The commanding officer of 65 Battalion of the Nigerian Army Salisu Bello, has told the Lagos panel probing the killings of #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki tollgate that the protesters attacked the soldiers who in turn gave drinking water to the protesters.
Bello who appeared before the judicial panel as part of the measures to resolve the #EndSARS crisis, claimed that his men were attacked at Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020, but did not shoot at protesters.
The commander in his statement on oath filed before the judicial panel claimed that the soldiers did not kill any protester as they were all happy to see them.
According to him, he personally offered the protesters water and drinks while persuading them to go home.
Bello alleged that while he was moving towards the Lekki-Ajah Expressway around 6.45pm, he heard gunshots before the tollgate and later realised that the crowd had turned from peaceful protesters to a mob.
Parts of his statement read:
“On getting to the tollgate, I persuaded the crowd to go home and observe the 24-hour curfew declared by the state government. But surprisingly, the hoodlums continued throwing stones, bottles and other dangerous objects at us and were burning tyre.
“I again fired some blank ammunition upward to scare the hoodlums away. But some protesters who were still at the tollgate sitting down quietly were given water and drinks by me while pleading with them to go home.
“We did not fire at the protesters. Blank ammunition were fired upward to scare the hoodlums from the crowd. Nobody was shot dead at the Lekki tollgate, there was no massacre as claimed. The claim that the military took away dead bodies was not true. The protesters were happy to see us as indicated in some of the video clips of 20th October 2020.”
The Commander, 81 Division Garrison, VI, Brig Gen Francis Omata, on his part said;
“On arrival at the tollgate at about 7.30pm, I met a rowdy situation. I also met the Commanding Officer, 65 Battalion (Bello), who briefed me on the situation. He briefed me that he met a hostile crowd, hoodlums mixed with the protesters, who were chanting and throwing stones at them. I was able to disperse the crowd by firing blank ammunition into the air.
“At this point, stones and sticks were being thrown at us. Then I moved to a safe area and briefed General Officer Commanding 81 Division, Maj Gen Godwin Ahamefuna Umelo by phone.
“The General Officer Commanding directed me to pacify the hostile crowd and move the troops back to base. However, the crowd still continued chanting #EndSARS. I then instructed the troops to withdraw to base.”
Meanwhile, the absence of the two youth representatives serving on the panel reportedly stalled proceedings on Saturday November 7, and the army officers could not testify.