The report of the Lagos state Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) Related Abuses and Other Matters is generating divergent views. BENJAMIN SAMSON in this report takes a look at the supporting and opposing views.
The Lagos state Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and Other Matters headed by a retired judge, Doris Okuwobi, recently submitted its report to the state government.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, governors, and other federal government representatives constituting the National Economic Council (NEC) had agreed to set up the panels in 36 and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in the wake of last year’s #EndSARS protest against the activities of the now disbanded men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Blueprint Weekend’s findings revealed that out of the 28 states that set up the panel, 12 states Abia, Ekiti, Enugu, Gombe, Kwara, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Plateau, Rivers and Lagos have submitted their final report.
The Toll Gate brouhaha
However, the Lagos panel report has been generating reactions because of the October 20, 2020, alleged shooting of protesters by soldiers and policemen at the Lekki Toll Gate at the peak of the #EndSARS protest; a claim the federal government and the military have consistently denied.
The Report, in its findings, described the Lekki tollgate shootings as “a massacre.”
The Justice Okuwobi-led panel in a 309-page report indicted soldiers and implicated the nation’s security agents in the killing and forced disappearances of the youth protesting at the tollgate.
According to the Report, at least 48 protesters were either shot dead or injured or assaulted.
Parts of the Report read, “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.”
“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.”
Speaking with this reporter, a lecturer in the department of law, Nasarawa state university, Keffi, Dr. Musiu Mojeed, accused the government of attempting to suppress the truth about the alleged killings.
He said, “For over a year, several witnesses to the Lekki killings came forward, insisting that people were murdered at the tollgate. Amnesty International estimated that at least 12 persons were killed. CNN, in its investigative report, claimed that soldiers fired live bullets at protesters, but the government persisted in its denials. The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, persistently tried to hoodwink and bamboozle Nigerians into thinking otherwise. He dismissed the incident as a ‘massacre with no bodies,’ and scoffed at #EndSARS protesters.
“The nine-member panel found that there were 48 casualties of which nine were confirmed dead on the night soldiers stormed the toll gate and the world watched in horror the dispersal of peaceful protesters who were waving the national flag and singing the national anthem to protest police brutality and extrajudicial killings.
“The 309-page report provided graphic details of how after soldiers exited the scene, the Nigeria Police Force followed up with the killing of the protesters, shooting directly at fleeing demonstrators, who were running into shanties and the lagoon. Officials of the Lagos state Environmental Health Monitoring Unit reportedly evacuated dead bodies and deposited them at various hospital mortuaries in the state.
“The report shockingly averred that some trucks with brushes underneath were brought to the Lekki Toll Gate in the morning of October 21, to clean up the scene and conceal evidence. This is nothing short of evil. The entire saga was a brutal suppression of the fundamental right of citizens to stage a peaceful protest.”
Also, a human rights activist, Barrister Victor Bawa, welcomed the report, adding that it confirmed what he had always been saying about the #EndSARS protests.
“While we welcome this report, we are also painfully aware that other investigations into abuses by the security forces have also confirmed abuses, called for reform and accountability and have resulted in no action whatsoever.
“We will wait to see what the response is from the Buhari administration, but until then, we still call for robust implementation of the Leahy laws in regards to the Nigerian military,” he said.
UN, USA’ positions
Meanwhile, the United Nations and United States of America have declared their positions on the report. In a statement by the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon, the UN urged the government’s commitment to implementing the panel’s recommendations.
He said, “I welcome the submission to Lagos state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, of reports of the judicial panel on claims of brutality and shooting in the Lekki area of Lagos state during the 2020 EndSARS protests. I urge the government to implement the recommendations of the judicial panel to re-build trust and start the process of healing and reconciliation.”
Similarly, the United States government called on the federal and Lagos state governments to seek suitable measures to address the alleged abuses, as well as the grievances of victims.
The statement issued by its Embassy in Nigeria indicated that, “The United States welcomes the conclusion of the Lagos state Judicial Panel of Inquiry with the transmission of its final report. We look forward to the Lagos state government’s response as part of a process that represents an important mechanism of accountability regarding the #EndSARS protests and the events that took place near the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020.
“Those events led to serious allegations against some members of the security forces, and we look forward to the Lagos state and federal governments taking suitable measures to address those alleged abuses as well as the grievances of the victims and their families.”
Likewise, the director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said perpetrators must face justice. He said, “Amnesty International welcomes the panel’s report which confirms that the Nigerian army and police shot peaceful protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020. The panel’s findings revealed the truth about what happened at Lekki Toll Gate and contradicted the denial by the Nigerian government that deadly force was used against peaceful #EndSARS protesters.
