The Nigerian Army admitted its soldiers were carrying live bullets when they arrived to disperse a protest at the Lekki Toll Plaza in Lagos, where several people were killed in October.
The deadly October 20 shootings at the plaza sparked local and international outrage. At least 10 people protesting against police brutality were killed in the shooting, according to Amnesty International, which alleged that army troops opened fire on protesters without provocation. The government said two people died and 20 were admitted to hospital.
“The soldiers were given live and blank bullets. In this particular case, we saw that these protests had been infiltrated by some hoodlums,” the judicial panel investigating the incident was told by Brig Gen Ahmed Taiwo, commander of 81 Military Intelligence Brigade. He said the live bullets were for a backup.
Last weekend he testified that blank ammunition was fired into the air to scare “hoodlums from the crowd”, but insisted that soldiers did not fire at protesters.
The crowd of mainly young Nigerians were singing the country’s national anthem and waving its flags as they peacefully protested against police brutality under the hashtag #EndSARS.
The army had initially maintained that its troops were not at the site of the shooting, but later admitted their presence there.
The panel is also investigating allegations of abuse against the police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, known as SARS, which sparked the initial protest.
Last week, written witness testimonies relayed harrowing accounts of the protest, describing events the army denied occurred.
"The soldiers kept shooting at random, and I saw people falling to the ground, injured or lifeless," Dabiraoluwa Ayuku said in her testimony.
Her account was one of three seen by Reuters and submitted to the Lagos panel investigating allegations that the army and police opened fire on and killed people protesting at the Lekki Toll Gate.
Two of the civilian panel witnesses said some troops fired into the air, but all three said other soldiers shot peaceful protesters, injuring or killing them.
"I remember a particular soldier that kept dancing while he shot," Ms Ayuku said.