EndSARS: Contrived Moves to Throw Specks, Discredit, Whitewash Lagos Panel Report

EndSARS: Contrived Moves to Throw Specks, Discredit, Whitewash Lagos Panel Report

…We Have Become Subjects of Attacks…Adegboruwa …There’s Inconsistency Between Evidence and Findings…Enitan …We’ll Not Entertain Any Coverups…Falana …We Can’t Impose Our Views On States…President Buhari Even as thousands sign petition for President Muhammadu Buhari to face trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, some strident and contrived efforts appear to be

…We Have Become Subjects of Attacks…Adegboruwa
…There’s Inconsistency Between Evidence and Findings…Enitan
…We’ll Not Entertain Any Coverups…Falana
…We Can’t Impose Our Views On States…President Buhari

Even as thousands sign petition for President Muhammadu Buhari to face trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, some strident and contrived efforts appear to be in the works to throw specks and discredit the report of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry On Restitution For Victims of SARS Related Abuses And Other Matters, which not only described last years killings of #EndSARS protesters by soldiers at Lekki Toll Gate, as a massacre but recommended the culprits for prosecution.

The Judicial Panel set up by the Lagos Government on last year’s #EndSARS protest, which engulfed the country, confirmed soldiers actually killed some protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020, and carted their corpses away in their vans. While asking the government to pay N410 million compensation to victims of police brutality, it also recommends the setting up of a special body to look into human rights violations, stating it could not examine 40 petitions dealing with the issue.

Virtually putting the tale by the Nigerian Government on the incident on its head, the panel led by Justice Doris Okuwobi, in its report, stated that the atrocious killing of unarmed protesters at Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos on the night of October 20, 2020, can be equated to a ‘massacre’ in context.

“It was alleged and corroborated that the soldiers had their vans parked at the Lekki Toll Gate and removed as many bodies and corpses of the fallen protesters which they took away with their vans,” the panel stated in its report.

The panel said at least 48 protesters were either shot dead, injured with bullets wounds or assaulted by soldiers who stormed the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020.

“The atrocious maiming and killing of unarmed, helpless and unresisting protesters, while sitting on the floor and waving their Nigerian flags, while singing the National Anthem can be equated to a ‘massacre’ in context,” the 309 page report partly read.

The report dispute the claim by the Federal Government that there was no massacre at the Lekki Toll Gate.

Since the submission of the report in two volumes on Monday to Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu and its leakage to the public space, leading many commentators to ask for the prosecution of the soldiers and policemen involved in the mindless shooting of protesters, the outcome has been particularly embarrassing to both the state and federal governments. The Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed has consistently maintained that no protester was killed at Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos by soldiers.

He insisted recently that the claimed massacre of Nigerians during the last October’s nationwide mass protests against police brutality, was false.

The Minister who said this in a news conference in Abuja, noted that most of the claims of killings were misleading as most of those who made the claims of losing people were yet to show up and give evidence a year after such allegations.

“One year later, and despite ample opportunities for the families of those allegedly killed and those alleging a massacre to present evidence, there has been none: No bodies, no families, no convincing evidence, nothing. Where are the families of those who were reportedly killed at the toll gate? Did they show up at the Judicial Panel of Inquiry? If not, why?”

Flying Kite For Whitewash

However, many are beginning to fear that the expected White Paper being expected to be produced by the Lagos State Government in less than two weeks from now, may just be a whitewash.

Already, one of the lawyers who represented the Lagos State Government at the panel, Mr Kayode Enitan, said the report of the Justice Okuwobi panel is at variance with evidence presented before it which is seen as whetting the ground for government whitewash on the issue. He also faulted the claim that soldiers fired directly at the EndSARS protesters, maintaining that they only fired blank and live bullets to the air.

Another counsel for the Lagos State Government, Mr Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN), claims there are at least 40 discrepancies in the report submitted by the Judicial Panel of Inquiry.

Owonikoko who spoke to Arise TV on Thursday, faulted some of the findings in the report, adding that the panel omitted essential details.

He said, “Let me paraphrase my response with caution.

“I was a retained private solicitor to represent the interest of Lagos state government on the panel along with my other colleagues, another SAN, Enitan Olukayode and our colleagues.

“I have avoided having to make comments about proceedings before the panel or their reports up until now because 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 the government’s review of that report and its final decision on it that ought to be available for public consumption.

White Paper Not Binding

“Why is that so? Even the government’s decision on it, which comes by way of White Paper, is not binding on anybody that is aggrieved, and you are entitled to subject it to judicial review in a court of law.

