Nigeria: End SARS protesters reject Lagos governor's 'peace walk' reconciliation gesture

The Governor of Nigeria’s Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said Tuesday that his government will not inflame already heightened tensions that stemmed from a report by a judicial panel that probed the October 2020 shooting of protesters at the state’s Lekki toll gate.

Nigeria: End SARS protesters reject Lagos governor's 'peace walk' reconciliation gesture
© Adetona Omokanye/Getty Images Demonstrators protest police brutality at the Lekki toll gate on October 20, 2020 in Lagos, Nigeria. (Photo by Adetona Omokanye/Getty Images)

The Lagos-appointed panel concluded the shooting of peaceful protesters at the toll gate by the military could be described as a massacre. But the report was fiercely discredited by the country’s federal government with Information Minister Lai Mohammed describing it as “nothing but the triumph of fake news.”

Speaking at a press conference in Lagos, Sanwo-Olu called for “a walk for peace” next month for reconciliation.

“In December, I will be leading a walk for peace to herald the healing of our land,” he said. “Let me use this occasion to extend an open invitation to our youths, members of the diplomatic corps, civil society groups, students, and the media as well as other stakeholders to join me.”

Nigerian entertainers Folarin Falana (Falz) and Debo Adebayo (Mr. Marcaroni), who were among celebrities invited to the peace walk have rejected the governor’s invitation.

Falana posted a tweet Tuesday evening describing the proposed peace walk as “disrespectful” and “a joke.”

“This suggestion of a ‘walk for peace’ sounds like a joke and a very disrespectful one at that. People were murdered in cold blood and absolutely no iota of justice has been served more than a year after. How can there be peace without justice?” the tweet read.

Adebayo argued that reconciliation efforts should begin with the implementation of the judicial panel’s report.

“I humbly decline the invitation of Mr Governor. The Government themselves set up a panel. The panel has made recommendations. I believe that genuine peacemaking will begin by first implementing the recommendations of the panel. Then we can begin to trust the government,” he wrote in a tweet.

The Lagos governor did not directly comment on the federal minister’s denouncement of the report but remarked that “it is far too easy to take sides and choose emotion over fact, even when the truth is to be found in shades of nuance… Today, I stand before you to declare that I reject this path; and I invite you all to do same.”

He added that his administration’s response will be guided by law and evidence.

“As I have stated earlier, we have no intention to engage in histrionics or further inflame passion on a matter that has generated intense interest and controversy nationally and internationally. Our decisions and actions will be based entirely on the law, the weight of evidence, and unblemished respect for the truth.”

The Nigerian government has persistently denied that protesters were shot at the toll gate despite an abundance of video evidence and witness accounts pieced together by CNN.

Members of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution at the Lagos Court of Arbitration told CNN that the panel’s findings which contradicted official accounts of the incident were based on objectivity and facts.

A member of the panel, Majekodunmi Temitope Oluwaseun, told CNN that the rejection of the panel’s report by the federal government was only an attempt “to evade responsibility and justice.”

“The federal government is looking for any means possible to evade responsibility and justice,” Oluwaseun said. “The minister’s statements literally suggest that the government was not, in the first place, waiting for the panel’s report. It only speaks to their level of insincerity.”

Oluwaseun urged authorities to “take responsibility” to “ensure that people’s feelings are assuaged.”

The panel had, among other things, recommended that victims of the toll gate shooting and others who are proven to have suffered human rights abuses should be compensated.

Governor Sanwo-Olu stated in his speech that more than 1 million dollars (420 million naira) have been paid to victims of police brutality in line with the panel’s recommendations.

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