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#EndSARS Report: A grill of integrity

By Omiko Awa
21 November 2021   |   1:42 am
The escalation of corruption in government, insecurity in the polity and the high-handedness of government agencies, especially the police force, which snowballed into the #EndSARS protest ...

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu (left), being presented with the report of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry Report on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and other matters by the Chairman of the Panel, Justice Doris Okuwobi (Rtd) (right) while Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN) (middle) watches on during the presentation of the panel report at Lagos House, Ikeja, on Monday, November 15, 2021.<br />

The escalation of corruption in government, insecurity in the polity and the high-handedness of government agencies, especially the police force, which snowballed into the #EndSARS protest in the first week of October 2020 may have come and gone, but the fume gets heavier, as if the whole saga happened just yesterday.

Starting from the social media campaigns that centred majorly on the excesses of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a now-disbanded police tactical unit known for cruelty against crime suspects, the protest moved to the streets, and like a wild fire, engulfed the whole nation, holding both economic and social activities to a standstill.

The Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, in compliance to a federal directive set up a Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS related Abuses and other Matters.

The retired High Court Judge, Honorable Justice Doris Okuwobi, who chaired the panel submitted its report to the state government on November 15.

Not quite long the report was submitted, the news flittered to the media that the report yet to be made public is now in the public domain; a gross misdemeanor on the part of whosever may be responsible.

With the report now in the open, opinions are divided, as some people have begun to accuse members of the panel of partisanship, and not being fair to all concerned. This group as such sees the report as partial, distortional, misleading and fallacious.

The integrity of panel members was further punctured when Adejare Ibrahim, a social activist, noted that the report was fraught with irregularities, stressing that some of the names on the causality list have nothing to do with the protest.

According to him, Kolade Johnson, one of the names on the list, was shot during a police raid in March 31, 2019 and not during the #EndSARS protest, which was in October 2020. He questioned the rationale behind the mix up.

He also queried why names such as Jide, Tola, Wisdom among others should be on the list without their surnames in a report of such magnitude, saying it is a ploy to make Nigerians believe that some unrecognisable persons died in the Lekki Tollgate shooting. He challenged the retired High Court judge to tell Nigerians where she got the names from.

A legal expert and a member of the panel, Abiodun Jelili Owonikoko, who identified 40 discrepancies in the report faulted the manner with which the report got to the public domain, saying: “I know that by law, the panel set up was a judicial panel of inquiry and its decisions, recommendations, resolutions are not meant for public consumption in the first instance. What they do is to submit a report to the government, which may be a unanimous one or a divided opinion, if the panel members were unable to agree on certain things under their terms of reference. It is government’s own review of that report and its final decision on it that ought to be available for public consumption.”

Owonikoko who as of now was not speaking for the Lagos State Government, said, “I am not speaking on a report that is validly published and which can be authenticated as the outcome of that judicial inquiry. Nevertheless, I cannot pretend not to be aware that certain documents have been circulating in the social media and have been subject of comments and responses. I have myself seen one of such reports, it is unsigned, but it contains the names of all members and I did not, on going through it, see any indication that it was not a unanimous position.

It may well be however, that it is a draft of a minority opinion, because giving what I know, having spent one whole year from beginning of the sitting of the panel till the end, except for occasions where one or two of my colleagues had to stand in for me and we have record of proceedings, there was nothing that transpired before the panel that escaped my knowledge.

“That been the case, I must say that I am totally shocked about what I read to be the report, particularly the finding with regards to 40 something victims, some of whom were described as deceased, some of them described as missing but all attributed by the panel to what is called the Lekki incident, that is the undisputed, uncontroverted fact that the Military personnel got to the Lekki Tollgate around past 06:00pm in the evening as part of mobilisation towards enforcing the curfew imposed by Lagos State Government following the assessment that security situation in the state was at a stage where special attention had to be given security provided to impose a curfew and restore law and order.

