By Temitope Ajayi
There is a kind of moral cul-de-sac some public intellectuals and so-called social media influencers consciously imposed on themselves for self-preservation. They will rather prevaricate rather than take dispassionate stand on matters of public interest. Sadly, they have wittingly and unwittingly boxed themselves into a tight spot that would literally require an arm and a leg to wriggle out.
Where it becomes necessary to weigh in on current issues, they end up playing to the gallery for cheap applause. Under constant fear of not wanting to lose their mob appeal from largely uninformed followers, they pander to dominant sentiments, including the self-imposed burden to be seen as anti-government. All of these have turned many who should illuminate and enrich public debate to prisoners of their own conscience.
What does it require really to pander to populism? It is the easiest thing to do, because it does not need so much exertion to run with predominant, but mostly illogical views, just to establish dubious bona-fides as emergency social activists.
Let me quickly reference the 21-minute interview of Mr. Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN), Counsel to Lagos State at the Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Arise TV. His expose, unarguably enlightening, provided further clarifications on the flaws in the report submitted to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
In the interview, Mr. Owonikoko said there are at least 40 discrepancies in the report, many of which have been identified by other Nigerians who easily saw through the inconsistencies therein.
Some of the discrepancies include listing persons that are still alive as “deceased”. Another person that didn’t die as a result of shooting at Lekki Tollgate was listed among the “deceased.” It is quite amusing how those who seek to force down the narrative of ‘massacre’ by hook or crook now describe such shoddiness of epic proportion as ‘clerical errors.’ Whatever that means! It is apparent most Nigerians are adept at making convenient excuses to justify bias.
As Nigerians, we typically love to gloss over issues. We then move on to the next drama without subjecting issues of existential concerns to critical examination and evaluation. In most instances, those who should serve as moderating influence and voices of reason will rather take the easy route to maintain their purity. They dare not offend the mob – the Frankenstien monsters many of them created.
At this stage, I think what should get us really worried is how a Judicial Panel of Inquiry that was set up to be an investigative panel to unravel cases of police brutality ended up becoming the conveyor belt for unsubstantiated claims, rumours and outright lies deliberately manufactured to unleash anarchy in Lagos. Instead of executing its mandate within the terms of reference and determine the veracity of the claims before it, the panel ended up creating more controversies.
Perhaps the most interesting part is the case of a member of the panel, who, for years, has been an interested party in law suits against collection of Toll fees at the Lekki Tollgate. He sat in judgement at the panel on a facility he has vested interest in. Here is same man who regularly issued personal press statements that undermined the work of the panel for self glorification.
Rather curiously too, is that this same man was absent at 15 sittings by the Panel on the Lekki toll gate “massacre” according to Counsel of Lagos State.
I align with Mr. Owonikoko’s considered view that the Panel failed to consider independent experts’ testimonies and therefore can’t stand Judicial review because of many identified flaws. Whether Lagos State Government as the convening authorities will accept or reject the recommendations and some of the conclusions has now become the task for the White Paper Committee which, under law, is expected to review the report and recommend next course of action.
For the White Paper Committee, the unresolved questions will remain: how did the panel arrive at its decision to pay the family of a deceased victim of the “massacre’ while others listed as deceased didn’t get same compensation? How did they list a man who recently granted press interview as deceased? How did people who died before and after October 20, 2020 become victims of Lekki Tollgate “massacre”?
For me, the issue that speaks most to dereliction of duty by members of the panel and also validate the view that they didn’t deserve every kobo spent on them from public treasury is how they listed three supposed victims who had no second names as ‘deceased’. The public needs to understand how a panel that had 13 months to establish facts could not determine names of 3 ‘dead’ people. We need to know who ‘Tola’, ‘Wisdom’ and ‘Jide’ are.
It is absolute shame that a panel that sat for more than one year could not unravel the mystery behind the identities of the people listed as victims of Lekki Tollgate ‘massacre’.
My conclusion is that the panel has left us more confused with their wishy-washy and fact-rigging report. And to anyone who take the report as the gospel truth, it is also fair if they can tell us how the panel arrived at the conclusion that there was a ‘massacre’ at Lekki. There were forensic reports submitted by experts that proved otherwise. Why did the panel not consider the reports of the forensic and ballistic experts? There seems to be a conductor faraway from the orchestra.
In our country, we know there is a huge NGO industry that plays dirty when possible flow of donors’ fund is threatened. We also know the established and budding civil society entrepreneurs that want to use this claim of ‘massacre’ at Tollgate to burnish personal profile but they should not stampede, bully and blackmail others with dissenting views.