By G9ija

Nigeria still battling insecurity because we haven’t reformed military — SGF

President Muhammadu Buhari said yesterday he will await the steps taken by governors, before the Federal Government would take action on the reports of the judicial panels of enquiry set up by states.

While those of Rivers, Delta, Ogun, among others, had earlier submitted their reports, the Lagos panel presented its report on police brutality, including the Lekki shooting, to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu five days ago.

This came on a day controversies continued to trail report of the panel set up by Lagos State Government as a member of the panel, Mr. Ebun Olu Adegboruwa, yesterday raised an alarm that members of the panel, led by Justice Doris Okuwobi, retd, were being persecuted by agents of the state.

Mr. Abiodun Owonikoko, SAN, counsel to Lagos State Government on the panel, had in an interview on Arise TV yesterday, made comments that tended to raise doubts about the report.

President Buhari, who spoke at a meeting with Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, in Abuja, yesterday, said state governments will have to take steps on the reports of their

panels, before the Federal Government acts on the recommendations.

He said: “So many state governments are involved, and have given different terms of reference to the probe panels.

“We at the federal 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. The Federal Government has to wait for the reaction of the states.”

On his part, the US Secretary of State described the report of the #EndSARS probe panel as “democracy in action”, adding that he looked forward to necessary reforms within security agencies.

Speaking on the  removal of  Nigeria from countries violating religious freedom, Buhari said his administration remained committed to freedom of worship, adding that “no one is discriminated against on the basis of his or her faith”.

He also expressed his appreciation to the US for its support in the sale of military weapons to Nigeria to fight insecurity.

“It’s helping us to stabilise the situation in the North-East, and we’ve made a lot of progress since 2015,” he said.

“We are doing a lot on security, and the people involved appreciate our efforts.”

Meanwhile, a member of the Lagos panel, Mr. Ebun Adegboruwa, has raised an alarm that members of the panel, led by Justice Doris Okuwobi, retd, were being persecuted by agents of the state.

Mr. Abiodun Owonikoko, SAN, counsel to Lagos State Government on the panel, had in an interview on Arise TV yesterday, made comments that tended to raise doubts about the report.

Another member of the panel, Temitope Majekodunmi, had 24 hours hours earlier, said the report contained errors in spelling of names of some of the victims but also noted that it did not vitiate the content of the report.

But Adegboruwa in a statement yesterday, said: “Since the submission of the EndSARS Panel Report to the Governor of Lagos State on November 15, 2021, members of the panel have become subject of vicious attacks by those suspected to be agents of the government.

“All manner of allegations have been heaped upon panel members, some of who have been called unprintable names.

“I can confirm that no member of the panel lobbied to be appointed into the panel. As a matter of fact, in my own case, His Excellency, the governor of Lagos State, appealed to me to accept my appointment, which I saw as a call to national service.

“The primary reason the governor gave to me then was that he wanted men and women of integrity, independent and not subject to manipulation, to be on the panel.

“Just today (yesterday), 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 release a White Paper on the report submitted to it by the panel. We have been waiting, but it would seem that the Lagos State Government has now unleashed mindless propaganda upon panel members, whilst at the same time asking for restraint from the general public.

“I have in my custody, certified true copies of all proceedings of the panel and all exhibits tendered before the panel in respect of the Lekki Toll Gate investigation. I urge the government to call its agents and lawyers to order so as not to provoke aggravated responses.

“It is unfair to seek to denigrate peoples’ hard-earned reputation on account that they only accepted to render selfless service at the behest of 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.

Suffice to mention that I worked with men and women of unblemished integrity and I’m proud to be associated with them all.

“I, therefore, appeal to His Excellency the Governor of Lagos State to call all agents of state to order and to keep to his promise to us to release a White Paper within two weeks and to send the unedited report of the panel, to the National Economic Council, NEC.’’

Owonikoko had earlier in the interview, said:  ‘’I was a retained private solicitor to represent the interest of Lagos State Government at the panel, along with my other colleagues, another SAN, Enitan Olukayode and our colleagues.

“I have avoided having to make comments about proceedings before the panel or their reports up until now, because I know that by law, the panel set up was a judicial panel of inquiry and its decisions, recommendations, resolutions are not meant for public consumption in the first instance.

‘’What they do is to submit a report to the government, which may be a unanimous one or a divided opinion, if the panel members were unable to agree on certain things under their terms of reference. It is government’s own review of that report and its final decision on it that ought to be available for public consumption.

‘’Why is that so? Even the government’s decision on it which comes by way of White Paper is not binding on anybody that is aggrieved and you are entitled to subject it to the judicial review in a court of law.

‘’An instance that you may readily recall was the Oputa Panel. One of the reasons a number of some of the recommendations did not see the light of day, was that it was challenged in court and the Supreme Court held that some of the matters that the panel looked into much as the public was interested in knowing the truth about them, were beyond the remit of the Federal Government to constitute a panel to look into.

