Why did you call for a curfew at 4.pm, which was later shifted to 9.pm, while soldiers attacked protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate at 7.30pm? Did you consult with the army before the curfew was declared and did you call on the army to assist?
We started witnessing complete breakdown of law in Lagos from Sunday and people were calling in that there has been mayhem.
We saw women being raped; being attacked; hoodlums and cultists involved in all sorts of violent attacks because a directive was given to the police not to get involved in the protests we have in the state. By Monday morning we felt that we can continue to engage with the protesters.
And what is the engagement we were talking about? We set up a panel which was inaugurated on Monday and we had expected that the panel will get down to work immediately over the grievances around the #EndSARS protests. However, by Tuesday morning, we saw attacks and destruction, especially, that of a police station in Orile, where we saw footage of policemen being killed and maimed.
We saw the police armoury being looted and arms carted away before the police station was razed. We also saw another police station in Ajeromi Ifelodun attacked, and almost immediately, the council’s headquarters being razed. We saw an attempt to break into the Apapa Port and it was pandemonium all over the place.
So, I needed to consult the Commissioner of Police in the state and members of my security team and I decided that we need to impose a curfew on the state starting from 4.pm.
The whole idea of 4.pm was to trigger the idea for people to know that the need to start going home. At about 4.pm, when we were reviewing the traffic situation, specifically around the Lekki Toll Gate, we got information that some of the protesters were insisting that they are not going anywhere. That was why we extended the commencement of the curfew to 9.pm and we immediately sent out notice to that effect.
The event that happened around 7.30 was a total shock to me and to everybody around me. I don’t’ know how we got into that kind of situation.
It was completely unbelievable when the first call came in from the wife of my cabinet member that they were hearing shootings around Lekki. I said it was not possible because the instruction was that the police will not be out until 10/11.pm, when we believe that almost everybody would have gotten home.
So, I don’t know how we all got it wrong; it was just something I couldn’t explain.
Who gave the orders for the military to be there is something that we are still investigating and I have escalated this with the highest level in the military and it is something that our government has totally condemned because this is not what I stand for. I have been part and parcel of the youths from day one. I was the very first chief executive of a state to have joined the protesters.
I was with them on Monday and Tuesday; you saw all what I did to ensure that we hear from them and continue to engage with the youths.
So, it is very sad that this had to happen. It is something condemnable; we do not stand for it as a state and it is something everybody needs to continue to condemn.
Why is the army denying that they were not involved in the shootings in spite of overwhelming evidence from video footages?
The army does not report to me and I do not have any direct reporting line with the military but I have escalated this with the Chief of Army Staff and will also set up a panel of inquiry to look into the matter in order to get to its root cause. It is something that we are not going to gloss over; we are taking it very seriously.
How many people died as a result of the incident?
There were several footages and information as regards the number of people who died. You saw on my Twitter handle that around 1.am on that day, I went round to some hospitals, where some of the casualties were taken to, and on Wednesday morning, I made a broadcast and stated that as at the time of the broadcast, we had no confirmed case of death.
Thereafter, I made a tweet, in which I said that there was a corpse that was brought into an hospital in Lekki but upon preliminary examination by medical personnel, it was discovered that there was no gun shot.
However, the hospital said there would be further examination to determine the cause of death.
Also, in the course of our investigation on Wednesday, we also got information that there was a corpse that was deposited at the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) in Yaba and we found out that there was a gunshot wound on the corpse.
The corpse was picked up by the police in Victoria Island but we don’t know whether it has any link with the Lekki incident. Apart from these two incidents, I do not have any other confirmed evidence of death.
Incidentally, Amnesty International and some other agencies reported that at least 12 persons were killed at the Lekki Toll Gate incident.
How do you plan to restore law and order as hoodlums are still on rampage and what level of support are you getting from the Federal Government?
The first thing is for all of us, leaders and citizens, to speak to our youths and children. Our traditional rulers, religious leaders and opinion molders should speak out now for the protests to stop. We need ourselves at this time more than ever before.
Whether the youths or hoodlums, they are coming from somewhere. So, all of us have to speak up now. On my part as the governor of Lagos State, I will continue to work with the security agencies to restore law and order in the state. But I think that it is beyond law and order because the whole thing started over police brutality, so we don’t want to keep them on the streets longer than necessary.
We need to restrain ourselves at the highest level, so that we can calm nerves down. This is not Lagos; this is not who we are; this is not what our forefathers bequeathed to us; this is not the Centre of Excellence and state all of us are proud of.
Lagos has remained the most peaceful part of Nigeria for decades, so we are not going to throw away what we’ve cherished for this number of years because of the ugly that happened.
So, I want to continue to appeal to parents, guardians as well as community leaders, traditional and religious leaders to come out and appeal to our citizens. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Prof. Wole Soyinka as well as others have spoken and I think it is just time for everybody to speak up and calm nerves, so that we can get the youths off the streets completely in order for us to bring our economy back. COVID-19 has just dealt a very big blow to all of us and we are just hoping that we don’t have a second wave of COVID though what we are just having now is even bigger than COVID.
