— Says Dissenters Did Not Hear Arguments For Reopening Lekki Toll Plaza And Shouldn’t Give A Decision
— Says Panel Never Ordered The Toll Plaza To Be Un-operational At Any Point In Time
— Says Forensic Investigation of Lekki Toll Plaza Has Been Concluded And Only Panel Members Have Accessed The Report
A Senior Lawyer with the law firm of Enitan Legal Practitioners & Solicitors, Mr. Joshua Tony, has accused some members of the Lagos State EndSARS Judicial Panel of encouraging a false narrative laced with sentiment, with regards the decision of the Judicial Panel in light of the events of February 6, 2021 and the supposed decision of the Judicial panel to handover the Lekki Toll Plaza to the Lekki Concession Company [LCC], in other to enable the latter make necessary assessment claims to their insurers.
The legal practitioner made his position known via a statement available to TheNigeriaLawyers. He noted that contrary to the narrative on most tabloid and paper news outlets, the Lagos State EndSARS Judicial Panel never barred the LCC from using the Toll Plaza at the start of its hearing, and that what was instructed the company was for it to appear before the panel and present its evidence of the event at the Toll Plaza, whereafter, the panel considered that it would conduct a forensic Investigation at the site and also pay a direct visit to the location. The considerations of the panel gave rise to the decision to restrict the LCC from accessing the location pending the conclusion of the forensic Investigation. He however noted that the panel had received the report of the Investigation and its finding has only be made known to members of the panel.
Furthermore, he questioned the rationale behind the decision of some members of the panel to offer a dissenting opinion to that of the majority members of the panel, when infact they [the dissenters] where not present when counsel canvassed arguments in favour and against the handing over of the plaza to the company, he noted that as a quasi-judicial body, the [dissenting] members ought not to have carried on with the opinion
Below is the full press statement of his opinion:
“Whilst I really do not want to join issues with anyone on the decision of the ‘EndSars Panel’ to release the Lekki Toll Gate “LTG” to its operators, there’s a need to point out several inaccuracies that are being peddled especially with respect to the so called minority dissenting opinion. It’s important to state clearly that the panel members are quasi Judicial officers; they are bound in the discharge of their assignment to mirror, as much as practicable, the hallowed conduct which befits an officer of justice. That means they must be detached, impartial and avoid joining issues with litigant parties before them as will tend to prejudice them or convey impression that can undermine confidence in the mind of the public . For this reason it behoves all counsel with privilege of audience before the Panel to be ministers in the temple of justice by giving them due courtesy, respect as well as mature assistance in the discharge of their onerous and very sensitive assignment.
“The panel members took oath of impartiality to do justice when they were sworn in under the enabling Law of Lagos state empowering Mr Governor in that behalf. It’s a solemn commitment that should not be made light of or imperiled. It is therefore unfair to subject their official conduct or decisions to public vilification especially, where it is unwarranted by facts easily accessible or verifiable from the tribunal secretariat . Where such misinformation, trends in the public domain ( as now appears to be the unfortunate scenario ) counsel seised of the truth owe a duty to the panel members and victims anxiously waiting for some solace or restitution from the proceedings ) to come to their Defence by setting the record straight for the public. This is all the more imperative in this era of licentious social media news peddling and Its ubiquitous reach.”
“For the above reasons, we beg to proffer the important information and clarification on the vexed order granting LCC company leave to access their tolling facilities at Lekki following earlier visit to locus in quo in October , and report of official forensic expert engaged by the Panel to assist with its assigned terms of reference .”
“Below are the facts;
1. There was no order of the Panel directing that TLG be cordoned off or be unoperational at any point in time.
2. The LCC operators of TLG was summoned by the Panel to present evidence that will assist the Panel in its work.
3. Upon conclusion of the LCC’s evidence, it’s Counsel applied that the LTG be released to enable it conduct insurance claims assessment with its insurers. The Panel refused the application on grounds that it wants to conduct forensic examination of the scene.
4. About a month later the application was made again and one of the EndSars protesters Counsel opposed the application and applied that his Clients would also want to conduct a forensic examination of the location and he asks for 2 weeks. 3 weeks later he reported to the Panel that he has not done anything as his Clients are unable to afford the cost of a forensic examiner and as such are abandoning the quest. LCC counsel made the same application again, one EndSars protesters Counsel opposed the other did not oppose and the Panel refused on the grounds that it’s own expert was yet to present a report which Panel had been informed would be ready by the Tuesday next and the application should be made thereafter. Panel received the report and till date has not made it public.
None of the parties except those on the panel or Counsel has seen the forensic expert report commissioned by the Panel.
5. On Saturday 6 February 2021, the Panel commenced sitting with only 5 of its members Chairman included. An EndSars protesters’ Counsel raised an issue bothering on need for protection for his Clients from being trailed by unknown hooded individuals. Other Counsel responded that though issue is a serious one but in the absence of concrete facts other than the ipse dixit of Counsel the Panel can’t make a positive order as no party has been clearly identified as responsible. Panel ruled that it takes the protection of Petitioners and witnesses seriously and has ensured that the venue if the sitting is adequately secured it’s unable to grant the request of Counsel as nobody has been positively identified as responsible. Counsel was urged to forward a complaint to the law enforcement agencies with capacity to investigate the allegations.
6. LCC Counsel thereafter applied once again for the release of the LTG for insurance assessment, repairs and commencement of operations, he made several legal arguments and submission to support his application, Lagos State Counsel did not oppose but both sets of EndSars protesters Counsel opposed the application and made very serious legal and other arguments in support of their respective positions. LCC and Lagos State Counsel made reply submissions.
7. Upon conclusion of all the arguments for and against, the Chain write a Bench Ruling granting the application.
9. Immediately the Chairman concluded reading the Panel’s decision and was about asking for the next matter on the list to be called the other 4 members walked in and took their seats. One of them then addressed th gathering that they have a dissenting opinion to read and the Chairman and other members called the Panel to rise and departed the hall.
9. The ‘leader'(?) of the 4 then sought to read his ready typed opinion but was cut off by Counsel to LCC as being an interested party who should have recused himself from delivering an opinion for or against on grounds of his personal interest in the subject of rolling at TLG.
10. Counsel for Lagos State who had gone outside when the 5 panelists rose also came back inside and contributed to the effect that whilst he doesn’t understand what the dissenting opinion is about as the 4 did not hear arguments of Cousel for and against on the application, if any dissent is to be expressed on the matter the ‘leader’ should not present any. At that point the ‘leader’ chose not to read his prepared opinion but handed copies out as Counsel to Lagos walked out again.
The above are the facts devoid of any sentiment.
The questions that should agitate the minds of Lawyers which we all on this forum are are as follows:
1. What is the process employed by panelists in hearing applications?
2. Is it possible for some members to hear arguments and deliver a bench decision and for others who were not present when arguments were canvassed to come after decision of the Panel has been read and purport to deliver individual dissenting opinions which each had had typed when they did not hear the arguments canvassed?
Whatever answers each of us proffer will help us to situate ourselves somewhere on the trajectory of this matter.
With regards to victims of police brutality for whom the Panel was originally set up before the addition of the Lekki incident to the Panel’s TOR I can state categorically that their matters are being attended to by the Panel and some have been concluded awaiting decision of the Panel which as confirmed yesterday are likely to start being delivered in the coming week.
We all should be careful that we do not allow the Lekki incident overshadow the genuine and long-standing grievance of citizens against the incidence of police brutality through SARS or other arms or divisions of the Police force.
Thank you for taking the pains to read this to the end.
Enitan Legal Practitioners & Arbitrators