A Nigerian tribunal on Wednesday found that the shooting of 15 people in March at a tollgate along the Lekki-Epe Expressway was clearly a “massacre,” just three months before polls due to hold in the country on March 28, as Nigerians await a new president.
The investigative panel by the Judiciary Commission of Inquiry into the shooting carried out on behalf of the state government held a two-day hearing that drew testimony from 15 witness and recorded testimonies from 18 others.
The multiple gunshots at about 8:30 am on March 10 was roundly condemned as a “massacre” by the panel, chaired by Justice Ahmed Bakassi.
“The panel held that the shooting of persons was clearly a massacre.
“The killings were perpetrated in a deliberate manner, there is no doubt about it and the responsibility of the officers and the soldiers, who were there, cannot be escapeable.
“They acted with no malice or vested interest, they simply did it,” Bakassi, a retired High Court Judge told the news agency.
He rejected Defence Ministry lawyers’ argument that the shootings were by a lone renegade thief known as “Toru Osun” whose description and location suggest he was a civilian who had mistaken the tollgate for an ATM machine to loot.
The police claim the robbery began when a soldier wounded in a shootout with Toru Osun fell and wounded two other soldiers, who opened fire in self-defence, killing him.
Rather, the panel found that as the curfew was enforced by soldiers on the outskirts of the tollgate, a robber got into the tollgate from the Lagos-Federal highway from a farm where he had taken shelter with a group of persons.
“The soldiers noticed him and started shooting him. He emerged and continued with the shooting until he was neutralised,” the commission was told by the soldiers.
The defence ministry lawyers contended that the same two soldiers had initially entered the tollgate, commanded by order of a senior officer to shoot to incapacitate an armed robber sighted as the highway was being patrolled by soldiers, whose troops had come from Lagos from other parts of the country.
Bakassi said the bullet from Toru Osun entered through a door in a car behind the soldier, who fired at him and fell, killed instantly by other bullets, and that without seeing the shot, the soldier then tried to fire his gun but it failed to go off, with the result that Toru Osun retreated.
Also, the special military task force to drive robbery at the tollgate report that shooting by one of its soldiers hit Toru Osun, who was inside a vehicle with his party, prompting him to climb into the tollgate where the soldiers had come from to shoot him, according to the task force spokesman.
“They shot him, he was hit and others were injured. It was not the soldiers who shot him, the military operation brought him here,” Bakassi told the commission, adding that the policeman fired by Toru Osun hit the way of one of the soldiers deployed for this task force.
“We understand that the soldier we heard shooting is dead. We are shocked by the army hierarchy’s admission that Toru Osun belonged to the public,” said Henry Iyefaraji, a lawyer representing some of the injured in the panel.
The seven-member panel of inquiry was charged to investigate all the events surrounding the shooting, including those involving security forces.
“We decided to investigate the shooting based on the report that army’s heavy presence at the tollgate probably heightened the tension among travellers,” Justice Bakassi said.
“We need to find out if any section of the law was breached by the use of force. It will also be important to find out the connection between the soldiers and the killed robber,” he added.
One of the defendants in the case, the former Lagos commissioner for works Mr. Abiodun Mafe, was referred to a divisional court over an application filed by his lawyers for his acquittal and the remand of the other defendants, Bode Opadokun and Ajose Faselu.
Justice Bola Shitta-Bey on Tuesday ordered that the defendants be remanded in prison custody for the time being and issued a warning against attempting to avoid arraignment in court.