By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa SAN
1.01 The Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses (Panel) was constituted and officially inaugurated on 19th October, 2020. Upon completion of its assignment, the Panel submitted two sets of Reports to the Lagos State Government, (LASG) on November 15, 2021. There have been several developments since the submission of these Reports, the most prominent of which were that the LASG and indeed the Federal Government, through some Ministers, rejected part of the said Reports, especially the one relating to the Incident of October 20, 2020 at the Lekki Toll Gate, (LTG).
1.02 The LASG subsequently released two White Papers on the two Reports of the Panel on November 30, 2021. Please find below comments on the said White Papers, for your kind information and review.
A. WHITE PAPER ON GENERAL POLICE BRUTALITY CASES (WP1)
INCONSISTENCY OF FACTS IN WP1
2.00 It is important to state from the outset that the Panel did not sit on any Petition dated 10th October, 2021, contrary to the facts stated on the Cover Page of WP1. Indeed, the Panel stopped receiving Petitions from the general public from 22nd December 2020. This is a total misconception of facts from the Committee that reviewed the Reports of the Panel. It is necessary to point out this grave error or misconception, as the case may be, in view of the needless hullabaloo following the minor error of tabular alignments contained in one of the Reports of the Panel, as raised by the LASG.
EXECUTION OF PANEL’S DECISIONS
2.02 As could be seen in paragraph 2.4 of WP1, the Panel paid the total sum of N409,700,000:00 to Seventy (70) Petitioners in respect of police brutality and general human rights abuses. The LASG provided the funds for the compensation. Thus, decisions of the Panel on Petitions were self-executory and not subject to review or rejection by the LASG. This was the agreement and modality adopted from the very day of inauguration of the Panel and it is covered by the extant Tribunal of Inquiry Law section 15, under which the Panel was set up.
ILLEGALITY OF WHITE PAPER
2.03 There is no provision for the issuance of a White Paper under the law setting up the Panel. Under and by virtue of section 15 of the Tribunal of Inquiry Law, upon conclusion of any inquiry, the Governor is only empowered to issue directive for the enforcement of any decision emanating from the inquiry. The Governor cannot issue a White Paper to overrule the decisions of a Judicial Panel of Inquiry.
INCONSISTENCY OF POLICIES BY LASG
2.04 It is important to note the fact that the police is part of the security agencies of the federal government over which the LASG has no control statutorily, but it still accepted to pay compensation to victims of police brutality, which act in itself is very commendable, save that the LASG dithered when it came to compensation for victims of brutality by soldiers, apparently it was connected to the Incident of the Lekki Toll Gate of October 20, 2020.
PETITIONS BY POLICE OFFICERS
2.05 In Paragraph 4.0 of the WP1, the LASG accepted decisions of the Panel in respect of Petitions submitted by policemen and women who were victims of one abuse or the other before, during or after the EndSARS protests. These petitions relate to deaths, grievous injuries and loss of property. This is contrary to and disproves the earlier narratives of lawyers and agents of the LASG that the Panel did not consider the cases of police officers.
INVESTIGATION AND PROSECUTION OF POLICE OFFICERS
2.06 The Panel recommended the investigation and prosecution of certain police officers whose names featured prominently in the Petitions heard and determined. In Paragraph 4.0 (ii) (a) & (b) of WP1, LASG undertook to request for the casefiles of the outcome of investigations of these police offices which would then be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions for action.
2.07 This is another clear instance of the game of pick and choose, adopted by the LASG in respect of complaints against the police and the army, both of which are outside the statutory control of the LASG but for the fact that the complaints against the army relate to the Lekki Toll Gate, the LASG would not touch them with a pole.
B.WHITE PAPER ON LEKKI TOLL GATE INCIDENT (WP2)
4.00 The assignment of the Panel in respect of the Lekki Toll Gate (LTG) Incident of 20th October 2020 was divided into two, being the general investigation and hearing of individual petitions. This can be confirmed in Paragraph 2.5 of WP2. It is instructive that it is the Report of the Panel on LTG that has been the source of attack from the government as it accepted and indeed commended the Panel on the Report on general police brutality, even though both reports emerged from the same process and from the same Panel.
PETITIONS RELATING TO LEKKI TOLL GATE
4.01 A total of Thirteen (13) Petitions were received by the Panel in respect of the LTG, Twelve (12) were heard and one (1) was struck out. A total sum of N237,000,000:00 was awarded by the Panel as compensation in respect of these Petitions but the LASG government did not make any comment on these awards, especially those of the individual petitions. These Petitions were heard during the open proceedings of the Panel and the LASG through its counsel participated actively in these hearings. The Petitioners whose cases have been determined as successful should be paid like all others.
REFUSAL BY LASG TO COMPLY WITH DECISIONS OF THE PANEL
4.02 There is no provision in the Tribunals of Inquiry Law of Lagos State which permits the Governor to overrule decisions of the Panel conducted through open hearing. As stated earlier, the decisions of the Panel were self-executory and compensations were paid to victims upon the success of any Petition.
