‘Fed Govt won’t interfere in #EndSARS panel report’

November 19, 2021
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President Muhammadu Buhari has said the Federal Government will not influence the implementation of the #EndSARS report.

He said his administration would rather wait for the states to conclude all the actions they initiated to assuage youths after the October 2020 #EndSARS protests.

His comment came on the heels of calls by  United States (US) Diplomatic Mission to Nigeria and United Nations  Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Edward Kallon on the relevant authorities to speedily implement the recommendations of the judicial panel that investigated the protests in Lagos.

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He spoke when the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited him in Abuja yesterday.

The controversy generated by the leaked report of the panel had raged on, with the All progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos State and three Senior Advocates expressing diverse opinions on the document.

In the leaked report, the  Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution of   Victims of SARS Related Abuses and Other Related Matters recommended among others:  police reforms;  sanctioning of the officers of the Army and Police who shot, injured, and killed unarmed protestors;  and constitution of standing committee/tribunal to deal with cases of violation of human rights by security agencies.

Buhari said in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity,  Femi Adesina, that it was better to allow states that were involved to complete the processes initiated by them through their probe panels.

“We at the federal level 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”, he added.

In Lagos,  APC called for restraint as two  SANS—Ebun-Olu  Adegboruwa and Abiodun Owonikoko— differed on alleged monetary inducement, the competence of the panel members and the content of the report.

Adegboruwa was one of the members of the panel while Owonikoko was counsel to the Lagos State government.

The APC, which noted the innuendos, conjectures, and suggestions, advised the public to wait for the authentic report submitted by the panel to the state government.

It noted in a statement by its Publicity Secretary, Seye Oladejo,  that while some well-meaning Nigerians have in their comments sought closure to the unfortunate incident, others have literally written their own report to suit a pre-determined purpose.

The party said it was distasteful that commentators have based their position on a leaked report, which has led to some of the content being disputed by some members of the panel.

It added that It  was  the height of irresponsibility and inhumanity to seek “political gains from our collective traum Owonikoko, who questioned the fairness and judicial competence of the panel members, said there were over 40 material discrepancies in the report.

He told Arise Television  that the errors showed that “there was no thorough job done.”

Faulting the leakage of the report, he said the recommendations should not be in circulation , adding that only the white paper should be available for public consumption.

Owonikoko also said the white paper is not binding on the aggrieved; they are entitled to subject it to judicial review in the court of law.

He emphasized that panel members who had publicly spoken on the report violated the oath of fidelity, impartiality, and confidentiality.

Owonikoko also faulted the composition of the panel, saying that some members have vested interest.

He said the panel lacked the judicial competence to determine some issues before it.

Owonikoko also said panel members who were absent at critical sittings of the panel appended their signature to the report.

He emphasised that despite representing Lagos on the panel, his reaction to the diverse public views on the leaked report was personal.

His words:  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.

“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.

“I have read the report…I have identified almost 40 discrepancies, very material discrepancies in that report, including awarding damages to people who are claimed to have died, who never died, who have even come out to say they did not die, including awarding damages to somebody they claim died, but who actually was a witness to testify as to his brother’s death, not even at Lekki toll gate.”

He said one of the problems with the panel was that a number of its members were not lawyers, adding that this affected the content of the report.

Owonikoko further reasoned that Lagos State government made a mistake by not setting up a different panel for the Lekki incident.

He objected to the panel’s composition, insisting that it was judicially incompetent because some of its members were biased from the outset.

The legal luminary, who cited the opposition by some of its members to the panel’s decision to reopen the Lekki Tollgate as an example of such mindset, specifically referenced Adegboruwa as an example.

But, Adegnoruwa defended the panel in a statement titled: ‘EndSARS panel members are being unfairly persecuted’

He said since the submission of the report, members of the panel had become subject of vicious attacks “by those suspected to be agents of the government.”

He said:  “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.

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

“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 the 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. “

The Senior lawyer appealed  to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to “call all agents of the state to order and to keep to his promise to   release a White Paper within two weeks and to send the unedited report of the panel, to the National Economic Council.”

Lagos lawyer Femi Falana (SAN), however, described the report as one of the best ever produced.

“The panel gave everybody fair hearing, bent over backward to accommodate those who should have been sent packing, did a thorough analysis of the evidence and arrived at recommendations that tallied with the findings,” Falana told Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily.

“It was a thorough-going exercise, one of the best reports ever produced by a judicial commission of inquiry in Nigeria,” he added.

The senior lawyer however, faulted the leakage of the report and advised the state government to release the authentic one after its four-member panel set up to raise a White Paper on the document completes its assignment.

Also, the  Minority Caucus in the House of Representatives said called on the Federal Government to come out clean on the killings at  Lekki tollgate.

The caucus also asked the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, to immediately resign for being economical with the truth on the incident.

The leader of the caucus, Ndudi Elumelu,  said the government has a lot of questions to answer regarding the killings.

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