The Minister of Defence, Bello Mohammed, and spokesman for the Defence Headquarters, Mohammed Yerima, have disagreed over who ordered the deployment of soldiers on the streets of Lagos.
The minister claimed the soldiers were deployed by the Federal Government based on security reports available to it, but Mr. Yerima, the spokesman of the Defence Headquarters, says the soldiers were “requested for and are being sponsored by the Lagos State Government”.
There has been a public outcry against the deployment of the troops to Lagos and civil society groups have said that the act ought not to emanate from a democratic government especially as the protests were done peacefully.
Mr. Yerima at a press briefing in Abuja on Thursday stated his version of the story.
The four-paragraph statement read by Yerima stated:
“The attention of the Defence Headquarters has been drawn to the unsubstantiated claims by a section of the public alleging that the Federal Government ordered the deployment of troops in Lagos to halt the protest against the fuel subsidy removal.
“While the Defence Headquarters do not wish to join issues with any individual or groups regarding the matter, we wish to state categorically, in the interest of the larger society, that there is no element of truth in those claims.
“The soldiers seen on the streets of Lagos are still the same men of the special task force code named Operation MESA set up and sponsored by the Lagos State government long before the fuel subsidy protests, for the purpose of supporting the civil police in protecting lives and property as is the case in many parts of the country.
“The men of the task force who are currently in Lagos have been there and were not brought from outside Lagos. They are members of the Lagos State Government sponsored Operation MESA and the demand for their withdrawal is therefore uncalled for.”
But the minister, at an earlier press briefing, had said that the Federal Government deployed the troops in response to security reports detailing plans by some unnamed persons and groups to hide under the protests “to cause anarchy and security breach.”
Mr. Mohammed said the magnitude of the havoc envisaged by the groups was akin to the upheaval currently going on in Syria and other Arab countries, adding that the Federal Government has the constitutional responsibility to forestall such actions.
“We learnt through security reports that some people were trying to take over the protests to cause anarchy. Some of these people threatened to continue the protests even if organised labour decided to suspend the strike.
“From the reports available to government, these people were planning to ignite actions typical of what is going on in Syria and other Arab countries and there is no way any responsible government would fold its arms and watch some people destabilise any part of the country.
“The deployment of soldiers was meant to forestall anarchy so government stepped in to control the situation so that people with the wrong motives can be put in check. The soldiers will be withdrawn as soon as normalcy returns to the streets of Lagos and other parts of the country where soldiers are on such duties.
“Let me emphasise that under no circumstances will government stand aloof while some misguided elements unleash violence on the Nigeria society. The administration is committed to promoting the greatest good for the greatest number of Nigerians irrespective of tribe, religion or political affiliation,” the minister said.