A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), has argued that the federal government lacks legal competence to reject the report submitted by the Lagos state panel on EndSARS.
Falana stated this while speaking during a visit by some leaders of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights.
According to him, “Having regard to the letter and spirit of the Tribunal of Enquiry Law, it is submitted that the Federal Government lacks the legal competence to reject the report of a panel of enquiry duly constituted by the Lagos State Government. Therefore, Governor Sanwo-Olu should not hesitate to reject the gratuitous call for the rejection of the report of the Lagos Judicial Commission by Mr Lai Mohammed”.
Nigerian youths last year trooped out to protest extortion and killings by a department of the Nigerian Police Force, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The department, now disbanded, was notorious for victimising youths and killing any who is not cooperative with their extortion ploy.
During the course of the protest, the youths stormed the Lekki Toll Gate after the Lagos state government announced a curfew to curb the looting and unlawful actions of the hijackers of the protest.
Meanwhile, security operatives deployed to the Toll Gate to disperse the protesters were reported to have opened fire on them and killing and injuring many.
The Lagos state set up a judicial panel of inquiry on restitution for victims of SARS related abuses and other matters.
In its report titled: ‘LAGOS STATE JUDICIAL PANEL OF INQUIRY ON RESTITUTION FOR VICTIMS OF SARS RELATED ABUSES AND OTHER MATTERS’, the panel noted: “The Nigerian Army left, the Nigeria Police Force, followed up with the killing of the protesters, shooting directly at fleeing protesters into the shanties and the Lagoon at the Lekki Phase 1 Foreshore, close to the Lekki Toll Gate, floating corpse”.
The report also said; “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”.
Meanwhile, the minister of information and culture, Lai Mohamed, dismissed the report while describing it as a hoax, which did not follow the evidence at hand.
“It is an intimidation of the majority by a minority,” Mohammed submitted.
“Without mincing words, never in the history of any judicial panel in Nigeria has a report been so riddled with discrepancies and conclusions that are not backed up [with facts],” he said.
“It was a phantom massacre. The report in circulation cannot be relied upon. The leakage of an unsigned report to the public is not enough.
“There is absolutely nothing in the report, circulating, to change our mind that there was a massacre at the Lekki tollgate.”
Reacting, Falana said; “Pursuant to the Tribunals of Inquiry Law, Laws of Lagos State, 2015, the Justice Doris Okuwobi Commission of Enquiry was instituted by the Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, last year to probe allegations of police brutality in the State.
“Upon the conclusion of the assignment last week, the commission submitted ‘a full report in writing of its proceedings, findings and recommendations, records, opinions, and reasons leading to its conclusions’ in line with Section 15(1) of the Law.
“Thereafter, the governor set up a four-member committee of cabinet members headed by the state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), to advise him with respect to the position of the Government which will be contained in a White Paper.
“We are not unaware of the purported rejection of the report of the commission by the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, and the pressure on the White Paper Committee by some anti-democratic forces to advise the governor to jettison the findings and recommendations of the commission.”
Falana said critics were not aware that there is no provision for the issuance of a White Paper under the law.
He described a White Paper as a mere administrative medium for conveying the decision or position of the government on the report of an administrative or judicial enquiry.
He added, “Since the White Paper Committee is not known to law, its members are not competent to edit, modify, alter, edit or reject the report of the Commission. More so, that the members of the White Paper Committee did not have the opportunity of taking evidence from the witnesses who had testified before the Commission.
“Having regard to the letter and spirit of the Tribunal of Enquiry Law, it is submitted that the Federal Government lacks the legal competence to reject the report of a panel of enquiry duly constituted by the Lagos State Government. Therefore, Governor Sanwo-Olu should not hesitate to reject the gratuitous call for the rejection of the report of the Lagos Judicial Commission by Mr Lai Mohammed.
“Once a White Paper is issued by the governor on the recommendations, the institutions and individuals indicted by the commission may wish to approach the High Court to challenge any aspect of the report.”