“For the survivors and relatives of the dead, the judicial panel’s findings are only the first step towards justice and restitution. President Buhari must act promptly to ensure that those found to be responsible for shooting and attacks on peaceful protesters are brought to justice in fair trial. Nigerian authorities must ensure access to justice and effective remedies, including adequate compensation, restitution, and guarantee of non-repetition to victims and their families.”
In his reaction, the information and culture minister Mohammed, at a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday, described the leaked report as “one laced with discrepancies, inconsistencies, and unverified fake news.”
Mohammed, who insisted that nobody was killed at the tollgate, said the panel only wasted taxpayers’ money by coming up with such a nonsensical report, which he likened to Tales by Moonlight, a 1990s television programme where fictitious stories and tales were told to children
The minister said, “Without mincing words, let me say that never in the history of any judicial panel in this country has its report been riddled with so many errors, inconsistencies, discrepancies, speculations, innuendoes, omissions and conclusions that are not supported by evidence. What is circulating in public space is simply a rehash of the unverified fake news that has been playing on social media since the incident of October 20, 2020.
“It is simply incredible that a judicial panel set up to investigate an incident has submitted a report laden with allegations, the same allegations it was set up to investigate in the first instance. Instead of sitting for all of one year, the panel could have just compiled social media tales by the moonlight on the incident and submitted, saving taxpayers’ funds and everyone’s time. That report is nothing but the triumph of fake news and the intimidation of a silent majority by a vociferous lynch mob.”
The minister said the 37 policemen and six soldiers, who died across the country during the #EndSARS protests, were also Nigerians and should not be forgotten.
He said, “There is absolutely nothing in the report that is circulating to make us change our stand that there was no massacre at Lekki on October 20, 2020. For us to change our stand, a well-investigated report of the incident that meets all required standards and will withstand every scrutiny must be produced and presented to the public.
“We reject the notion that our soldiers and policemen massacred innocent Nigerians at Lekki on October 20, 2020. That conclusion is not supported by the weight of available evidence. Indictment for murder is a very serious issue that cannot be done on the basis of allegations and corroborations.”
According to him, the report threw away the testimony of ballistic experts, who testified before the panel. He said further that the man, whose evidence that he counted 11 bodies in a military van where he was left for dead before he escaped, was found to be crucial by the panel, but he never testified in person.
“Rather, the video of his ‘testimony’ was played by someone else. It did not occur to the panel to query the veracity of the testimony of a man, who said he was shot and presumed dead, but still had time to count dead bodies inside a supposedly dark van at night.”
The minister also rubbished claims by the panel that after the killings, trucks with brushes underneath were brought to the Lekki Toll Gate in the morning of the fateful day to clean up bloodstains and other pieces of evidence.
He wondered how the panel still found bullet casings at the same site when it visited on October 30, 2020. The minister noted that the panel was silent on the family members of those reportedly killed, merely insinuating that they were afraid to testify.
“Even goats have owners, who will look for them if they do not return home, not to talk of human beings. Where are the family members of those, who were reportedly killed at Lekki Toll Gate? If the panel is recommending compensation for the families, what are their identities and addresses? Who will receive the compensation when no family members have shown up to date?”
Mohammed noted that the panel’s report never mentioned cases of police personnel, who were brutally murdered or the massive destruction of police stations and vehicles during the #EndSARS protests. According to him, “Does this mean that the panel didn’t consider policemen and women as human beings?”
Meanwhile, the special adviser to the president on media and publicity, Femi Adesina, has said the federal government “will only address the areas of the EndSARS report of concern” to it.
Adesina, during an interview on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, on Monday, said the federal government “awaits the White Paper” report.
He said the areas that concern the state would be left for the state while those with federal nature would be handled by the federal government.
“What would happen is that when the states come up with pronouncements on that panel report that would then be of interest to the federal government.
“Definitely, when the reports come out, the ones that are federal in nature will be considered. There are some things that would be federal in nature; the federal government would tackle that, but things that are state in nature, the state government will handle. There is an Attorney General of the Federation who will advise and the needful would be done,” he said.
Speaking with Blueprint Weekend, a retired director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Isaiah Ajibade, said Nigeria could face not just an arms embargo, but sanctions.
“It goes beyond an embargo. There are many ways foreign countries respond to situations like this. If you use the US as an example, I can assure you that all those suspected government officials will be sanctioned in different ways, either by visa bans, withdrawal of privileges, or by initiating a trial for them abroad.
“Some months ago, some US congressmen said they should not supply the Tucano ordered by Nigeria and that they should stop selling arms to Nigeria. In this kind of situation, the likelihood of further sale of arms to Nigeria is remote. They are currently considering that,” he said.