‘’Today, 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. Nevertheless, I can’t pretend not to be aware that certain documents have been circulating in the social media and have been subject of comments and responses.

‘’I have myself seen one of such reports, it is unsigned, but it contains the names of all members and I did not, on going through it, see any indication that it was not a unanimous position.

‘’It may well be, however, that it is a draft of a minority opinion, because giving what I know, having spent one whole year from beginning of the sitting of the panel till the end, except for occasions where one or two of my colleagues had to stand in for me and we have record of proceedings, there was nothing that transpired before the panel that escaped my knowledge.

‘’That been 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, that is the undisputed, uncontro-verted fact that the Military personnel got to the Lekki Tollgate around past 06:00PM in the evening as part of mobilization towards enforcing the curfew imposed by Lagos State Government, following the assessment that security situation in the state was at a stage where special attention had to be given security provided to impose a curfew and restore law and order.

‘’As at that morning, Mr. Governor had addressed the state and issued a proclamation for a curfew to commence at 04:00PM. That was presented from what we now knew at the panel by a security council meeting held by the State Government Security Council a day before, involving the Police, the Army, the Navy, the SSS, the Attorney-General, the Governor and a few other government functionaries where they assessed the entire situation and came to the conclusion that things were going out of hand. ‘’As at that time, policemen were being killed, a female orderly to a First Lady was stripped naked and assaulted at Ikorodu.

‘’On the very night this happened, a first-class traditional ruler was lodged at Oriental Hotel and information got to the hoodlums and they were going to attempt his life. It was his own governor who called the Lagos State Governor that my first-class traditional ruler is under threat at Lekki Oriental Hotel.

‘’I am sure you remember that there was an attempt to burn down Oriental Hotel. If that had been allowed to happen, I am sure we would not be talking about Lekki Toll Gate, we would be talking about what led to a first-class traditional ruler visiting Lagos being killed in a hotel.

‘’I don’t want to go into other things. My opinion here is based on my first-hand information and involvement in the proceedings and the record that we have.’’

On claims by a member of the panel that though the report contained some typographical errors, it was authentic, Owonikoko said:  ‘’Let me first of all say, I wouldn’t know who the panel member that appeared on your channel was.’’.

Told that he was the youth representative on the panel, he said: “I can forgive the youth rep because I will read to you now what the Section 8 of the law that setup the panel says about their report. The Tribunals of Inquiry Law of Lagos State, Section 15.1, “Report and Order in relation to any property or matter dealt with in the report. A Tribunal will make and furnish to the governor, a full report in writing of its proceedings, findings and recommendations and record an opinion and reasons leading to its conclusion.

‘’Any member of the Tribunal dissenting from the conclusions or any part will note his reason for such dissent.  This provision has been interpreted as imposing a duty of confidentiality on the panel that conducts an inquiry of this nature, not to disclose the content or discuss its proceedings anywhere except to await the finding of the government on that report.

‘’I am shocked to hear that a member had already come here to start talking about the content. You would then have to go to the oath of office they swore when they started their operation. The oath has to do with fidelity, impartiality, and confidentiality.

‘’If anybody who was a panel member had gone out as at today, while the White Paper is being awaited, to speak to what has happened, that person has breached not only the oath that he took to be a member, he has also breached the duty imposed on them not to discuss or divulge the content to anybody.

‘’What we should be discussing, and is very important, will be the government‘s outcome. That outcome can be criticized, challenged on the back of the original report, but it is what is actionable, justifiable is not whatever is contained in the report.

‘’Let me be clear, I am not in any way trying to shut anybody out, I am just trying to let you know what the law says. And that was why   for almost two months now, since the panel closed, I had been invited several times to speak as a protagonist or participant at the panel and I have declined to do so because I know that professionally and legally, it was wrong for me to express opinion or do anything that will appear to prejudice the report.

‘’So, let’s not waste too much time. I have just explained to you why that would be wrong. A number of them were not lawyers and that to me is actually the crux of the problem we have with this report. And I will tell you the first thing before I come to the other questions.

‘’The questions you have posed about whether it is right to kill, definitely, you know that I can not be part of those who would justify extra-judicial killings or abuse of state power. So, the answer to that is that none of them is acceptable and from the evidence that we were able to gather at the hearing, there was not a single thing that was established, and I would come to that later.

‘’But let me first say this, the panel that was constituted that submitted this report, had two reports. The mistake I observed now that the government made was that there should have been a different panel entirely to look into the Lekki incident.

‘’The panel that was constituted originally was meant to address victims and abuse of police brutality and SARS, there was no single member of the panel who had a personal case that he wanted to establish, there was no reason we should be afraid that anybody there would have a pre-conceived notion or a settled position that they were going to be opened to being persuaded by evidence-led.

