Leaked viral report of the #EndSARS Judicial Panel on Police Brutality and Other Related Abuses, which was on Monday presented to the Lagos State government, yesterday, reopened the ‘sepulcher’ of the October 20, 2021 shooting incident at the Lekki toll gate.
Some findings in the leaked report indicted Nigerian soldiers for opening fire on the assembly of unarmed protesters without provocation while they were waving the Nigerian flag and singing the national anthem, which led to the killing of some persons and ensuring violence in the state.
The Federal Government had denied that unarmed protesters were killed at the tollgate on October 20. Minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, described the incident as a “massacre without bodies.” The Nigerian Army had also denied any wrongdoing.
While the damning Justice Doris Okuwobi-led panel report is yet to be officially released to the public, reactions raged with many calling for appropriate actions over some of the report’s findings, adding that it should not be made to gather dust like several other government-enabled panel reports.
Already, the United Nations (UN) and United States of America (USA) have welcomed the report submitted by the judicial panel, urging government to implement the stated recommendations. In a statement signed by the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Mr Edward Kallon, UN noted that the submission of the findings would accelerate the process of justice and accountability.
The statement reads: “I welcome the submission to the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, of the report of the judicial panel on claims of brutality and shooting in the Lekki area of Lagos during the 2020 #EndSARS protests. I urge the government to implement the recommendations of the judicial panel to rebuild trust and start the process of healing and reconciliation.”
On its part, the United States in a statement by U.S. Consulate signed by Temitayo Famutimi, said: “We look forward to the Lagos government’s response as part of a process that represents an important mechanism of accountability regarding the #EndSARS protests.
“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.”
NIGERIAN disc jockey, Catherine Udeh, popularly known as DJ Switch, who live-streamed the shooting as it occurred then, in her reaction on her verified Twitter page, wrote on Monday night: “Shattered so many lives, tried to destroy mine. Only for what you desperately tried to hide to be made public… by you! The truth needs no defence! #EndSARS.”
The DJ gained prominence last year when she took to her Instagram page to do a live coverage that showed protesters being shot at by personnel of the Nigerian Army. While most Nigerians praised her for her bravery, the DJ claimed she went into hiding because her life was threatened.
Hailing DJ Switch, popular activist and member of the judicial panel, Rinu, took to her verified Twitter page stating that the event of October 20, 2020, changed and halted the life of the disc jockey
She tweeted: “DJ Switch suffered for over a year on the Lekki massacre. Career and life halted, embarrassed, trolled, hounded out of her home, her country, everything she had going nicely, stopped. All because she was brave enough to stand, document the killings and say the truth.”
Chief Press Secretary to the Lagos governor, Mr Gboyega Akosile, said the governor was yet to read the final document of the judicial panel before it went viral.
According to Akosile, “the government will still release the report to the public after the four-man committee set up to develop a white paper on the findings submits its report in two weeks time. Nobody is trying to hide anything.
“As a matter of fact, the governor has not seen the document, he has not gone through it. The four-man committee already set up has the responsibility to go through the report in details and come up with a white paper. Nobody in government saw the panel report as it was immediately handed over to the committee to do its work. I am also surprised to see the document trending on social media.”
HOWEVER, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen. Lucky Irabor, has faulted the procedure adopted in the release of the panel’s report. The CDS explained that he could not, at the moment, comment on the content of the document because he has not seen the official report.
Irabor, who spoke after a courtesy visit to the Edo State governor in Benin-City, maintained that the Nigerian armed forces are committed to their constitutional mandate and do not engage in ignoble acts.
“I am sure those of you in the media must have seen a report that was released through, in my view, a wrong channel, that is making the rounds in the social media. Whether it is a true report, I can’t tell. But I’d like to indicate that the normal procedure is to have such a report submitted to the convening authority. And then there will be a white paper that will be presented, based on which one can make informed comments.
“But whatever it is currently, I’d like to indicate that the Armed Forces of Nigeria is a professional armed force. We are peopled by Nigerians and we remain committed to the constitutional mandate. So we will not at this point think that Nigerians should make disparaging remarks regarding the Armed Forces of Nigeria. If there are issues, of course, we address them within the ambit of the provisions.
“It would not be right to disparage men and women who have worked so hard to ensure that the territorial integrity of this nation is kept intact. So, in the meantime, until I see the full extent of the report, there would be no comment.”
REACTING, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the report confirming the gruesome killings of innocent youths at the Lekki tollgate during the 2020 #EndSARS protest has strengthened the fact that “the All Progressives Congress (APC) is running a murderous and oppressive regime that has no regard for life.”