4.03 It is improper for LASG to pick and choose which decision of the Panel it would comply with, on the alleged ground that the soldiers/officers involved are outside its statutory control, whereas the same LASG conveniently paid compensations awarded in respect of police brutality and the police are similarly outside its statutory control.
ERRORS AND MISCONCEPTIONS OF WP2
4.04 WP2 overlooked critical evidence that the Panel considered and it also misrepresented the findings and recommendations of the Panel in many areas, to suit its narrative, such as Exhibit LLC A, which confirmed that soldiers shot at unarmed peaceful protesters at the LTG on October 20, 2020, the report of the forensic expert, Sentinel, that both live and blank bullets were fired by soldiers, the testimony of many doctors that treated victims of gunshot wounds, etc.
HOW THE PANEL ARRIVED AT FINDING OF MASSACRE
4.05 The Panel considered several definitions of the word MASSACRE and adopted one of the dictionary meanings of MASSACRE as being ‘the act or instance of killing a number of usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty.’ The Panel reviewed the following documents and testimonies before it:
(i) Exhibit LCC A which was tendered by the Lekki Concession Company, (LCC), being a Press Release issued by LCC on 21st October, 2020, the day after the LTG Incident. In that document, it is stated that “LCC strongly condemns the shooting of unarmed peaceful protesters at the Admiralty Circle Toll Plaza yesterday, 20th October, 2020”. Panel found that the evidence corroborated the case of the EndSARS protesters that the protest was peaceful, orderly and coordinated, that soldiers invaded the protests and shot at UNARMED, HELPLESS, UNRESISTING AND PEACEFUL protesters, which the Panel considered as cruel and atrocious. It was in the CONTEXT of the nature of the peaceful protest and the atrocious and cruel actions of the soldiers which led to several deaths, that the Panel concluded on MASSACRE.
(ii) The Panel considered the fact as confirmed in Paragraph 1.1 of WP2, that LASG identified with the cause of the EndSARS protesters and decided to allow them congregate at two main points at Government House, Alausa, Ikeja and LTG. Also, LASG had already commenced dialogue with the protesters with the Governor accepting to be their ambassador to the Federal Government.
(iii) Panel considered that in the circumstance of the above, the invitation and deployment of the military was totally unwarranted, especially at the LTG, while not faulting the decision of the Governor to restore law and order in other volatile areas of the State.
(iv) The Panel considered that firing live bullets at unarmed, peaceful and unresisting protesters which led to the death of some of them, was cruel and atrocious on the part of the military and the police. The White Paper ignored these explanations and findings by the Panel.
COVER UP OF MASSACRE
4.06 WP2 in its Paragraph 3.0 did not address the findings of the Panel on the actions of certain agencies of government to cover up the Massacre, as follows:
(i) The Panel accepted the report of its forensic expert, Sentinel, that LCC manipulated its cameras in order to withhold material evidence;
(ii) That LASG did not secure the scene of the LTG Incident in order to facilitate proper investigation;
(iii) The Panel accepted the report of its forensic expert, Sentinel, that LAWMA cleaned up the LTG after the protests, thus destroying potential and useful evidence;
(iv) The Panel accepted the evidence of EndSARS protesters that police were trailing them in order to intimidate and scare them from open testimonies;
(v) That LASG did not release funds to conduct DNA tests on the corpses as was done in the cases of Dana Air and Synagogue Church.
These vital findings were not addressed by LASG in WP2 at all.
ALLEGED INCONSISTENCIES IN THE REPORT OF THE PANEL
4.07 The LASG in its WP2 misconceived the findings of the Panel in relation to the Forensic Pathologist, Professor Obafunwa. The Panel DID NOT state that Professor Obafunwa was the sole source of its conclusion on deaths at the LTG but rather adopted his testimony as ONE of the sources of confirmation of deaths.
4.08 Professor Obafunwa’s testimony related to 99 bodies which were said to have been picked by Lagos State Environmental Health Management Unit (LASEHMU). Three of these 99 bodies were said to come from LTG, based upon the descriptions and markings on the bodies by LASEHMU. As Professor Obafunwa did not pick these bodies himself and he was not the author of their descriptions, he did not give evidence of the PLACE of death but rather the CAUSE of death.
FINDINGS ON OTHER DEATHS FROM LEKKI TOLL GATE
4.09 In Paragraph 16 at Page 296 of the Report, the Panel made the following vital finding:
“Panel finds the cases of death of or injured protesters as credible and uncontroverted”.
Panel then proceeded to list the names identified by the EndSARS protesters. This is not and cannot be inconsistent with the findings of the Panel on the testimony of Professor Obafunwa, contrary to WP2.
EVIDENCE OF DEATHS AND INJURIES BY EYEWITNESSES
4.10 The Panel evaluated and believed the following testimonies in relation to deaths and injuries from LTG:
(i) Serah Ibrahim personally testified as an eye witness of shootings and deaths and the Panel believed her. She tendered videos and other documents in proof and she was not discredited under cross-examination.
(ii) Olalekan Salami personally testified before the Panel of dead bodies packed in the vans of soldiers wherein he was also taken for dead in the same van and the Panel believed him.
