The threat by the federal government to sanction US Cable News Network, CNN, over its investigative report on the shooting of #EndSARS protesters by soldiers at Lekki Tollgate, Lagos, yesterday provoked outrage across the country.
Government also challenged the promoters of #EndSARS campaign who accused soldiers of mass killing of innocent, peaceful and unarmed protesters at the tollgate to produce evidence of the mass murder or shut up.
But CNN in a statement by its spokesperson, said it stood by its story, adding that the report was carefully and meticulously researched.
Noting that its report was based on testimony from dozens of witnesses and verified footage of soldiers appearing to shoot in direction of protesters, CNN said: “Our reporting was carefully and meticulously researched, and we stand by it.”
Those who expressed outrage include civil society organisations, CSOs, the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, who advised government to be cautions in its dealing with the news network
However, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the report by CNN on the EndSARS protest was not factual and called on the media company to sanction the erring reporters on the matter.
He said the federal government would on its part, take necessary steps to punish the international news organisation, though he did not say what nature of punishment would be meted out on the news network.
CNN goofed — FG
He said: “CNN goofed in its preconceived stance that the soldiers who were deployed to Lekki Toll Gate, indeed, shot at protesters, killing some of them. CNN relied heavily on unverified and possibly-doctored videos, as well as information sourced from questionable sources, to reach its conclusion. This should earn CNN a serious sanction for irresponsible reporting.
“Like everyone else, I watched the CNN report. I must tell you that it reinforces the disinformation that is going round, and it is blatantly irresponsible and a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organization.
“CNN engaged in incredible sensationalism and did a great disservice to itself and to journalism. In the first instance, CNN, which touted its report as an exclusive investigative report, sadly relied on the same videos that have been circulating on social media, without verification.
“This is very serious and CNN should be sanctioned for that. CNN merely said the videos were ‘’obtained by CNN’’, without saying wherefrom and whether or not it authenticated them. Were CNN reporters and cameramen at the Lekki Toll Gate that evening?
‘’If the answer is no, on what basis were they reporting? Relying on second or third hand information and presenting it as ‘CNN Investigation’?
“Why didn’t the CNN balance its story by showing the compelling testimony of Brig.-Gen. Taiwo before the Judicial Panel in Lagos? Is this one-sided reporting what is expected from an international media organization or any serious news organization? If CNN had done its investigation properly, it would have known how fake news and disinformation were trending during the #EndSARS crisis.
“In airing its so-called investigative report, CNN conveniently forgot that on October 23, 2020, it tweeted, from its verified twitter handle that the military killed 38 people when it opened fire on peaceful protesters on Tuesday, October. 20, 2020.
‘’Less than a month later, the same CNN, in what it called an EXCLUSIVE report based on a rehash of old, unverified videos, was only able to confirm that one person died in the same incident.
“In its jaundiced reporting, CNN was blind to the fact that six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed in unprovoked attacks. Obviously, CNN did not consider the security agents human enough. CNN, in its ‘investigation’, was blind to the wanton destruction of property in Lagos and across the country.
“Also, CNN was blind to the burning of police stations and vehicles all over the country. Instead, it went to town with unverified social media footages, in its desperation to prove that people were killed at the Lekki Toll Gate.
‘’This is irresponsible journalism for which CNN deserves to be sanctioned. We insist that the military did not shoot at protesters at Lekki Toll Gate. They fired blank ammunition in the air. Again, anyone who knows anyone who was killed at Lekki Toll Gate should head to the Judicial Panel with conclusive evidence of such.”
TO #EndSARS promoters
The minister disclosed that two of the three broadcast organisations fined by the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission have paid their fine in full, with the third having made part payment.
Speaking further, Alhaji Mohammed asked promoters of #EndSARS campaign who accused soldiers of killing innocent, peaceful and unarmed protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate to come up with the evidence of the mass murder or shut up.
He accused the promoters of using the social media and fake news to cause mayhem in the country under the guise of peaceful protests.
He insisted that the claim of a massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate was false and that attempts by the protesters and some human rights groups to tarnish the image of the country using fake news and other disdainful tactics would not change the fact.
Insisting that the military merely fired blank ammunition into the air to scare the protesters, the Minister said: “While the Judicial Panel sitting in Lagos works to unravel what really transpired at the Lekki Toll Gate, available evidence so far points to the world’s first case of MASSACRE WITHOUT BLOOD OR BODIES. Those making the claims should show proof before the panel or shut up.
“The Federal Government is very satisfied with the role played by the security agencies, especially the military and the police, all through the #EndSARS crisis. The security agents were professional and measured in their response. Even when their lives were at stake, they exercised uncommon restraint.’’
