorial policy on anonymous sources.

Presidential spokesmen Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu did not return requests for comments from Peoples Gazette Thursday morning.

Presidential awareness

Although the president did not directly tell his cabinet whether or not he gave approval for military deployment, his silence at such a critical meeting indicated he had a prior awareness at least, an official said.

The president has viewed the #EndSARS as a movement targeted against him, officials said, citing calls for his removal from office that were recently introduced into the protests after suspected state agents openly coordinated thugs to wreak havoc.

Last week, the president rebuffed pressure to deploy troops from Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai, Peoples Gazette reported. But the military kept the pressure on.

But hours before the attack in Lekki, Mr. Buhari on Tuesday afternoon met service chiefs and defence minister Bashir Magashi. Details of the meeting were not immediately made public, but security analysts suggested troops deployment might have been discussed. 

“If the president was only able to tell the ministers to go back to their states and  preach peace, then it is a subtle indication that he either approved the attack or he was at least aware it was going to happen,” a security analyst, Hafeez Ya’u, told Peoples Gazette.

Mr. Ya’u said since the president has yet to take any step against military chiefs, especially Mr. Buratai, then Nigerians should hold him entirely responsible for the attack.

“People are reluctant to imagine that the president will order a massacre of his own people at the heart of Lagos,” the analyst said. “But they should pause a little and remember that those who killed nearly 1,000 Shiites, mostly women and children, are still in office.” 

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