But if we can come out stronger out of COVID, what we are having now shouldn’t define us; what we are; who we are and by extension, what we stand for. We should hold our hands and say that we are our brothers’ keepers in spite of the condemnable act that happened, so that we can pick the pieces together and move the state forward.
Let us stop the carnage, let us stop the destruction of property, innocent lives have been lost, policemen have been killed and this is something that should bother everyone in the state.
It is going to be huge and we are just coming out from a COVID infected budget, where the state had to reduce the total budget by over 22 per cent. If not for what has happened, I was meant to be talking our 2021 budget to the House of Assembly and roll out our plans for developmental projects in order to take our state to the next level post-COVID but here we are now.
However, I believe we are going to come out of this bigger and stronger. As the curfew continues, what is in place for people who are locked up because they will soon run out of food and what are your plans in the area of job creation as unemployment cannot be isolated from youths’ unrest? On lifting of the curfew; it is something that we’ve been monitoring on an hourly basis.
Once we see that there is normalcy around the state, it is a pronouncement we can make as early as possible to ease the lockdown, so that people can have the means to stock up of food and begin to about their businesses.
We want to put this behind us as quickly as possible. Lagos is not a state that you stop activities for a long time. Lagos is a state that runs 24/7 as it were; that is what we know our Lagos for and that is what we want to restore as quickly as possible On job creation, I want to make it clear that post-COVID, we’ve set up a whole lot of machinery as a state to be able to directly to employ and take our youths off the streets.
About two weeks ago, we had direct interventions by the Lagos Trust Fund in which we set up what we call fashion and tourism hubs in order take our teeming youths off the streets. There are also deliberate plans in the 2021 budget and the reversed 2020 budget to empower a lot more people.
At the state level, we may not have the wherewithal to employ everyone but we want to create the enabling environment for small businesses to thrive. The small businesses were the worst hit by COVID-19, so part of the things we are doing is giving them soft loans, grants and reducing on interest rate on the loans.
We are also doing a lot of internship programmes and we have about 4,000 youths that we are putting in placement in various organisations. There is a plan that we have that would have provided direct jobs for about 20,000 youths in this month of October but here we are now.
That means we need to reset the button again and see how we will get it done. Is there mechanism in place by the Lagos State government to engage stakeholders, so that they can talk to the youth and get them off the streets, and what point will Lagosians see security personnel on the streets for them be assured of safety, while going about their normal businesses?
We’ve had discussions with opinion molders and our Community Development Associations as well as religious and traditional leaders. These are the people that have followership and I am reiterating my call for them to call on the youth to get off the streets.
We also have the various bodies and leaders of the ethnic nationalities, and we have been reaching out to them as well. We all need to come together in order to heal the pains we are all going through.
We also need everybody to rally round the government in order to solve this problem. Talking about presence of security personnel on the streets; we found out that some policemen serving in the state have been deployed to other parts of the country that were in distress before we got to where we are now in Lagos.
So, it is a case of how do we pull them back to their main duty posts. That is a logistic issue that we are working out to bring them back to Lagos.
To what extent do you think the social media galvanized the public, and do you believe that fake news played any role in the destruction witnessed in Lagos?
To be honest with you, up till eight months ago, I didn’t appreciate the extent of what social media is in our community. But during the COVID era, I realised that it is a very strong tool that can be used for communication.
But as good as the social media is and has changed our lives completely; there are so many other sore points. False news is one of the major downsides of the social media. So, let me once again use this opportunity to say that though the social media has liberated most of us, there should be an element of restrain that we need to have.
We should verify posts before we repost them because some people react and take actions as a result of what they see online. Unfortunately, this has negatively influenced what we’ve in Lagos in the past few days.
Yes, we appreciate the power of the social media because it makes those of us in government more accountable to the people as they can monitor us and independently reflect on what they feel and air their views without fear, but when it is now being used for people to take decision and lives being lost and people are going out to destroy property, I think there is the need for us to look back and ponder before we press that button.
You have absolved yourself of the military’s involvement in the Lekki Toll Gate incident, but questions still linger over that. How will you maintain the relationship the people have had with you since you were elected as their governor?
I am still the Babajide Sanwo-Olu that people know; I am still the governor that was elected last year by Lagosians and I am still thanking them for that. The unfortunate incident that happened doesn’t define my person; it is not what I stand for; it is not what I believe in. I was the first governor who joined the protest; objects were thrown at me but I didn’t shake; I was with them.
The following day, I was at Alausa, another prominent place the protesters were and I received their petitions and I made a promise that the relevant authorities will get their petitions. I went to Abuja and indeed, I made the contacts and communication that I said was going to make.
I was the first governor to set up a fund to ensure that people who have been brutalized are compensated. I was the first governor to set up a judicial panel of inquiry and we’ve inaugurated it.
