By Adebayo Obajemu
It is no longer news that the Lagos judicial panel of inquiry submitted its reports on the Lekki shooting incident and the alleged police brutality cases to the state government two weeks ago. The panel chaired by Doris Okuwobi, a retired judge, submitted the reports at the Governor’s Office in Alausa, Ikeja penultimate week.
Upon the receipt of the report, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Lagos State governor, hinted that a ‘formal committee,’which would be headed by the Attorney-General, Moyosore Onigbanjo, would consider the reports in a space of two weeks and “bring forward the white paper that would be considered at the Lagos state executive council and presented as the white paper coming from the panel of inquiry.
“I imagine that they would immediately read through and bring forward every little thing that has been recommended in this report,” he said.
Other members of the panel include the commissioner for youth and social development; Olusegun Dawodu, special adviser on works; Aramide Adeyoye, and the permanent secretary of the cabinet office.
He hinted that he had complete faith that the submission of the reports would ignite the healing process for those that have suffered in the hands of the police. He also commended the conduct and proceedings of the panel.
He noted that he would forward copies of the reports to the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting.
Aware of the sensitivity of the people on the issue, Sanwo-Olu has repeatedly given his assurance that the white paper on the final report of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Enquiry and Restitution would be made public and fully implemented in due course.
He said that government would not make any attempt to white wash or cover up the recommendations of the panel, whether it is in its favour or not, stressing that the panel report would be helpful in strengthening true reconciliation and preventing re-occurrence of violence in the State.
Penultimate Thursday, while addressing participants at the 10th National Council On Lands, Housing and Urban Development, held in Ikeja, with Minister of Works and Housing and former Governor of Lagos, Babatunde Fashola in attendance; Sanwoolu again said nothing would be covered up.
However, just as the report was being presented, an unofficial copy surfaced in the social media blowing the lid the report and starting a huge storm which many people fear may consume the report with the outburst of the information and culture minister, Mr. Lai Mohammed last week on the report.
Mohammed had state in world press conference that the report was a social media conspiracy full of contradictions, fake news, innuendoes and falsehoods. This process of what pro #Endsars people called rewriting history, began wth the lawyer of Lagos state at the panel, Mr, Owonikoko, who launch a media attack on the report and even accused the members of bribery.
Last week, a panel member and radical lawyer, Ebun Adegboruwa, SAN, hinted that the state government may have been trying to recant on its words and doctor the report, after alleging that he was being threatened by agents of the government.
In a statement last Monday titled, ‘Nigerians Should Hold Government Responsible If Anything Happens To Me’, Adegboruwa said agents of the state government are after his life.
Business Hallmark had earlier reported that the Justice Doris Okuwobi-led panel submitted its report to the Lagos State Government, noting that at least nine persons were confirmed dead at the Lekki toll plaza when soldiers stormed the tollgate to disperse EndSARS protesters on October 20, 2020.
The 309-page report stated, “The atrocious maiming and killing of unarmed, helpless and unresisting protesters while sitting on the floor and waving their Nigerian flags and while singing the National Anthem can be equated to a massacre in context.”
Many Nigerians have expressed anger over the reports which seem to put a lie to claims by the government that there was no “massacre” at the toll gate, a focal gathering point during last year’s nationwide demonstration against extrajudicial killings and police brutality by operatives of the now-defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police Force.
Professor Adeagbo Moritiwon, a public affairs analyst said “Nigerians should not dismiss Adegboruwa’s claim of threat to his life,” at least in this country, we have witnessed so many killings that are yet to be resolved, there is Dele Giwa, Bola Ige, Harry Marshall and many others.
Reacting, Dr. Anthony Odebumi, a historian warned that “a responsible government will not tamper with this kind of reports but would implement and allow the process of healing to take place.
Before Adegboruwa went public, another lawyer, the lawyer to one of the EndSARS protesters, Miss Kamsiyochukwu Ibe, Mr. Adesina Ogunlana had narrated how his client was attacked recently.
“In a post on his Facebook page, Ogunlana said Miss Ibe’s attackers identified her with a torch light before attacking her with a cutlass.”
But one Omoyiarewa Samuel, in an opinion piece in one of the dailies took a sympathetic stand on the side of government when he wrote;
“That the leaked report of the panel is being torn apart by a surfeit of inconsistencies does not come as a surprise. People whose hopes were dashed by the sloppiness of the panel to establish a massacre are beginning to question Adegboruwa’s much-touted professional integrity.
“To begin with, since Monday when the panel submitted its report, Adegboruwa had issued a series of scathing, yet contradictory statements to railroad the Lagos state government into adopting the blemished report which many now describe as “predetermined conclusions.”
“The statements are a face-saving attempt by the petulant lawyer to cover for his professional negligence after the reality dawned on him that people would come for the panel members for a report saturated with fundamental errors and unsubstantiated claims.
Recall that Adegboruwa had earlier wrote that “I will…keep observing the turn of events and at the appropriate time, one may be forced to state the full contents of the report if the promises made are not fulfilled. I can never and will never subscribe to anything that would amount to covering up the report of the panel.
“For any discerning person, that statement came across as hasty and preemptive. Ironically, Adegboruwa, in the same statement, attested that the governor did not interfere throughout the period of the panel sitting. In one breath, you doubted the integrity of the government to do the right thing, in another applauded the governor for his uprightness. Why the inconsistency?
“It gave the names of the dead as Victor Sunday Ibanga, Abuta Solomon, Jide, Olalekan Abideen Ashafa, Olamilekan Ajasa, Kolade Salami, Folorunsho Olabisi, Kenechukwu Ugoh and Nathaniel Solomon. The report also listed Abiodun Adesanya, Ifeanyi Nicholas Eji, Tola and Wisdom as “presumed dead.”
The panel stated, “The atrocious maiming and killing of unarmed, helpless and unresisting protesters, while sitting on the floor and waving their Nigerian flags and while singing the National Anthem can be equated to a ‘massacre’ in context.”
Apparently disturbed by the release of the report, Owonikoko stated that it was not proper for the panel’s report to have been leaked to the public, while the government had yet to prepare a White Paper on it.
He discredited some of the findings in the report, adding that important details were omitted. He also contended that none of the evidence gathered by the panel could be established.
From Owonikoko’s submissions, many Nigerians, including Professor Hassan Ahmed of the political science department, Kogi State University are already saying that the lawyer may be indirectly stating the position of the Lagos State Government on the report.
“As far as I’m concerned, Owonikoko’s position is government’s voice, they are merely testing the waters.How Sanwoolu will weather the political backlash of doctoring the reports remain to be seen”, said Ahmed.
One of the discrepancies cited in the report was the testimony of a trauma and orthopaedic surgeon at Reddington Hospital, Lagos, Dr. Babajide Lawson, which was believed to have been misrepresented in the final report.
The NBA, and many Senior Advocates of Nigeria have condemned Owonikoko and the Information minister, Lai Mohammed’s responses to the reports, with many of them saying the responses were premature.