A Nigerian army general has rejected claims his soldiers killed unarmed protesters at a rally in Lagos in October, saying his troops only fired blank bullets.
Brigadier General Ahmed Taiwo told a judicial panel there had been “a lot of misinformation” about his troops whose only crime he says “was to report for duty to protect us all”.
The attack against civilian protesters had followed days of protests against the much-hated police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which had morphed into greater calls for better governance.
Brig Gen Taiwo presented video evidence to a judicial panel investigating alleged historic abuses by Sars to back up his claims.
He pointed to video showing what appeared to be soldiers at the scene. “You can see they are firing in the air, and firing blank ammunitions.”
Amnesty International says 12 people were killed when soldiers opened fire on protesters in the wealthy Lagos suburb of Lekki, while multiple eyewitnesses told the BBC they saw soldiers shoot people.
Responding to a claim that a witness had seen a dead body at the scene, he said “the casualty she saw had been overcome by shock”, AFP news agency reports.
It is not clear if he will respond to the many other accounts from eyewitnesses.
Last October 20, about 1,000 protesters had gathered at the Lekki toll gate to prevent cars using a major motorway. Soldiers were reportedly seen barricading the protest site moments before the shooting started.
In video footage shared on social media at the time, shots could be heard as protesters sat down, locked arms and sang the national anthem together.
Live footage was also streamed from the scene showing protesters tending to the wounded.
Following the October attack, Amnesty International Nigeria said it had evidence from hospital records and witnesses to show that “the Nigerian military opened fire on thousands of people who were peacefully calling for good governance and an end to police brutality”.
The Lagos state government said 30 people had been injured with one fatality.
Since the shooting, those involved in the protests say they are being targeted by the government, the BBC’s Mayeni Jones reports.
A number of protesters and companies say their bank accounts have been frozen and others have been arrested. The passport of a lawyer who organised legal aid for the protesters was seized as she tried to leave the country, although it has now been returned to her.
Nationwide protests erupted on October 08 calling for an end to the Sars which had been accused of widespread human rights violations, including illegal detention, torture and extrajudicial killings.
President Muhammadu Buhari disbanded the squad a few days later, but the protests continued with demands for more changes in the security forces and reforms to the way the country is run.
Lagos and other parts of Nigeria have seen buildings torched, shopping centres looted and prisons attacked since the shooting.
Nigeria’s vice-president has promised justice for victims shot during the protests amid widespread condemnation from international leaders. (Source: BBC)