(iii) Dabira Ayuku personally testified about bodies packed in the vans of soldiers and the Panel believed her.
(iv) Onileowo Legend personally testified of deaths and injuries from the LTG and the Panel believed him.
(v) Videos of evidence of deaths from families and relatives of deceased persons from the LTG were tendered before the Panel, which it held to be credible as they were not discredited under cross-examination.
(vi) There were individual petitions (13 in number) relating to deaths and injuries (including amputations and multiple fractures) from the LTG which the Panel heard and believed, upon full hearing.
(vii) In addition to all the above, Professor Obafunwa led evidence and tendered documents relating to 99 dead bodies three of which he said were brought from LTG.
(viii) There was no contrary evidence offered in rebuttal of the above multiple evidence of deaths and injuries from the LTG.
(ix) The testimonies from the government were from Brigadier-General Taiwo on behalf of the Nigerian Army, Mr. Hakeem Muri-Okunola on behalf of the Lagos State Government and the DPO of Maroko Police Station. All three of them stated that they were not physically present at the LTG on October 20, 2020 and they did not witness the event at all.
DUPLICATION OF NAMES OF DECEASED PERSONS
4.11 In response to Recommendation 24 of the Panel, the LASG in its WP2 stated that the names of Kolade Salami and Folorunsho Olabisi appeared twice on the table as Nos. 37 and 38 at pages 297-298. This was a misnomer from the spreadsheet that ought to have terminated at Page 297 but mistakenly overlapped to Page 298 with the same names and same numbers. It was the computer error of the Secretariat of the Panel which could have been corrected as the Secretariat of the Panel was domiciled in the Ministry of Justice at all times. In any event, the mere fact of repetition of same names on a table cannot without more, nullify the uncontroverted evidence of death.
4.12 Nicholas Okpe, Ukala Patrick Ayide, Joshua Samuel and Nathaniel Solomon jointly presented a Petition on the shooting and killing of the late Abuta Solomon at the LTG. The Petition was heard by the Panel and it reached a decision declaring the Petition as successful and awarded the sum of N25M as compensation to the family of the deceased. Compensation was awarded for this case because a separate Petition was presented on behalf of the deceased and the Panel conducted a full hearing on it and so it had to render a decision on the Petition. The family physically appeared before the Panel. Nathaniel Solomon was erroneously listed as No.46 on the table by the Secretariat of the Panel, which error should have been corrected by the LASG as the Secretariat was at all times domiciled in the Ministry of Justice. The mere listing of the Nathaniel Solomon on the table does not itself nullify the fact of the death of his brother, Abuta Solomon, which the Panel confirmed.
4.12 The Chairperson, all Panel members and indeed the Secretariat of the Panel were all within the reach of the LASG for clarifications if there was sincerity, other than picking holes in order to evade responsibility on account of computer errors and tabular alignments of cut and paste.
AWARD TO SERAH IBRAHIM AND OTHER ENDSARS PROTESTERS
4.13 The EndSARS protest was a movement, a collective of various interest groups pursuing a common agenda termed EndSARS. This much was confirmed by the LASG through its witness before the Panel, Mr. Hakeem Muri-Okunola who stated thus on 22nd June 2021 when he testified before the Panel:
“I want to start my presentation with an introduction of what the EndSARS protest meant to us at the time. It represented a decentralized social movement asking for disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) which had gained notoriety for series of brutalities and abuses.”
4.14 The Panel took the cases of EndSARS protesters in representative capacity, including the named and unnamed representatives of the movement also recognized as such by the LASG. But for the EndSARS protesters, the work of the Panel would have been extremely difficult, in respect of the LTG. The Panel considered the trauma of the EndSARS protesters, some of who were sand witched between dead bodies and could have been hit by the bullets, the quality of their testimonies and the materials tendered. Serah Ibrahim tendered live bullets and about 300 videos as evidence before the Panel. The Panel also awarded compensation to other EndSARS protesters like Dabira Ayuku, Kamsiyochukwu Ibe, Onileowo Legend, etc.
20TH OCTOBER AS ENDSARS MEMORIAL
4.15 The Panel recommended in its Report that 20th October of every year should be a day of memorial. LASG accepted this recommendation “… in the spirit of healing and reconciliation.” This same spirit should be extended to all victims of the LTG Incident and payment of compensation made to them as recommended by the Panel.
PAYMENT TO HOSPITALS FOR TREATMENT OF GUNSHOT WOUNDS
4.16 Based upon evidence before it, the Panel recommended to the LASG that all hospitals involved in the treatment of victims of gunshot wounds arising from the LTG should be paid the cost of such treatments. In its comment in WP2, LASG stated that: “Lagos State Government had paid all the Hospitals.” This is a clear admission of liability since government cannot pay for treatment of gunshot wounds and still deny that there were gunshots at the LTG. Government is urged to pay all other victims their compensation.
4.17 The Panel reiterates its gratitude to the government and people of Lagos State for the opportunity given to serve and hopes that with these clarifications, the government will commence the process of genuine healing and reconciliation which it started through the payment of compensation to deserving victims through the Panel.
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