We made sure that the reform that we all desire, we have it. So, I led from the front. And I want to appeal to all of us again; we will come out of this stronger, bigger and better. It is a time we need to hold ourselves; we need to stop the bloodshed; we need to stop the bleeding; together we will come out stronger.
The assets that have been destroyed, through the resilience of Lagos, we will bring them back. Lagos is a centre for all of us. Lagos is a place, where nobody can become somebody through hard work.
The state will continue to remain a place, where all of us doing genuine businesses will continue to look up to despite where we come from or what we believe in. That is what our heritage is and that is why I am appealing to all of us; let’s put this behind us and move ahead.
Reports have it that there was a directive for the CCTV camera and electricity at the Lekki Toll Gate should be disconnected before the shooting. What is your response to that, and what is the assurance that evidence would not be doctored with?
The truth is that nobody gave that order.
There were security operatives of the LCC (Lekki Concession Company) on ground that night and the manager of the LCC whom I called, when I saw the pictures, said they took they decision to take off some of the gadgets because of the curfew that was announced.
The camera you saw in some of the footages is a laser camera, which picks the tag on your car when you are approach the toll gate through the fast-track lane. Security cameras for the toll plaza are still there and the footages are what we are going to use during our investigation.
These are things we will throw up for citizens and experts to come and verify by the time the investigative panel starts its sitting. I don’t have anything to shield; the manager of LCC don’t report to me; I don’t to talk to him and he doesn’t talk to me.
On the issue of light, I understand that there is a concessionaire that manages the LED board and I saw a letter in which the company said that they decided to take off the light because of the curfew that was imposed by the state government.
I have never spoken to the owner of the business in the last one year and there is no communication that will reflect that we influenced their decision. It was a decision that a corporate organisation took on its own.
What is the status of the promises you made to the #EndSARS protesters?
The promises are still valid. We’ve inaugurated a judicial panel of inquiry headed by Justice Doris Okuwobi (rtd) after transparently informing our citizens on who the members of the panel are.
The panel also has individuals of impeccable records like Ebun Adegboruwa (SAN) and another lady from the civil society. There is also retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, DIG Taiwo Lakanu; a human rights activist, Segun Awosanya and director in the Department of Civil Litigations, Lagos State Ministry of Justice.
There was also meant to be a representative of the youth but they called back and said one is not enough; that we should make it two. We responded immediately by accepting the demand. We are waiting to have them and the panel has said that it needs them to get to work.
Another thing we did at the first instance was to set up a N200 million fund, and what we said to members of the panel, is that they have the absolute power to determine who gets what as compensation.
All they need to say to us is that this person deserves to be paid a certain amount and the cheque would be presented immediately. How they run the panel is at the discretion of all of them.
So, we are asking those who have been brutalized as well as relations of victims to come forward. Let all of us take advantage of this opportunity, so there can be genuine reconciliation and for all of us to learn from it that behaviour, which is not in tandem with societal norms would no longer be encouraged.
With all these things happening, what would be your take on state police?
State police is a conversation that dates even my swearing-in as governor but it is something that we have also taken forward and will continue to agitate for. In a true federalism, state police is one of the minimum things needed to get the system running, but it has taken too long and the frustration is real.
We know what we have done for the police through the Lagos State Trust Fund in terms of purchasing of operational vehicles and welfare of personnel.
So, you can imagine what we can do and achieve if we have state police, especially in terms of employment opportunities and generation of local intelligence because the whole idea about state police is not just the name, but community policing, which is all about knowing your neighbourhood in order respond effectively in time of emergency.
So, the issue of security is not what we can leave to chance because it is what gives investors’ confidence; that is what the international community wants and as governors, we will not stop agitating for that.
There was a phrase in your speech that said powers beyond your control were responsible for the Lekki shootings. Would you clarify that?
I will be very careful with what I say because there have been reportage and audio communication that connotes or suggests that there was more to the #EndSARS protests than all of us thought. So, I cannot begin to make expensive comments that might also sound insensitive.
I believe that the security operatives are also in possession of these materials and they need to investigate them deeply to ascertain their veracity or otherwise. Regarding my speech; I don’t want us to take it out of contest. What I meant by the phrase was that the hierarchy of the military does not report to me and I do not pretend to have the power to active the military.
What is the way forward and your message to Lagosians as well as Nigerians in general?
I think we are at a point where all of us a people and as a nation need to come together now more than ever before. We are at a point in which the National Anthem that we all sing every day and the Green-White-Green flag that we all hold on every day need to be put to test. We need to re-engage ourselves and bring ourselves together. We need to heal this deep wound that we inflicted on ourselves.
We do not have any other country; this is our country and no one has more rights that the other.
So, we need to understand that the stronger we are together, the better we remain as a country. Lagos State has the most resilient and forward-looking economy in our country, so we cannot put to waste, what our forefathers and generations before us had put in place.