The opposition party recalled how “security operatives attacked and massacred innocent youths and how the APC, its leaders and agents, in various agencies of APC-controlled government, vehemently denied the killings, tried to mop up evidence and provided official cover for the killers.
“It is now clear that no matter how much the wicked strives in denial, the truth will always prevail. Therefore, the blood of our innocent youths killed by agents of the APC and its administration must not be shed in vain. Those responsible for these callous acts must be made to face justice.”
Stressing that all those who had their hands soaked in blood must not be allowed to know peace, the PDP invited Nigerians to “stand for our slain compatriots by ensuring that those behind the massacre of our youths as well as their supporters in government have their days in the dock.”
The PDP in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said: “The nation must ensure that such individuals are brought to book for their act of wickedness to humanity.”
The party, however, commiserated with the families of the slain Nigerians, whose lives were cut in their prime for demanding for a just, equitable and secure nation governed by the rule of law.
ALSO, human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, has urged the state government to implement the recommendations of the judicial panel.
Falana said members of the Okuwobi Judicial Commission of Inquiry deserve commendation for the thorough investigation of police brutality in Lagos, adding that a copy of the report should be sent to the President.
“In particular, the revelation that some of the 99 dead bodies dumped in the various mortuaries in Lagos by soldiers were traced to the Lekki Toll Gate has exposed the official lie that the report of the brutal killing was a figment of the imagination of the protesters.
“A certified copy of the Report of the Panel should be forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari in view of the recommendation that the soldiers and police personnel, who engaged in the torture and reckless murder of citizens be sanctioned.
“The policemen who were killed by criminal elements during the protests should be honoured, not withstanding that their family members have been compensated by the Lagos State Government.”
Falana went further to state that while commending the witnesses and their lawyers for exposing the official cover-up of the egregious human rights abuse perpetrated by the merchants of death, the Lagos State government should designate venues where aggrieved citizens can hold rallies in the exercise of their fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and expression.
He also added that the violent attack of unarmed protesters during peaceful rallies by police and military personnel should be completely outlawed since section 83 (4) of the Police Establishment Act, 2020 has imposed a duty on the police to provide adequate security for citizens who participate in peaceful meetings and rallies.
FORMER Deputy National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Bode George, warned the governor not to reopen the Lekki tollgate, just as he urged him to apologise to Lagos residents over the shooting.
George, a former Military Administrator of Ondo State, also charged the Nigerian Army to fish out soldiers responsible for the tollgate shooting and court martial them.
He said: “I want to congratulate members of the panel because what they have done has changed my mindset about the country. It is gladdening that we still have credible people. It was not just one person, it was a panel that sat and their names will be written in gold that they told the truth. They listened for months to testimonies and went through the evidence and wrote the report the way they saw it. The younger generation will read the report and judge the panel well.
“Sanwo-Olu should know that he has a family name behind him both from his mother and his father’s side and that the truth has already been told.
“He should be straight with himself and his government and take the appropriate actions. To err is human and to forgive is divine. If he reads the document from the panel and makes amends and apologises to the people of the state that would be great. Lives were lost. He should apologise to the people of the state.
“When you pass through the Lekki tollgate, you will see them doing some wiring and testing. If some people are pushing him to reopen the tollgate, he should go and have a rethink because from January 2022, politics will commence.”
THE Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has, equally, called on President Buhari to sack his Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, immediately. The group said Mohammed should be sacked for lying to Nigerians and the world.
Mohammed, in a series of press conferences, denied the massacre and even made the CNN to retract its report. Despite the Federal Government’s stance, the report showed obvious evidence that there was indeed a massacre at the Lekki tollgate, HURIWA said.
HURIWA, therefore, called for the dismissal, arrest and trial of Mohammed for falsehood, which has now been contradicted by a judicial panel of investigation in Lagos.
THE immediate past president of the Campaign for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwummadu, in his reaction, said in this age and time of digital technology with active citizens’ participation in information dissemination, “there’s very little anyone can do to stop access to such a report that affects the entire nation and attracted the attention of the international community.
“I believe that the committee will not be weakened if, as announced, they’re merely constituted to produce a white paper on the report and develop strategies by which recommendations in the report are to be implemented. This is a routine administrative procedure of dealing with reports of this nature for record purposes.
“Where, however, they’re constituted to review the report already presented then, there will be some concerns because the state government testified before the panel and in some cases, was alleged to have perpetuated the violation complained about. To that extent, they cannot superintend over and review a panel report in which they were petitioned against.”