The Nigerian government has told CNN to investigate its report on the alleged killing of protesters at the Lekki Toll Plaza on October 20.
While the government denied that Nigerian soldiers killed any protester, CNN published an investigative report affirming they did. The CNN report echoed similar claims by multiple witnesses.
Information and culture minister Lai Mohammed said the CNN report is “fake news” and “unbalanced”. He also described any report of killing by the soldiers at the tollgate as “a hoax”. Mohammed also threatened to sanction the US-based international news network.
On Monday, Mohammed wrote CNN’s vice president of communications Jonathan Hawkins to call for a probe into the CNN report.
“We write to put on record that the report did not just fall short of journalistic standards; it reinforces the disinformation that is going around on the issue,” Mohammed said.
“It is blatantly irresponsible and it is a poor piece of journalistic work by a reputable international news organization.
“In the first instance, the report did not live up to the most basic of the core principles of journalism – balance and fairness.
“Rushing to air such a momentous story without presenting the government’s side is inexcusable and indefensible.
“CNN said it contacted over 100 protesters and family members, but did not speak to one official of Nigeria’s federal government.
“While CNN said there was no response from the army and that officials of Lagos State would not speak in view of the Judicial Panel that is investigating the matter, it did not say what effort it made to speak with any official of the federal government.
“The truth is that CNN did not even attempt to reach the federal government.
“Nima Elbagir, who presented the report and most probably led the investigation, is conversant with the minister of information and culture, who is also the spokesman for the Federal Government of Nigeria, yet did not say that she even tried to reach the Minister.
“It is, therefore, strange to say the least, that she would rush to air such an important ‘investigation’ report without getting the government’s side.
“Unlike CNN, a reporter from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Pidgin Service, Damilola Banjo, was at the Lekki Toll Gate on the night in question.
“She was quoted as saying soldiers shot sporadically into the air and not at the protesters – a direct contradiction of the position taken by CNN who relied on second and thirdhand information.
The minister contended that while CNN obtained footage showing when the vehicles carrying soldiers left their barracks and arrived at the Lekki Toll Gate, it could not obtain any footage showing the bodies of those supposedly killed in the ‘massacre’.
He said the government was baffled by the CNN position that it stood by its story and ”our reporting was carefully and meticulously researched” despite all evidence to the contrary.
Mohammed said DJ Switch; one of CNN’s star eyewitnesses in its ‘investigative’ reporting is not credible because her story on the Lekki Toll Gate shooting has changed several times.
“From claiming she counted 78 bodies of protesters who were supposedly killed by soldiers on the night of the Lekki Toll Gate incident, she has twice, at least, changed the casualty figure from 78 to 15 and then to 7, without a shred of evidence.
“In one of social media videos of DJ Switch that was used by CNN (see attached link 1), the lady (DJ Switch) claimed she and some unnamed persons carried dead bodies and dropped them at the feet of the soldiers.
“She also claimed she spoke to their Commander before the soldiers threw the bodies into the vans. Curiously, for someone who was streaming live on Instagram during the Lekki Toll Gate incident, there was not a single video or picture of the dead bodies.
“CNN cannot pretend not to know that for anyone to act as a witness, his or her credibility must be unimpeachable.
The minister also faulted another CNN star witness, Godson (Uyi), whose video was also used by the network.
Mohammed said it was shocking that all through its investigation, CNN did not for once mention the fact that six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed during the EndSARS crisis, which also left 196 policemen injured.
He added that with the monumental destruction of government and private properties across the country, the network is fixated on the massacre that never happened. Mohammed urged the CNN to probe its reporting.
CNN responded on Tuesday by saying it stands by its reporting.