Alhaji Mohammed regretted that #EndSARS promoters and human rights activists failed to show empathy for several security personnel that were killed and injured in the mayhem by hoodlums who hijacked the protests.
He said: “Their professionalism and measured response saved many lives and properties. For example, despite arresting hordes of looters during the violence in Lagos, the army treated them humanely and even counseled them before handing them over to the police.
“The same cannot be said of those who unleashed mayhem on the security agents, killing and maiming them, sometimes in such a barbaric manner that is unprecedented in these parts.
‘’As I said earlier, six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed all over the country during the crisis. This is in addition to 196 policemen who were injured; 164 police vehicles that were destroyed and 134 police stations that were razed.”
“Also, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Nigeria Customs Service and Nigeria Immigration Service all lost infrastructures, equipment and other valuables to attacks by hoodlums during the crisis. Eight medium security custodial centres (prisons) in six states (Edo, Lagos, Abia, Delta, Ondo and Ebonyi) were attacked, with 1,957 inmates set free and 31 staff injured.
“The Federal Government will, therefore, not accept a situation in which some so-called human rights bodies and jaundiced media organizations will continue to harass the security agencies over their roles during the crisis.
‘’Soldiers, policemen and other security agents deserve commendation, not condemnation, except, of course, their critics are saying they are not human beings and that their own rights do not matter.
“It is depressing and demoralizing to continue to vilify men and women in uniform, who themselves were victims of senseless violence unleashed by hoodlums.
‘’The role of the human rights organisations, in particular, became suspect after they simply ignored the brutal killing and maiming of security agents during the crisis, as well as the orgy of violence that left 57 civilians dead, 269 private/corporate facilities burnt/looted/vandalized, 243 government facilities burnt/vandalized and 81 government warehouses looted.
‘’Instead, they continued to dwell on the bodiless and bloodless ‘massacre’ at Lekki Toll Gate. They did not see anything wrong in the public and private properties that were burnt or looted, neither did they see anything wrong in the fact that some of the businesses that were looted belonged to struggling young men and women. All they could see in their biased view of the whole situation was a hoax massacre.’’
DJ SWITCH not wanted but…
The minister also dispelled claim by a female #EndSARs campaigner, DJ Switch, that she was being wanted by the government and that her life was in danger as a result of the role she played during the protest, asking her to stop churning out falsehood against Nigeria.
“Still on the alleged Lekki Toll Gate massacre, one of the purveyors of fake news and disinformation during the #EndSARS crisis was DJ Switch, real name Obianuju Catherine Udeh, who claimed to have authentic evidence of mass killings.
‘’Surprisingly, instead of presenting whatever evidence she may have to the judicial panel, she chose to escape from the country under the pretext that her life was in danger.
“I ask: in danger from whom? The military has come out to say they never sought after her. To the best of our knowledge, the police never declared her wanted. Her conduct thus becomes suspect.
‘’Who is she fronting for? What is her real motive? Who are her sponsors? If she has any evidence of killings, why is she not presenting it to the panel? If she was so desperate for asylum in any country, does she have to resort to blatant falsehood to tarnish the image of the country just to achieve her aim?
‘’In the fullness of time, this lady will be exposed for what she is. At this juncture, we want to appeal to countries that have made hasty judgements on the basis of fake news and disinformation emanating from the #EndSARS crisis to endeavour to seek and find the truth,” he said.
We’ll regulate, not shut down social media
The minister also said the federal government had no plan to shut down social media in the country but regulate it.
He said: “Keen watchers of the developments cannot fail to notice the role played by the social media in the #EndSARS protest. As a veritable tool for mass mobilization, the organisers of the protest, of course, leveraged heavily on social media for that purpose.
‘’But on the other hand, the same social media was used to spread fake news and disinformation that catalyzed the violence that was witnessed across the country,” he said.
“This development has reinforced the campaign against fake news and disinformation, which we launched in 2018.
‘’As a matter of fact, as far back as 2017, when we dedicated that year’s National Council on Information to the issue of fake news and disinformation, we had been expressing concerns on the dangers posed by irresponsible use of the new media platform.
‘’The concerns culminated in the launch of the national campaign which I referred to earlier. The social media was used to guide arsonists and looters to certain properties, both public and private.
“As we have said many times, no responsible government will stand by and allow such abuse of social media to continue. The fake news/disinformation purveyors have latched on to our concerns to allege that the Federal Government is planning to shut down social media.
‘’No, we have no plans to shut down the social media. What we have always advocated, and what we will do, is to regulate the social media. Nigeria is not alone in this regard.