‘’Now, in the course of that panel’s work, this incident happened, but this incident had protagonists and antagonists, unfortunately, at least, three members of the panel were picked from those who were protagonists of the case against the police that people like us also represent.

‘’I was fully in support of what was going on up until 20th of October, even up until the night, until I became wiser the next morning when I did my enquiry. Those members are ordinarily not entitled to sit in this panel but they are members of this panel where we were trying to establish who were killed, at Lekki Tollgate, whether Lekki Tollgate Concession Company withdrew camera to suppress information.

‘’This is the case they have been making on their own, even before the panel sat, so from the very beginning, that panel lacks the judicial competence to determine this issue. At the point where the panel, after about four attempts to have the Lekki Tollgate re-opened, they decided to re-open the tollgate.

‘’I am sure you will recall that some members of the panel who were insisting that the Lekki Tollgate must be shutdown because they don’t want that place to be re-opened, they came out on their own and delivered a dissenting opinion asking that Lekki Tollgate should be re-sealed after almost four months and Lekki Concession Company had to submit a claim to its insurers for a loss to the tune of N10bn and they couldn’t do that as it had to be done faithfully without going to the site to identify what they have lost and making an inventory, these members of the panel said they must not open that place.

‘’This shows you something, that some members had a position, and they were not in a position to express dispassionate objective view on the matter that had to do with Lekki. That is the fundamental problem we had.

‘’After that incident, the gentleman, a very respected member for almost the entire duration of the hearing of the Lekki incident stopped coming to the Tribunal, the one that issued that statement and was in the public domain.

‘’I will expect that if the report was coming from this panel, having practically recused himself for almost 5 months, Lekki incident normally holds on Saturdays, other matters are held during the days of the week, this gentleman is always there, but when he comes to Lekki incident, he never showed up. ‘’Now, you are telling me that that gentleman is entitled to give a report that would be considered objective on Lekki incident?

‘’Even before the Lekki incident, he was in court challenging the legality of imposing Tollgate. Any court confronted with having to review this report is very unlikely to prove it.’’

Asked the gentleman he was referring to, Owonikoko:said: “I think he is in the public domain. But the only senior advocate of the panel, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa is the gentleman I am talking about. Somebody I respect so much and I love his passion for rule of law but I think a lot has happened in recent times when people needed to violate their own position and then truth as to be sacrificed by almost everybody that has an interest in that matter.

‘’So ordinarily, I was expecting, if anything at all, that Mr Adegboruwa is going to come up with a dissenting opinion or indicating that for this particular report, he is abstaining from signing on it but to know now that the report was signed by all is a worrisome perspective and I will tell you why that is so clearly wrong,

‘’I was in involved in the case of Isiaka Adeleke against the present governor of Osun State, the success of overturning the tribunal judgment in the matter at the Court of Appeal after the election was overturned by the tribunal was because one of the members of the panel that led the matter on a crucial day when a critical evidence was being tendered was not in court, he did not sit on the panel.

‘’When the time came for the judgment to be written, he wrote the judgment and the judgment anchored on the findings of evidence led on that particular day, for that reason alone and no more, the Court of Appeal went ahead with the judgment.

‘’That’s why Governor Oyetola is sitting on that seat today as a governor, how much more an impassioned panel that is going to look into a matter that is of international importance and controversy, then you have members who recuse themselves from doing trial, who never participated in most of the things and then they are the ones signing off the outcome and people are saying that is a reliable report.

‘’Whether is liable or not, it is already tainted and I wouldn’t expect that the government at would not be cautious in implementing that kind of report, especially with what we are now seeing that is coming out.

‘’ So I have made my point on that, so if you have a panel of nine, one of them honorably withdraw, a young lady from LASU, another person who took a stand writing dissenting opinion, continues to hear and persuaded in giving the final report on the matter on which he has personal interest, his personal interest does not mean the material, even if it is a philosophical or moral interest, is enough to disqualify anybody from participating.

‘’I would want to know how that gentleman was able to sign off on this report as an objective and neutral report of fact that they were trying to find.’’

On claims that the gentleman he referred to vows to publish the report in his possession if there was an attempt to doctor the one submitted to the government, Owonikoko said:  ‘’I’m happy to hear that, I know him, that’s the kind of thing he will do but what I explained to you is not about anything personal to him but I’m just saying technically and in terms of what is rule of law and fair hearing, he ought not to participate in this report that has to do with Lekki   incident, the other ones, he was fully involved and I have nothing against him for that but for these report, where for almost   15 sittings he did not come, he shouldn’t have..

‘’In fact, the most important evidence of this issue was the one by Sentinel Forensics expert, that expert was engaged by the panel itself.  On the day the expert was to testify, the reason they did not go on was that they wanted all the members to be present and two people were absent, Mr Ebun Adegboruwa (SAN) and DIG Lakanu who was the representative of the police, a former DIG, was also absent.

