The federal government has described as “surprising and irresponsible’’ the calls for sanctions against Nigeria or Nigerian government over the “hoax’’ Lekki toll gate killings.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, stated this on Thursday in Abuja at a news conference on the #EndSARS protest and its aftermath.
Some Nigerians and groups have asked the western world and international bodies to sanction the country and government officials over alleged right violation and killings during the EndSARS protest.
The minister said the purveyors of fake news and disinformation succeeded in deceiving the world that there was mass killing in Lekki, even when, till date, not a single body had been produced.
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He added that not a single family or relative had come out to say their child or ward was killed at Lekki.
“While we await the judicial panel in Lagos to unravel what transpired at the Lekki Toll Gate, what we can say, based on testimonies available in the public space, is that the world may have just witnessed, for the very first time ever, a massacre without bodies.
“Some have tagged it ‘social media massacre’.
“The testimony of Brig.-Gen, Ahmed Ibrahim Taiwo of the Nigerian Army before the panel was compelling, and I am sure many of you have listened to or watched it,’’ he said.
Highlighting the testimony of the General, the minister said soldiers were deployed all over Lagos, including Lekki Toll Gate, upon request of the state government, after the other security agencies were overwhelmed.
He said before deployment, the soldiers were briefed on the Rules of Engagement, which they adhered to all through.
“Soldiers at Lekki Toll Gate fired blank ammunitions into the air and blank ammunition cannot do any damage to the flesh, not to talk of killing anyone.
“Firing live ammunition into the crowd, as some have alleged, would have led to mass killing, which never happened.
“This is one of the dangers of fake news and disinformation,’’ he said.
He challenged those who have alleged massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate to go to the judicial panel to present their evidence(s) to the world or simply admit that they had goofed.
The minister stressed that irresponsible use of social media by some unscrupulous persons aggravated the violence that erupted in the wake of the EndSARS protest and helped to precipitate it.
He noted that the social media which was used as veritable tool for mass mobilisation by the organisers of the protest was equally used to spread fake news and disinformation that catalyzed the violence that was witnessed across the country.
“This development has reinforced the campaign against fake news and disinformation, which we launched in 2018.
“The social media was used to guide arsonists and looters to certain properties, both public and private.
“Pictures of persons, including some celebrities, who were supposedly killed at the Lekki Toll Gate by soldiers, were circulated widely, only for those persons to refute such claims or for the discerning to disprove such posts.
“As we have said many times, no responsible government will stand by and allow such abuse of social media to continue,’’ he said.
The minister, however, reiterated that the government of Nigeria had no plans to shut down the social media, but to regulate it.
He berated some opinion leaders and groups in Nigeria who had been playing to the gallery on the issue of social media regulation by making inciting and incendiary statements.
“If we allow the abuse of social media to precipitate uncontrolled internecine violence, the kind of which was narrowly averted during the EndSARS crisis, no one will remember or be able to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, for whatever purpose.
“It is incumbent upon us all, therefore, to strike a balance between free speech – which this Administration is committed to upholding – and fake news/disinformation, which it is determined to fight,’’ he said.
The minister appealed to countries that had made hasty judgements on the basis of fake news and disinformation emanating from the EndSARS crisis to endeavour to seek and find the truth.
The heads of all information agencies under the ministry of information and culture including the Managing Director, News Agency of Nigeria, Mr Buki Ponle were at the media briefing.