Nigeria Denies CNN Report Saying Army Killed Protesters

Nigeria dismissed an investigative report by CNN alleging that its security forces killed unarmed protesters last month in the country’s largest city of Lagos, accusing the news organization of disinformation.

Information Minister Lai Mohammed on Thursday reiterated the government’s position that troops had fired blank bullets into the air to disperse a crowd assembled in Lagos on Oct. 20, accusing the U.S. television network of publishing unverified information.

Largely peaceful demonstrations against police brutality, which began in early October and spread throughout Africa’s most populous country, became a key test of President Muhammadu Buhari’s authority. While he agreed to disband the widely hated police unit that was initially the focus of the protesters’ anger, the rallies continued, drawing a more forceful response from the government.

CNN said on Nov. 18 it had analyzed hours of footage “to tell a story radically different to the one the authorities are telling.” The report concluded that the Nigerian military and police used live ammunition against protesters who were gathered at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos in defiance of a curfew. The army removed a number of bodies from the scene and some protesters are still missing, CNN said, citing witnesses.

Targeting Malls

At least 10 people were killed at Lekki, according to a separate investigation by London-based rights group Amnesty International. The hashtag #LekkiMassacre has been widely used on social media in the last month.

Calling for CNN to face sanctions, Mohammed said CNN’s report was “patently irresponsible” and based on unverified videos circulating on social media. “Sadly the purveyors of fake news and disinformation succeeded in deceiving the entire world that indeed there was mass killing in Lekki,” he said. “Not a single body has been produced.”

A CNN spokesman denied the accusations. “Our reporting was carefully and meticulously researched, and we stand by it,” he said by email.

The shooting was followed by looting at shopping malls and banks, and attacks on politicians’ homes, police stations and warehouses. Six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed in protest-related violence, Mohammed said.

The army’s position on what happened in Lagos on Oct. 20 has shifted. In the immediate aftermath, the military said no soldiers had been present at Lekki before saying the army was but didn’t shoot at protesters. Brigadier General Ahmed Ibrahim Taiwo, who represented the military at a judicial panel of inquiry in Lagos on Nov. 14, said that the military only fired blank ammunition into the air.

“We insist that the military did not shoot at protesters at the Lekki toll gate,” Mohammed said, referring to Taiwo’s testimony. “The world may have just witnessed for the very first time ever a massacre without bodies,” he said.

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