Saturday, 9th December 2023

#EndSARS report: Sanwo-Olu and truth in a grave

By Martins Oloja
21 November 2021   |   4:04 am
If the authorities in Lagos and Abuja continue to listen to their lawyers who would not teach us the significance of the spirit of the law on the Lagos #EndSARS panel report..

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.

If the authorities in Lagos and Abuja continue to listen to their lawyers who would not teach us the significance of the spirit of the law on the Lagos #EndSARS panel report, they should reflect on what another significant lawyer and member of the panel Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN) too has disclosed: ‘There are documents to defend report of #EndSARS Panel.’

As the controversy over the report rages in the media, the representative of the civil society on the panel too had asked the Lagos State government to focus on the #EndSARS report instead of ‘demonising’ the panel members.

On Monday, the panel submitted two documents — a consolidated report on cases of police brutality and another on the Lekki incident investigation — to the Governor of Lagos State.

A few hours after submission of the report, the 309-page document appeared in the media space, thanks to the people power some have coined citizen journalism. In the report, the panel says the, “killing of unarmed protesters by soldiers on October 20, 2020 could be described in the context of a massacre.” When the CNN and a few other media organs described the alleged killings then in the same context, public information officers not only berated the media, they denied that there was any killing until the panel’s report last week.

The report has attracted different reactions, with some persons citing grammatical errors in the document and professionalism of the military establishment as if the military should be above the organic law of the land.

Specifically, Abiodun Owonikoko, counsel to Lagos State Government on the panel, had said Adegboruwa could not have given an “objective” position on the Lekki incident owing to his absence during sittings.

But in his rapid response in a statement issued on Friday, Adegboruwa said it was improper for the government to subject the panel to media trials and attacks. He added that it was wrong for the government to allege discrepancies, adding that there are documents to defend the report submitted by the panel. His words:

‘I have listened to the narratives of the Lagos State Government through one of its Learned Senior Counsel at the #EndSARS Panel, to the effect that Nigerians should reject the report of the Panel because I signed it, since I was not present at some of the sittings of the Panel,” the statement reads…I served on the Panel on the mandate of the Governor of Lagos State, who told me on telephone that I was chosen to represent CIVIL SOCIETY. I requested for and approval was granted in writing, that my appointment was on a part-time basis…Furthermore, the Governor told me that two members were chosen to represent civil society on the Panel so that one of us would always be present at the Panel to excuse the absence of the other. I accepted the appointment in good faith, to serve the people, to calm frayed nerves at the time and also to restore normalcy to Lagos State. So, at all times, I functioned in partnership with my colleague from civil society, and there was no major sitting of the Panel in which both of us were absent…I also served on the Panel free of charge, from October 19, 2020, when the Panel was inaugurated till November 15, 2021, when the Panel submitted its report.

The government was well aware of my identity, my perspectives, my philosophies and my general convictions, at least since my university days, before it nominated me into the panel, that I will always say things the way they are. All Panel members acted in good faith, independently and in the fear of God Almighty…It is therefore improper for Lagos State Government, through its lawyer that appeared before the Panel and other sponsored agents, to subject the report of the Panel and indeed the integrity of Panel members to media trials and attacks, all in the bid to build up the contents of its White Paper, which we can now reasonably foretell, from these sponsored media attacks…It is indeed uncharitable for the same government that urged the Panel not to be held down by strict rules of technicalities of law in order to unravel the real truth about the Lekki Toll Gate Incident, to now through its counsel, talk about alleged legal discrepancies, to frustrate the good work of the Panel that it set up…There are documents to back up and defend the report submitted to the Governor by the Panel but I have chosen to defer to His Excellency and to await the White Paper as promised because I believe that the Governor meant well in setting up the Panel and giving us free hand to operate. I appeal to His Excellency to continue in that note of sincerity…

There is no minority report from the Panel as the report submitted to the Governor on November 15, 2021 was unanimously endorsed by all members of the Panel, who worked tirelessly, day and night, to serve the government and the people, even at great risks to their health, personal safety, career and family obligations and their general well-being…I’m very sure that Panel members would have been lionized to the highest heavens if we had bought into the narrative of the government before the Panel that it was criminals, cultists, hoodlums and unknown gunmen that operated at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020…’

He urged the government to focus on the recommendations in the report instead of “seeking to demonise panel members and their report or to evade responsibility”.

