Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, is currently out of Nigeria on an official assignment and will soon react to the report of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and other matters, the minister’s spokesman, Segun Adeyemi, has said.
Adeyemi stated this on Thursday in a text response sent to our correspondent who inquired about the reaction of the minister on the panel’s findings.
“We are out of the country (Nigeria) on assignment. Expect our response shortly,” he wrote in the text message sent to The PUNCH.
The minister’s spokesman, however, did not disclose the country his principal is in at the moment.
Though “out of the country”, Adeyemi issued a statement on Thursday hailing the United States for removing Nigeria from the list of religious violators.
The office of the minister has, however, kept mum three days after the panel’s report on the Lekki incident of October 20, 2020 leaked to the public.
Mohammed, 69, has been in the eye of the storm since Monday, November 15, 2021, when the Justice Doris Okuwobi-led panel submitted its report to the Lagos State Government, noting that at least nine persons were confirmed dead at the Lekki toll plaza when soldiers stormed the tollgate to disperse EndSARS protesters on October 20, 2020.
The 309-page report stated, “The atrocious maiming and killing of unarmed, helpless and unresisting protesters while sitting on the floor and waving their Nigerian flags and while singing the National Anthem can be equated to a massacre in context.”
Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who received the report on Monday, constituted a Committee to bring forward a White Paper within the next two weeks to be considered by the Lagos State Executive Council.
Many Nigerians have been outraged over the panel’s report which is at variance with the consistent claim by Mohammed that there was no “massacre” at the toll gate, a focal gathering point during last year’s nationwide demonstration against extrajudicial killings and police brutality by operatives of the now-defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police Force.
Mohammed had at various times in press conferences maintained that the Lekki incident was a “massacre without bodies” and had threatened to sue Cable News Network and other international bodies that claimed otherwise.
With the revelation from the Lekki panel report, a Nigerian counsel for CNN, Olumide Babalola, on Monday asked Mohammed to tender an apology to the medium for tagging as fake an investigative report by the American media house but the minister hasn’t responded, personally or by proxy, days after.
A civic advocacy group, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, subsequently called for the minister’s “dismissal, arrest and trial for his egregious falsehood which has now been contradicted by a judicial panel of investigators in Lagos.”
Also, the minority caucus in the House of Representatives on Thursday called for the immediate resignation of Mohammed, or his sacking by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), over his claims on the Lekki incident.
Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), on Thursday, said all those who tried to cover up the shootings at the Lekki toll gate on October 20, 2020, must be sanctioned for complicity.
Specifically, Falana said the Mohammed; the Attorney General of Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN); as well as the managers of the toll gate, the Lekki Concession Company; must be sanctioned for trying to cover up the “crimes against humanity committed at the toll gate” during the EndSARS protests last year.
The United States, the United Nations, the United Kingdom and Amnesty International have also called on the Nigerian authorities to ensure that the panel’s report is handled transparently.
Reacting to the raging reactions to the panel’s report, Lagos Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, said in a statement that the government would make its views known on the report.
“The Lagos State Government has noted the various reactions that have followed the submission of the report of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and Other Matters. There have been arguments in the public space over the report. There is need for us to restrain ourselves from nullifying the good intentions of the government in setting up this Panel, which was well encouraged to do its job – a fact that was acknowledged by the Panel.
“In accordance with the Tribunal of Inquiry Law 2015, a committee has been set up to bring up a White Paper on the report to determine the next line of action. At the appropriate time, the Government will make known its views on all the issues raised by the Panel through the release of a White Paper,” he said.
Many Nigerians anxiously await the outcome of the Lagos State’s White Paper, and the reactions of Mohammed to the report.