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#EndSARS panel, restitution and closure in Lagos

By Editorial Board
23 November 2021   |   3:05 am
Report of Justice Doris Okuwobi-led probe panel into police brutality before and during the #EndSARS episode is a plus for the Lagos

[FILES] Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu (fifth right); with his deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat (fifth left); Chairman, Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry Report on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and other Matters, Justice Doris Okuwobi (rtd) (fourth right) and members of the panel and State Executive Council, during the presentation of their report at Lagos House, Ikeja…

Report of Justice Doris Okuwobi-led probe panel into police brutality before and during the #EndSARS episode is a plus for the Lagos State government, upon whom lies the burden of presenting the truth and restitution to bring closure to the unfortunate chapter.

Clearly, grave mistakes were made at the Lekki Toll Plaza on the October 20, 2020 night and all those complicit should be made to account for their roles. In that process, the government will regain its fading credibility but first by refraining from shenanigans, gaslighting and finagling attempts to discredit the entire panel.

About 13 months after the #EndSARS unrest and the Federal Government’s pledge on a judicial panel of inquiry, Lagos State scored another first when Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu received an exhaustive 309-page report of the panel from Justice Okuwobi. The governor has immediately set up a four-man committee to look into the recommendations of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution of Victims of SARS, Related Abuses and Other Matters, to come up with a White Paper within two weeks.
The panel members had barely left the State House when a variant of the report was allegedly leaked to the press and the entire polity went gun blazing on its contents. The damning reports had allegedly confirmed a “massacre” at Lekki Toll Plaza ground of the protest, with police and military accused of firing live bullets to kill and maim scores of unarmed protesters. That finding, among others, affirmed claims of protesters, contrary to official denials that had called it “phantom massacre,” “lacking in hard evidence,” “massacre without bodies” and a disaster that wasn’t. There has been a pushback from the official quarters too, with state counsels picking holes in the panel reports, demonising its members and setting the media awash with some obscurantist campaign just to discredit the entire noble effort.
Indeed, what did or did not happen on that Tuesday night at Lekki Toll Plaza would always agitate global emotions whenever it comes to the table, and therefore, the most sensitive in the extensive panel probe. The #EndSARS protest had begun at the State House in Lagos, in protest against the brutality of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and the call for police reform. It was a peaceful protest by young Nigerians who want a better country. Unfortunately, its climax was the same bestiality of the mass shooting of unarmed protesters in Lagos State. Official denials of what the protesters saw and beamed live for the world to see was most baffling. Despite the pressure, not much was expected from the government until the independent probe panel started sitting. Already, media accounts of the panel’s report, though not yet officially confirmed, point to some complicity between the Lagos State Government and men of the Nigerian Army in the shooting of protesters that were only armed with the national flag and singing the national anthem. The true accounts of what transpired and the actual report, from breadcrumbs of the probe panel, should be made to see the light of the day soonest and all victims duly compensated. To do otherwise is to further put the state government in bad light and history will never forget the malfeasance.
Civil disobedience and peaceful protest are universal human rights guaranteed in a democracy. Security agencies are responsible institutions guided by the law and by rules of engagement, one of which is to protect protesters and prevent their hijack by hoodlums. It was unfortunate that soldiers were deployed to the Lekki peaceful sit-out and protesters dispersed in violation of fundamental rights that security agencies should enforce. All complicit officers and officials should be brought to book. No officer is above the law and those that failed to honour the panel should be recommended for sanction. All of these measures will deepen civil rule, the supremacy of the law and strengthen harmony between security agencies and the public.
Besides, there is more to the probe report than the Lekki shootings. There were gory accounts of killings, maiming and severe trauma orchestrated by the SARS rogue unit while it lasted. There were also police officers that were assaulted and extra-judicially killed, while many lost properties when hoodlums hijacked the protest. Hoodlums or any other persons by whatever names called, who willfully killed or participated in the killing of policemen and destruction of police stations as well as government physical assets should be properly identified and punished according to the law. Some policemen could have exceeded their official limit in dealing with the ordinary citizens but their sins should never have been visited by innocent law enforcement agents. All victims and families of the deceased deserved to be compensated for the sake of justice and closure. It is important to note that one of the 32 recommendations made by the panel is on improving the quality of policing in the country.
It was courageous and commendable on the part of the government to have allowed the panel a free hand to execute the lofty assignment of justice and good governance in Nigeria. Justice Okuwobi and all members of the panel, notwithstanding their imperfection, are good examples of self-sacrifice, public service and shining light for other panels to emulate across the states. Deeper profile in courage and leadership demand allowing the process to go on and lead to its logical conclusion, despite having indicted the government. State governments cannot at this time beat a retreat or encourage a campaign of calumny to sacrifice truth and goodwill, just to be politically correct. Exactly where Sanwo-Olu belongs and how he wants to be remembered on the #EndSARS episode shall show forth in the much-awaited White Paper. But the consequence of his choice shall last even longer than the event.   

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