There is no reason to use any bombast to tell the amiable Governor of Lagos State Babajide Sanwo-Olu that he should not blow up the opportunity that the #EndSARS panel report 2021 has provided for him to enroll his name in a Hall of Fame. He should be advised by good people of Lagos State not to make any attempt to be an artful dodger in the name of that bait called political correctness. He should note that he has known the truth through the panel he set up, funded and that truth is abundantly able to deliver him from damnation. How do I know that? Truth is generally believed to be the most powerful force on earth. As I have noted several times here, even if you succeed in keeping truth in a grave, it won’t stay there. Recall that the organic truth was kept in a grave for only three days: death could not lock Him down even in the grave. Behold, some inconvenient truths have emerged from the grave and only the power of apologising I noted here the other day could set the influential Governor of Lagos State free. Nigeria’s president who the report indicates didn’t order deployment of the troops directly on 20/10/2020 said he would wait for the response of Governor Sanwo-Olu. This is not a time to trade blame. It is a time to learn remarkable lessons on civil relevance and competence.

This is not a time to allow vanity and pride to take over from the power of strong conscience nurtured by truth. This is not a time to rely on the audacity of sophistry and legalism. This is a time to borrow some brilliance from that ancient preacher who taught the world to deconstruct time and season, and say: ‘there is a time for everything…’ Yes, Mr Governor, there is a time for politics. There is a time for recourse to knowledge. There is also a time for request for wisdom from an open heaven, just to access ornament of grace – to know the truth. There is a time for oratory. There is a season for the oracle. This is not a time to talk about mechanical inaccuracies in a report that deconstructs another ‘tragedy of victory’. This should not be a time to count the magnitude and even the enormousness of inconsistencies in the letters of the #EndSARS panel report. Can’t we borrow another brilliance from the master strategist of our time who rebuked some revenue consultants to accord more priority to weightier matters of the law instead of obsession with payment of tithes and offerings? The Governor of the economic capital of West Africa should note this: Lagos isn’t just one of the 36 states of the federation.

It is just geographically located in Western Nigeria as its destiny is now being shaped by all Nigerians. That is why the place is congested. It is now a house on a hill that can’t be hidden. The business hub of the richest black man is in Lagos, our Lagos. It is like the way the New York Times once described New York Vs Washington D.C: “New York makes the money that Washington spends”. There is a sense in which one can claim that: ‘Lagos makes a significant part of the money that Abuja spends’. Hold your breadth, this is just to underscore a point that Lagos is actually Nigeria’s most significant state, unarguably, Nigeria’s economic capital the late Murtala Muhammed wanted to legalise as ‘commercial and special capital’ in the 1979 constitution then in the works in 1976 before he was killed by some ‘soldiers of fortune’.

Here is the conclusion of the whole matter, handsome Sanwo-Olu, you have fought a good fight by setting up and funding the sitting of the strategic panel for a year. You have won the hearts of people and even the international community by receiving the two separate reports on the epic #EndSARS bloody protests. You should not allow the neo-merchants of crisis in your region to bamboozle your good self into demonising the panel members and the report, which smacks of a preface to another White Paper debacle. Mr. Governor this is a defining moment when you need to build on the remarkable tone set by Anthony Blinken, the U.S Secretary of State who didn’t blink at all before noting that the submission of the report signifies what he called, ‘democracy in action’. Don’t allow any pundits and political consultants to lead you into temptation that would make you to blow this opportunity of a lifetime. The demonisation nurtured by sophistry going on in the media on the letters of the report isn’t healthy.

What of the power that is in the spirit of the report? What of the consequences of the ‘news’ in the report? News is what somebody, somewhere is trying to hide: the rest is advertising. Governor, don’t blow it. Don’t play politics with the power of truth, lest the consequences of the news (items being hidden) will continue to generate more follow-ups and investigations till eternity. Deal with all these undercurrents now with the power of that simple, magic word ‘I am sorry’. Let’s all absorb all the lessons of 20/10/2020 in the interest of humanity. Let’s not continue to celebrate impunity. Let’s respect truth before reconciliation. Truth is too sacred to be trampled upon before reconciliation and peace talks. May the God of all grace direct Governor Sanwo-Olu’s steps on this ‘penkelemesi’, sorry peculiar mess!