Soldiers Shouldn’t Have Gone To Lekki Tollgate With Live Ammunition – Retired US Soldier Speaks

In this interview with The PUNCH, Bishop Johnson gives his thoughts on deploying a soldier at the Lekki toll gate to confront EndSARS protesters.

A retired United States Army Captain, Bishop Johnson, speaks with OLALEYE ALUKO about the deployment of soldiers to the Lekki Tollgate area amid the EndSARS protest on October 20 and the controversies that have followed the decision from army.

Do Do you think it was right that the army had come to the place of the protest with live ammunition? In your opinion, does the level of threat justify such force?

From my perspective as a former American soldier, first and foremost, the military should not have been there. The people who should have been there should have been the police. Now, I understand that the constitution allows the military to participate in internal security operations in Nigeria, but that should only happen when they are asked to do so. And the police must have shown that they do not have the ability to quell the riots, but I don’t think that what happened (on October 20) went beyond the ability of the police to quell it. Furthermore, the protesters were peaceful, carrying the Nigerian flags and singing the Nigerian national anthem. So for me, I don’t see where that poses a threat to the national security of the country other than the fact that the crowd was there. First, the Nigerian army should not have been there. And if they were there, they shouldn’t have been there with live ammunition. They should only have been there with some crowd control equipment like tear gas and others. They must not fire live ammunition.

Some Nigerians have said that the military has been speaking slowly at the ongoing judicial panel in Lagos, especially by not revealing earlier that it went to the protest site with live ammunition. What is your view on this?

Well, in the United States military, we don’t give out information like that. We give complete information. The military is there to serve the citizens. They are there on behalf of the citizens. Furthermore, this matter involves citizens, the very citizens in whose name there is even an army. They must give them all the information they need. It is in Nigeria that I heard that all the information that affects citizens, that information is not given; How is that classified? There is no great sensitivity in this matter. The Nigerian military has no credibility for the most part; this has been his modus operandi. For example, the Nigerian army has come out to say on several occasions that its soldiers killed Abubakar Shekau (a leader of the Boko Haram terrorists) and show photographs of the massacre; only for Shekau to come out a few minutes or hours later with his own video, making references to recent incidents to show the Nigerian military that he is still alive.

During the 2019 general election, there was violence in Rivers State and the military claimed it was the work of fake soldiers. And I said at the time, look, if these people were fake soldiers, arrest them and parade them and let’s see who they are. So far, the military has been unable to arrest anyone. So this is an army that has no credibility when it comes to information management.

Don’t you think that political leaders should also share the blame for the alleged recklessness of the military?

It is because we have very weak institutions. However, the loyalty of the military should not be to the president or to any citizen of this country. The loyalty of the military should be the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If you look at what happened recently in the United States, despite the footsteps of President Donald Trump, the institutions stood their ground and are fighting back. Trump wanted his defense secretary to deploy regular US forces to quell peaceful protests, and the defense secretary refused. That’s why he fired him. This is because this has never happened in the history of the US, where the regular military is used to pursue and quell peaceful protests.

But we are in a country where the institutions are very weak. The military feels they are loyal to the president. So what the president asks them to do, they do. However, it is not all the orders that you are given that you must execute. In order for you to track an order, that order must meet three conditions. One, it must be legal; two, it must be ethical and three, it must be moral. So if someone gives you an order to open fire on peaceful civilian protesters, you as a commissioned military officer, regardless of who gave you that order, can reject that order on the basis that you did not meet any of those three conditions. This is because shooting at peaceful, innocent and unarmed civilian protesters is unethical. It is illegal and equally immoral. So the weak institution is on one side. On the other hand, politicians tend to exploit those weak institutions at whatever level they want. When this incident broke out, I wrote an article where the buck stops at the desk of the Federal Government of Nigeria. This is because only the president has the constitutional authority to command the military forces. They don’t take orders from anyone other than the Commander-in-Chief. So all these debates about the Governor of Lagos State Babajide Sanwo-Olu and others are not necessary.

The governor does not have the power to order the military to do something they do not want to do. The only person who has that authority under our constitution is our president, and therefore the ball comes to rest on his table.

If the ongoing judicial panel establishes that the soldiers opened fire and killed peaceful protesters at the Lekki tollbooth, what do you think should follow?

I believe that the law of the land should take its course. It’s like there is a murder and a prosecution. If at the end of the day, the soldiers are found guilty and contributed to the deaths and injuries of the protesters, all those guilty must be held accountable in accordance with the laws of the country. I am not a lawyer, but I am sure that there are certain sections of Nigerian law that should run their course in these cases.

Source: The PUNCH