By Olumide Babalola
When the Cable News Network (CNN) briefed my Law Firm in October 2020 to represent them and their reporters before the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on restitution for victims of SARS related abuses and other matters (EndSARS Panel), the (one-sided) battle line between CNN and the federal government of Nigeria (FG) had already been drawn.
The FG, through its spokesman/minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed would stop at nothing to browbeat and bully the biggest news agency in the World for daring to air news on the Lekki Toll gate shooting and worst of all, caption it a ‘massacre’.
In that process, the government interfered and threatened to further interfere with Nigerian’s fundamental right to freedom of expression under section 39 of the Constitution. The section guarantees right to disseminate together with right to receive information.
Upon our instructions, we studied the summons addressed to CNN and its employee, Stephanie Busari and then challenged the Panel’s territorial jurisdiction to compel CNN to reiterate the evidence of shooting that was already in public domain.
Before and after our intervention, Alhaji Mohammed who is co-incidentally a senior lawyer, had gone to the press at different times to cast aspersions on CNN as peddling fake news and attempting to cause disharmony in Nigeria.
In some of the occasions, the minister threatened to sanction CNN, in others, he demanded apology from the news giant for misleading the world that there was a massacre at Lekki Toll gate.
On Monday 16th day of November 2021, the Report of the EndSARS Panel was made public and a number of truths which the FG did not want to admit have again come to light. For the avoidance of doubt, the report confirms the following facts as reported by CNN:
a. The Army and Police shot live ammunitions at unarmed protesters (page 289 and 293)
b. There was a massacre at Lekki toll gate as many people were killed (295 to 298)
Alhaji Mohammed had consistently claimed the CNN’s report of massacre was false but the Panel has vindicated CNN’s position on the gruesome and wanton killings at the Lekki Toll gate.
Without necessarily saying more on this, since the same minister had earlier called on CNN to apologise for fake news which has now been quasi-judicially proved to be true, one would think the honourable thing for Alhaji Mohammed to do, as an elder statesman and learned gentleman, is to apologise to CNN especially.
However as we continue to wait on the minister and FG’s next move, I sympathise with families of all the victims of Lekki massacre while we pray for the souls of the departed and hope the government implements the report in full.
God bless Nigeria!