Only President Muhammadu Buhari, in his capacity as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, could have authorised the deployment of soldiers to maintain law and order in Lagos following the escalation of violence that erupted during the #EndSARS protests in October.
Brigadier General Ahmed Ibrahim Taiwo of the 81 Division, Intelligence Brigade, gave this revelation Saturday during cross-examination by Counsel to the Lagos State Government, Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN) before the Justice Doris Okuwobi Judicial Panel of Enquiry and Restitution on the alleged atrocities of the now disbanded Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS).
But Taiwo, who claimed the deployment of soldiers followed a request for help by the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to quell the #EndSARS riot, however, noted that the state failed to alert them about the change in curfew time.
Owonikoko had asked Taiwo about the chain of command in the military and specifically wanted to know if Sanwo-Olu had the powers to deploy troops to maintain law and order, he however responded, saying the Governor could only have made a request but only the President and Commander-in-Chief could authorise the deployment of soldiers.
This disclosure, many believed, automatically brought to rest weeks of accusations by the #EndSARS protesters that Sanwo-Olu ordered soldiers to disperse protesters at the Lekki Tollgate.
Taiwo, who said he was ready to show videos capturing the activities of his men at the tollgate on the night of October 20, however, noted that the #EndSARS protest plunged Lagos State into anarchy, adding that his assertion was based on the killing of policemen, burning of police stations and looting of arms and ammunition.
He said with the blockage of roads and extortion of money from innocent citizens by hoodlums, inviting the military was the best decision Governor Sanwo-Olu could have taken at that point.
Taiwo, who showed the panel the footage of a scene, where a mob killed someone, set the body ablaze, before they started discussing about sharing body parts, said it was reminiscent of what happened during the Liberian war.
“These scenes are reminiscent of the Liberian Civil War when the fighters believed that once they consume human body, they would be fortified, they will be strong.
“It was these incidents that made the Governor of Lagos State ask for military intervention and in my opinion, that was the correct thing to do since the police had been overrun and policemen were fighting for their dear lives.
“It is a shame that the Lagos crisis has been reduced to what happened at the Lagos Toll Gate. Little mention has been made of the wanton destruction that happened prior to that occurrence,” citing the policemen, who were lynched by mobs in some parts of the state.
“What is worse is that the families of the Police that were killed will not get closure, because of the way their bodies were disposed. The world over, it is the custom that the army intervenes when a situation overcomes the police and paramilitary services,” he said.
Quoting Section 217 2C to corroborate his assertions, he said, “The occurrences that took place from October 18 were nothing short of lawlessness and violence. This was what prompted Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to request the intervention of the army.
“Contrary to what is out there, it was done throughout Lagos State upon receipt of Stage 4 of IS Security. Phase 4 is immediate deployment of soldiers outside the barracks to intervene.
“To show how dire the situation was, the fire alarm beagle was sounded. When this is done, you report immediately to the parade ground or the armoury. Troops were deployed from Badagry, Ikrodu, Epe, Apapa, Ikeja, Alimosho and even Lagos Island to restore order.
“The rules of engagement for internal security were strictly followed. It is inexcusable for troops to stand aside and watch the situation deteriorate. The use of lethal force can only be used when all other measures fail to work”, he said.
He explained that the use of force must be limited intensity and duration and commensurate to the situation, noting that the Oriental Hotel in Lekki was under threat of being set on fire while protesters pelted soldiers with stones and bottles.
“The soldiers fired in the air and fired blank bullets to disperse hoodlums,” he added.
The retired Justice Doris Okuwobi-led panel was forced to suspend sittings last Saturday due to the boycott by the two youth representatives on the panel – OluwarinuOduala and TemitopeMajekodunmi.
The youths had boycotted the panel sitting in protest against the freezing of the bank accounts of 20 #EndSARS promoters by the federal government through the Central Bank of Nigeria. One of the frozen accounts belongs to Oduala.
Commenting on the boycott, Justice Okuwobi, said without the youths, the panel could not form a quorum and had no option but to adjourn. The panel however resumed sitting when the two youth members returned.