Source revealed to our correspondent that the panel led by the retired Justice Doris Okuwobi had already dispatched an invitation letter to concerned authorities but was shocked by the response by the Army authority not recognizing them.
A member of panel who spoke on anonymity revealed, “We have summoned several authorities, including the military, who had responded very well but the Army’s own was different”.
On whether the panel had fixed a date for the appearance of the army, the member said, “No date yet. But surely, we are summoning the military, police and everybody relevant to our probe. We have no limitation as to who we are going to summon. We want to get to the root of the case. The panel had agreed that a letter be dispatched to the military authorities.”
“Though the Army’s refusal was not official because we are still waiting for the response but if they finally failed to honor the invitation, we will know what next steps to take”.
But when newsmen reached out to the Nigerian Army over the invitation sent to it by the panel on the need for it to state its story regarding the incident,
Reacting to the invitation by the panel to the service, the acting Deputy Director, Army Public Relations and 81 Division’s spokesperson, Major Osoba Olaniyi, said “It was not the duty of the judicial panel to invite the Army to answer questions regarding the reported shooting of unarmed protesters at the Lekki toll plaza”.
Major Olaniyi claimed that the Army intervened in the Lekki tollgate incident based on a request from the Lagos State Government and that it would only appear before the panel based on same directive from the state government.
He said, “If we receive a letter from the state, we will go. Are we not under civil authorities? Are we not part of Nigerians? Have you forgotten that we did not go there (Lekki tollgate) on our own?
“It is not the duty of the members of the panel to tell us that. If the state wants the (81) Division to come, they will write and we will oblige. See, if they have written to the division, it is our duty to go. It is not for them to go through the media as if we are scared of coming.
“It is the state government that constituted that panel of inquiry. So if anybody needs to get in touch with us to come, it is still the state and not members of the panel.”
Also reacting to Olaniyi’s argument that the army would only honour an invitation by the state government, the panel member insisted that, “An invitation has been sent by the panel to 81 Battalion of the Nigerian Army at Bonny Camp and 82 Division on Kofo Abayomi”.
“The laws guiding the panel give it power to summon anybody. Once a summons has been sent, it must be obeyed. If on the day the army is supposed to appear, they don’t come, then the panel will consider other alternatives.
“If the military is under civil authority, I don’t see how a judge will sign a summons and it will be willfully disregarded. May such day never come in Nigeria again.”
It will also be recalled that the Army had denied shooting the protesters while the governor also said no one was killed in the exercise, but available information showed that people were killed.
Amnesty International also said it had evidence that no fewer than 12 protesters were killed at the Lekki tollgate and Alausa areas of the state.
The army deputy director had said, “From the onset of the #EndSARS protest, there was no time personnel of the 81 Division, Nigerian Army, Lagos was involved. However, the decision to call in the military was taken by the Lagos State Government after a 24-hour curfew was imposed. This was as a result of the violence which led to several police stations being burnt, policemen killed, suspects in police custody released and weapons carted away.
“The situation was fast degenerating into anarchy. It was at this point that the Lagos State Government requested the military to intervene, in order to restore normalcy. The intervention of the military followed all laid down procedures for internal security operations. And all the soldiers involved acted within the confines of the Rules of engagement”, he added.