‘’They said they will need their input to understand the presentation, it was adjourned three times until, at least I can recall, Mr Lakanu was able to appear, I also recall, that for the long part of the expert testimony, Mr Ebunoluwa was not sitting at the panel, and that is the evidence that was objective, Independent.’’

On why he was raising objection after the fact, Owonikoko said: “The report was not unfavorable to Lagos State Government, the duty of Lagos State Government, the burden on them was to establish whether they were the one that deployed Army to the scene.

‘’The evidence before the panel and their finding did not support such a suggestion, that was the only thing Lagos State has to explain, so there’s nothing against Lagos State. But as a citizen now, not as a lawyer to Lagos State, I’m interested in trying to clarify matters because you have invited me and I’m telling you that if you have a subject, this report to judicial screening which is subjective to judicial review, these are the things that will come up and people must not be in a haste to begin to hail a report that has at now is mute until we know the final outcome.

‘’I have read the report, since you now confirm that it is supposed to be authentic, I have identified almost 40 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.

‘’Does that not show you that there was no thorough job done?  How do you make that kind of serious mistake, to award millions and millions to somebody said to have died when actually he was even a witness before you?

‘’In the report itself, you will find where the witness was there and they recorded his evidence, and in the list they posted, they said he died and awarded him N15 million, what kind of report is that.  That alone shows the report  has  fundamental error.’’

Meanwhile, human rights lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Femi Falana, has described the report of the panel  as one of the best ever produced.

Falana, who stated this in an interview on Channels Television’s  Sunrise Daily, said nine #EndSARS protesters were killed at the Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020.

“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.

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

He, however, faulted the leakage of the report of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and Other Matters.

He said the state government should only release the report after its four-member set up to raise a White Paper on the reports submitted by the Judicial Panel of Inquiry had completed its assignment.

He added:  “A judicial commission of inquiry was set up, it has concluded its assignment and submitted the report to the government, including the recommendations.

‘’The government will have to study the report and recommendations and issue a white paper which should contain the directives of the government on each of the findings.

“So the government could not have released the report and the government should not have released the report because it has to.

‘’A committee has been set up now and that committee should have been allowed to carry out its assignment.

“It is after that committee has concluded its own assignment that the government will then release the report via a white paper.”

Falana also said all those who tried to cover up the shootings at the Lekki toll gate on October 20, 2020, must be sanctioned for complicity.

Specifically, he  said the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN; and the managers of the toll gate, the Lekki Concession Company; should be sanctioned for trying to cover up the “crimes against humanity committed at the toll gate” during the EndSARS protests last year.

Malami had said those who attacked the youths at Lekki toll gate weren’t soldiers but wore military camouflages, while the LCC had allegedly removed the closed-circuit television at the toll gate in a move that had been widely described as a cover-up.

Falana said those who released the Lekki panel report feared cover-up by the government, hence, they released the report to the public to know their findings.

The human rights lawyer noted that Malami, the LCC and all those who tried to cover up the killings at Lekki should be sanctioned.

When asked whether  President Muhammadu Buhari should speak on the report of the panel, Falana said:   “No, not yet, the President made a broadcast last year in 2020 based on the information given to him.

‘’I’m sure you are aware that five times, the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has said nobody was killed. The Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), said those who appeared in Lekki were not Nigerian soldiers but people just put on military uniforms to perpetrate atrocities.

“Even the military denied that (but) it was when the young people who are advanced in technology and who took photographs in the night when the soldiers were shooting, it was at that stage that the military said, ‘Yes, we were shooting, we only shot into the air’.

“The panel found that even LAWMA (Lagos State Waste Management Authority) went there to do a clean-up in the night, in the early hours of 21st (of October 2020) so that there would be no trail but by the time the panel visited the scene of the incident, they were still able to pick some expired bullets.”

“The panel painstakingly analysed the evidence of every witness before arriving at the conclusion. So, it is difficult to cover up what happened on that day,” he added.

On what should happen to the federal officers who allegedly tried to cover up, Falana said:   “They are all going to be sanctioned. Anybody who attempted to cover up would be sanctioned, any of them, including those who managed Lekki, the LCC, because they disabled their system in order to cover up.”

“Any regime in the world that says these are federal officers and we are not going to sanction them, if you don’t, these are materials for the ICC (International Criminal Court). Under the Rome Statute, the ICC will only intervene if a government is unwilling or unable to prosecute those who engaged in crimes against humanity, genocide and aggression.

‘’If by the time the (Lagos State) government issues its White Paper, recommendations are made and these people are not prosecuted, that is not the end of the matter. No President can behave as in the ‘80s, that this is an internal affair.”