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After two extensions, #Lagos EndSARS panel in race against October deadline

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Petitioners Demand Justice, Compensations

Barely a year after Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu set up a nine –man judicial panel to investigate police brutality, especially activities of the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squard (SARS) in the aftermath of the October 2020 Lagos State #EndSARS protests that allegedly claimed many lives, Justice Doris Okuwobi (rtd) is still treating several petitions from aggrieved victims seeking justice and compensation for crimes committed against them by officers of the Nigerian Police.

While similar panels in other states of the federation have rounded off their investigations and submitted reports, the Lagos State government had extended the time frame of the Okuwobi panel twice.

The Lagos State Judicial Panel on Restitution for Victims of SARS-related Abuses and Other Matters was set up by the governor on October 19, 2020, with a time frame of six months. But with the deluge of petitions received by the panel, the governor extended the panel’s tenure on April 19, 2021 when it was initially expected to end its sitting to July 19 2021.

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On July 19, 2021, Justice Okwuobi disclosed that Governor Sanwo-Olu had granted the panel another three months duration till October 19, 2021. However, recent checks by The Guardian revealed that there are still pending petitions and petitioners asking for justice and necessary compensation for several cases of police brutality on them and their relatives. As a result, it is unclear whether the panel may be able to address all the pending petitions before it and recommend necessary actions. The panel is expected to resume sitting next week.

In one of the last matters it addressed, an #EndSARS protester, who claimed he was shot by the police during the October 2020 protest in Lagos requested adequate compensation for the bodily injury and trauma he suffered after he was hit by a stray bullet from police gun.

The petitioner, Kufre Jackson, in his affidavit, told the panel how police officers from Hogan Bassey Police Division, Surulere shot indiscriminately at protesters in Surulere on October 12, 2020. Jackson, an engineer with specialty in installation of solar panel and CCTV cameras, said he joined the peaceful protesters, who were demanding for good governance along Ojuelegba and marched with them down to the local government office.

He said while the protesters were approaching the Office of the Public Defender, some officers from Hogan Bassey Police Division tried to prevent the protesters from proceeding further. This eventually generated heavy traffic on both sides of the road. “At this point I saw some officers, who wanted to disperse the crowd, they crossed over to the middle of the road branding their arms and ammunition. They started shooting directly at protesters. When I saw the officers shooting at people, I ran for safety, only to discover that I had been hit by a stray bullet on the thigh. A nurse, Chinonso, eventually carried me to Randle General Hospital for a first aid treatment. From there, I was transferred to the Igbobi Orthopaedic Hospital where I had an immediate surgery. I was admitted in Igbobi General Hospital for a period of two weeks and had to pay for my hospital bills, scans and drugs.”

To corroborate his argument, Jackson, through his lawyer presented photographs, videos and hospital receipts to serve as evidence of the incident.

The victim demanded for justice since nobody has been questioned for the crime committed against him. He appealed to the panel to consider the psychological trauma that the incident has put him through. He also demanded adequate compensation for the injury he suffered and trauma he has been through since the incident.

While cross-examining the petitioner, Emmanuel Eze, the counsel to the police asked whether Jackson was aware that the anti-kidnapping unit at Hogan Bassey was attacked and a police officer shot dead on the aforementioned date.

“I cannot confirm because after I was shot, I was battling for my life,” he responded. Another petitioner, a widow, Olamide Erinfolami, claimed before the panel that the Nigerian Police Force killed her husband while trying to stop the #EndSARS protesters at the Ojuelegba axis.

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Following the two submissions, Justice Okuwobi adjourned the matter till August 31 for adoption of final written addresses. Another petitioner also narrated how officers of the dissolved SARS brutalised her and a pregnant woman.

The petitioners, Stella Edegwa and Adeola Mukaila, who was allegedly brutalised during pregnancy, in a joint petition, narrated their ordeals.
According to Mrs. Edegwa, herself and the second petitioner were meted with “barbaric, brutal and ruthless assault” by three police officers, whom they identified by their nicknames – Tom, Polo, and Walter. The police officers were part of the SARS team at Tolu Police Station, Ajegunle area of the state.

Edegwa said the alleged SARS officers drove into Mokoya Street in Ajegunle on June 6, 2020 purportedly on information that some youths were hosting a party in her residence in breach of the COVID-19 lockdown directives.

She told the panel that while driving along the street, the SARS officers came across a footballer by the roadside, who was fixing his car that broke down. “Strangely, the officers started to harass the young footballer, alleging he was a yahoo boy and demanded he hands over his car key. When the footballer refused to hand over the key, the said SARS officers resorted to beating him, using among other things batons and the butts of their guns. The assault attracted the attention of passersby and some even brought out their phones to record the incident,” the affidavit reads.

Mrs Edegwa said upon seeing the incident being recorded by others, Mrs Mukaila, who was five months pregnant at that time, stepped out of the salon where she was making her hair and brought out her phone to record the incident.

“One of the officers known as Officer Ade, suddenly attacked the first petitioner, who was five months pregnant at the time, forcefully collected her phone (Samsung A10) and pushed her inside a drainage.

“Officer Ade also dragged the 1st petitioner inside the drainage and punched her several times on the tummy with his fist. It was at this point that I intervened screaming at the top my voice and yelling to Officer Ade to stop hitting the 1st petitioner as the 1st petitioner was pregnant and may lose her baby,” Mrs Edegwa said.

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She said rather than yield to her cry, the officer swung a fist at her while she was trying to rescue Mrs Mukaila from his grip. “The blow caught me on the lips with such force and intensity that my upper lips almost split in half. In no time at all, my mouth was covered in blood, which prompted onlookers to advise me to go to the hospital for treatment,” she said.

Mrs Edegwa presented photographs and videos showing the injury she sustained and those of Mrs Mukaila. She told the panel that the matter was reported to the Area B Police Station, Apapa, where the case was subsequently transferred to the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID) Panti, Yaba for further investigation.

She said they were assured by the Investigating Police Officer, one Inspector Samuel that the perpetrators of the acts would be brought to justice.
 
“Strangely, however, and till date, no investigation has been opened in respect of the matter and none of the erring officers has been arrested or charged to court. Worse still, none of us has been compensated for the physical, emotional and financial injuries suffered in the hands of the erring officers,” Mrs Edegwa said.

She urged the panel to order a replacement of Mrs Mukaila’s Samsung A10 phone, which was damaged and a thorough investigation of the case with a view to prosecuting the erring officers. The petitioners also asked for compensation for the physical, emotional and financial injuries suffered as a result of the brutalisation. The matter is to continue next week.

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