“An instance that you may readily recall was the Oputa Panel.

“One of the reasons a number of some of the recommendations did not see the light of day, was that it was challenged in court and the Supreme Court held that some of the matters that the panel looked into, much as the public was interested in knowing the truth about them, were beyond the remit of the federal government to constitute a panel to look into.

“I am not speaking for Lagos State Government. 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 can’t pretend not to be aware that certain documents have been circulating in the social media and have been subject of comments and responses.

“By law, the findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the panel were not supposed to be made public.

“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.

Draft of Minority Opinion

“It may well be, however, that it is a draft of a minority opinion, because given what I know, having spent one whole year from the 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 a record of proceedings, there was nothing that transpired before the panel that escaped my knowledge.

“That being 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 there is the undisputed, uncontroverted fact that the military personnel got to the Lekki Tollgate around past 06:00 PM 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 04:00 PM. 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 a conclusion then that things were going out of hand.

“As at that time, policemen were being killed, a female orderly to a First Lady was stripped naked and assaulted at Ikorodu.

“The report making rounds on social media is a draft of a minority opinion because I was there all through the proceedings.

“I am particularly shocked to read what is contained in the report because it is not completely accurate.

Report Contains 40 Discrepancies

“I sighted over 40 discrepancies in this report, including awarding N15 million to someone who was a witness to a police brutality incident that had nothing to do with the Lekki incident. What kind of report is that?

“All the evidence we were able to gather during the proceedings, none of them could be fully established.

“The mistake made by the government was not setting up an entirely different panel to look into the Lekki incident because there are some members of the panel that are protagonists in the case against the Police. They were not supposed to be a part of it.

“In that report, there is no single mention of police casualty, not even a mention of what they lost.

“The Area Commander of Lekki, Epe Express came with one of his foot cut, he could not wear official police boots anymore, he was limping to testify, he was one of those recommended to be tried in this report.

“No mention of any single police person that came to testify.

“There is not a single person on that list which family or relation came to testify that he died that the family came to testify.

“No evidence of where he died, no medical certificate, nothing, and we expect that as a person of conscience, I will abide by that report. That is why I can’t believe that.”

Owonikoko added that a member of the panel, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa was absent for most of the proceedings and had a pending case in court challenging the legality of the toll gate.

“Adegboruwa cannot give an objective report on the Lekki incident because he was always absent during the sittings which were held on Saturdays.

“He already had a case in court, challenging the legality of the toll gate.

It’s Tainted

“It is worrisome that he also signed off on the report, given that he was mostly absent. It makes the report tainted.

“There are almost 40 material discrepancies in that report, including awarding financial compensations to people who were claimed to have died, who never died.

“They later came out to say that they did not die.

“How would you make that kind of mistake to award millions of naira to somebody, claiming that he has died? He was even a witness, and in the report, they awarded him N15 million.

“What kind of report is that? The report is not good for Nigeria,” Owonikoko asserted.

How the Lagos State Government which has set up a committee led by the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Mr Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN) will wade through this minefield and come out with a White Paper that meets the yearnings of victims, the human rights advocates and the citizenry, is a matter for conjecture.

Raging Vicious Attacks

But Human Rights Lawyer, Mr Ebun Adegboruwa, SAN, who says members of the panel are now at the receiving end of attacks, has also insinuated attempts to doctor the panel’s report.

“Since the submission of the EndSARS Panel Report to the Governor of Lagos State on November 15, 2021, members of the Panel have become subject of vicious attacks by those suspected to be agents of the government.

“All manner of allegations have been heaped upon Panel Members, some of who have been called unprintable names.

“I can confirm that no Member of the Panel lobbied to be appointed into the Panel. As a matter fact in my own case, His Excellency, the Governor of Lagos State, appealed to me to accept my appointment, which I saw as a call to national service. The primary reason the Governor gave to me then was that he wanted men and women of integrity, independent and not subject to manipulation, to be on the Panel.

“Just today, my attention has been drawn to an interview by a Senior Counsel to the Lagos State Government, to the effect that Panel Members collected bribe in the course of the assignment. It is unfair, ungodly and least expected of the government and its lawyers.

Spin Doctors At Play

“The Lagos State Government asked for two weeks to enable it release a White Paper on the report submitted to it by the Panel. And we have been waiting, but it would seem that the Lagos State Government has now unleashed mindless propaganda upon Panel Members whilst at the same time asking for restraint from the general public.