“As at that morning, Mr. Governor had addressed the state and issued a proclamation for a curfew to commence at 04:00pm. That was presented from what we now knew at the panel by a security council meeting held by the State Government Security Council a day before, involving the Police, the Army, the Navy, the SSS, the Attorney-General, the Governor and a few other government functionaries where they assessed the entire situation and came to the conclusion then, that things were going out of hand. As at that time, policemen were been killed, a female orderly to a First Lady was stripped naked and assaulted at Ikorodu.”

To lay to rest the views of opposing voices, Temitope Majekodunmi, a youth representative on the panel, disclosed that the report in circulation has some typographical errors, which have been corrected before it was approved and submitted to the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

Receiving the report, Sanwo-Olu set up a four-man committee to look into the report within two weeks and to come up with a white paper on the way forward. He disclosed that the corrected report established that at least 46 people were killed or injured with bullets, or assaulted by security forces on the night of October 20, at the Lekki Tollgate.

Majekodunmi revealed that the report has further validated #EndSARS protagonists claims that peaceful protesters were injured or killed by security operatives, who were meant to protect them.

However, as the world awaits the white paper, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, a member of the panel and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), has called for caution in the way that Nigerians were vilifying members of the panel.

Adegboruwa disclosed that there are documents to back up and defend the report, adding that he has chosen to wait till the white paper is out because he believes that the Lagos State government meant well in setting up the panel and giving panel members free hand to operate.

Another human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, also called the state government to implement the recommendations of the panel, adding that members of the panel deserve commendation for the thorough investigation of police brutality in Lagos.

The human right activist called on the Lagos State government to designate venues where aggrieved citizens can hold rallies in the exercise of their fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and expression, adding that the violent attack on unarmed protesters during peaceful rallies by police and military personnel should be completely outlawed since Section 83 (4) of the Police Establishment Act, 2020 has imposed a duty on the police to provide adequate security for citizens who participate in peaceful meetings and rallies.

The United Nations (UN) in a statement signed by its Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon expressed hope that the submission of the findings would accelerate the process of justice and accountability in the country.

The statement said: “I welcome the submission to the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, of the report of the judicial panel on claims of brutality and shooting in the Lekki area of Lagos during the 2020 #EndSARS protests. I urge the government to implement the recommendations of the judicial panel to rebuild trust and start the process of healing and reconciliation.”

The United States of America (U.S.A) in a statement by the U.S. Consulate signed by Temitayo Famutimi, noted: “We look forward to the Lagos government’s response as part of a process that represents an important mechanism of accountability regarding the #EndSARS protests.  

“Those events led to serious allegations against some members of the security forces, and we look forward to the Lagos State and Federal governments taking suitable measures to address those alleged abuses, as well as the grievances of the victims and their families.”

Meanwhile the Federal Government in a statement signed by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, disclosed that it will allow the system to exhaust itself, and therefore, has to wait for pronouncements from the state government that set up panels to probe police brutality in the country.

President Muhammadu Buhari said this, while receiving the United States Secretary of State, Mr. Antony Blinken at the State House, Abuja.

The President said: “So many state governments are involved and have given different terms of reference to the probe panels. We at the Federal have to wait for the steps to be taken by the states. We have to allow the system to work. We cannot impose ideas on them. The Federal Government has to wait for the reaction of the states.”

Irrespective of the ongoing grilling of the report and panel members’ forthrightness, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Lucky Irabor, on his own has faulted the manner the report was released, saying he could not comment on the content for now because he has not seen the official report.

Gen. Irabor maintained that the Nigerian armed forces are committed to their constitutional mandate and do not engage in ignoble acts.

“Whether it is a true report or not, I cannot tell. But I would like to indicate that the normal procedure is to have such a report submitted to the convening authority. And then, there will be a white paper that will be presented, based on which one can make informed comments.

“But whatever it is currently, I would like to indicate that the Armed Forces of Nigeria is a professional armed force. We are peopled by Nigerians and we remain committed to the constitutional mandate. So, we will not at this point think that Nigerians should make disparaging remarks regarding the Armed Forces of Nigeria. If there are issues, of course, we address them within the ambit of the provisions.”