Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has criticised Cable News Network (CNN) for exhibiting panic over its reports on the Lekki Toll Gate incident by seeking to clarify its tweet some 35 days later. CNN denied it never attributed the death toll of 38 to Amnesty International.
In a tacit admission that it misreported the death toll at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos, CNN on Thursday stated that its October 23 report on the incident did not make it clear that the death toll was from protests across the country.
This marks a U-turn by CNN in its reporting of the alleged shooting of defiant #ENDSARS protesters at the toll plaza on the night of October 20, 2020.
Back on October 23, CNN reported: “At least 38 people were killed in Nigeria on Tuesday when the military opened fire on peaceful protesters. But the President failed to address the carnage, during his speech on Thursday, drawing criticism from protesters who accuse him of failing to show empathy and unifying the nation.”
On Friday, Mohammed, who has consistently disputed the CNN accounts of the Lekki incident of October 20, where soldiers allegedly shot at peaceful protesters, accused the Atlanta-based network of inaccuracy and unbalanced investigation.
He also shamed the outfit for receding into infamy in its desperate act to justify its report that protesters were massacred in Lagos.
The minister spoke at a stakeholders’ engagement with members of the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON) on Friday in Abuja.
He described CNN’s tweet on Thursday as the clearest indication yet of its confusion over the Lekki Toll Gate incident, wherein it attempted to clarify its tweet of October 23 by saying it never attributed the death toll of 38 to Amnesty International, while adding that the tweet also failed to make it clear that the death toll was for protests across the country.
He declared: “Commentators on the tweet tried to redirect CNN to the issue: which is its tweet of October 23 in which it said ‘At least 38 people were killed in Nigeria on Tuesday (October 20th) when the military opened fire on peaceful protesters.’ This is very unambiguous and CNN is exhibiting panic by seeking to clarify its tweet some 35 days later! Instead of engaging in such panic, CNN should come clean by admitting that it goofed badly on the Lekki Toll Gate incident.”
He vilified CNN for relying on unauthenticated videos to carry out an investigation, describing as worrisome that an international broadcaster like it would switch casualty figures so casually without a credible source.
“This is why we have written a letter to CNN asking it to use its own internal mechanism to probe its investigation. We have received an acknowledgment of our letter, saying the letter has been referred to CNN’s Editorial Team. We await the outcome of their probe, but that is without prejudice to whatever we may decide to do as a government.
“We will not sit by and allow any news organisation, local or foreign, to set Nigeria on fire with irresponsible and unprofessional reporting. CNN did not have a reporter or cameraman at the Lekki Toll Gate on the night in question, yet it emphatically reported a hoax story.
“Conversely, the BBC that had a reporter and an editor on the ground reported that soldiers shot into the air, not at protesters. I will rather believe the person on the ground than the one who is thousands of kilometres away,” Mohammed said.
He also called out Nigerian broadcast stations for what he tagged as their failure to take the lead in the reporting of the Lekki toll gate incident.
He condemned BON for outsourcing their role to a foreign organisation, “that do not even have correspondents on the ground, to broadcast misleading information to the world.”
The minister challenged BON stakeholders that all the posers that had arisen in the wake of the federal government spat with CNN over the broadcast of the protests must form part of their review of the coverage of the whole crisis.
He also urged broadcast stations to avoid using unverified information from social media, as such is fraught with danger, stressing that the violence that resulted from the hijack of the #ENDSARS protest was catalysed by fake news and disinformation, which spread like wildfire on social media.
He lauded security agencies, particularly the police and soldiers for professionalism and their restraint, which helped to save many lives during the protests, noting that even in the face of attacks and provocation, they acted within their rules of engagement.
The minister lamented that the reporting of the EndSARS protest was skewed against the security agencies, saying only a few stations highlighted the attacks and killings of security agents, as well as the destruction of public and private property.
He said: “For the record, six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed all over the country during the crisis. Also, 196 policemen were injured; 164 police vehicles were destroyed and 134 police stations burnt down.
“The killing of the policemen was particularly gruesome and dastardly. Yet, human rights organisations and the media have not given this the attention it deserved. Rather, they have remained fixated on the so-called massacre. It seems human rights do not matter for men and women in uniform.
“This is unfortunate and must be corrected. Please note that the violence also left 57 civilians dead, 269 private/corporate facilities burnt/looted/vandalised, 243 government facilities burnt/vandalised and 81 government warehouses looted.”
The international cable network had on October 23 suggested a massacre occurred without any reasonable evidence, when it claimed that at least 38 persons were killed when soldiers shot some peaceful protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate.
However, almost five weeks after its first reporting on the incident, the network walked back the claim with the statement on Thursday.