“I have in my custody, certified true copies of ALL proceedings of the Panel and all exhibits tendered before the Panel in respect of the Lekki Toll Gate Investigation. I urge the government to call its agents and lawyers to order so as not to provoke aggravated responses.

“It is unfair to seek to denigrate peoples’ hard-earned reputation on account only that they accepted to render selfless service at the behest of government. If the government and its agents are not restrained from attacking others, nothing stops us from defending our integrity.

“I should not become a victim of unwarranted attack just because I accepted to serve the government and the outcome of that assignment did not favour the expectations of the government. Suffice it to mention that I worked with men and women of unblemished integrity and I’m proud to be associated with them all.

“I therefore appeal to His Excellency the Governor of Lagos State to call all agents of State to order and to keep to his promise to us to release a White Paper within two weeks and to send the unedited report of the Panel, to the National Economic Council,” Adegboruwa said.

No Coverups

Popular Lagos Lawyer, Mr Femi Falana SAN, told Channels TV that those who leaked the report to the public may have been apprehensive that it may end up in the shelves like many others before it. Citing the cases of the reports of the panels headed by Justice Chukwudifu Opute, Justice Kayode Esho and the students disturbances panel by Justice Akanbi, he disclosed that neither these reports or any White Papers were ever released to the public.

“It’s possible that those who leaked the report to the public suspect there may be suspicious of some coverups and so decided to release it to force the hands of the government,” Falana maintains.

He believes it will be difficult to manipulate the White Paper and likened it to how the publication of the report of the Justice Kayode Esho panel which looked into the affairs of the Judiciary compelled the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, that had earlier resolved to allow it to gather dusts on its shelf, to send the report to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for implementation.

Errors in Leaked Report

A member of the Judicial Panel of Enquiry on #EndSARS, Mr. Temitope Majekodunmi, is however miffed over the leakage of the report submitted to Governor Sanwo-Olu, on Monday.

Hours after the panel submitted its report and a white paper committee set up by the Governor, the report got leaked to the public.

Majekodunmi, a member of the panel who represented the youth, disowned the leaked report, saying the only report he is aware of “is that we have submitted.”

According to him, the leaked report could be one of those the panel was vetting prior to the presentation of the report to the state governor. However, he clarified that the contents of the leaked report “is not far from the original”, adding that some corrections were made in the original one.

Speaking in an interview on ARISE TV on Wednesday, Majekodunmi stated that the leaked report did not emanate from any member of the panel.

He said, “There are no two reports. The only report we have is that, that we have submitted to the appointing authority on the 15th of November 2021. The leaked report, like I have dropped a statement yesterday, could be one of the ones we were vetting to reach a very conclusive report because we had reasons as a panel to vet repeatedly our report, to ensure that it is void of any error.

“It is worrisome for us that we had it leaked. I, as the youth rep, was very surprised. We were still at Alausa that very evening when the leaked copy was already in circulation. But then, we felt that it only speaks to more accountability. Like I had been saying before now, that the content of the leaked report is not far from the original. The facts are same but maybe in the original, most of these errors are corrected.

“I am very confident to repeat it that we were fair, just and the report only speaks to our level of independence and how we have done this without bias. I am the youth rep, we were the main reason why this panel is in place, because of our agitations and all of that but when we had the privilege to sit on the panel, we consistently would tell other panelists that it is not about saying that one person is right or one person is wrong. It is that the panel is saddled with the responsibility to restore peace and hope in the society and that is what this report has confirmed,” he said.

We Can’t Impose Our Views

President Buhari said the Federal Government will allow the system to exhaust itself, and will, therefore, wait for pronouncements from state governments that set up panels to probe police brutality in the country.

“So many state governments are involved, and have given different terms of reference to the probe panels,” spokesman, Femi Adesina quoted the President as saying.

“We at the Federal have to wait for the steps taken by the states, and we have to allow the system to work. We can’t impose ideas on them. Federal Government has to wait for the reaction of the states.”

Petition to ICC

However, a petition by Reno Omokri, a former Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan, on the change.orgplatform has received 76,420 signatures as of 12.39 pm on Friday.

The petition, which was filed on Wednesday, was directed at the International Criminal Court and comes after the Lagos #EndSARS panel indicted the Buhari administration in its report.

At over 75,471 signatures, the petition is the first of Nigerian origin to hit that number in two days.

The petition is titled, ‘A Petition to The International Criminal Court to Arraign Muhammadu Buhari for Crimes Against Humanity’.

The petition sought to have Buhari tried and imprisoned by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity believed to have happened at Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020.

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