The popular saying, “The truth will set you free” is a statement which derives from the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 8, Verse 32. This saying has assumed a life of its own in many human settings and it projects truth as a state that is incontrovertible.
Truth is the property of being in accord with fact or reality. In everyday language, truth is typically ascribed to things that aim to represent reality or otherwise correspond to it, such as beliefs, propositions and declarative sentences. Truth is usually held to be the opposite of falsehood.
But truth, apart from being naked, is plain, brutal, and bitter to swallow. That is why some Thomases still doubt the report of the now confirmed Massacre at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos on Tuesday 20th October 2020. On that day, TV and online video evidence showed live, a group of soldiers shooting at #ENDSARS protesters who were peacefully singing Nigeria’s national anthem, while draped in the country’s green-white-green flag.
Following the incidents of police brutality which resulted in the #ENDSARS Protest, the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu constituted a Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS-related abuses in Lagos State and appointed Honourable Justice Doris Okuwobi, a Retired Judge of the Lagos State High Court as Chairperson of the Panel. There were 7 other members of the panel and a secretary.
The Panel’s Terms of Reference were:
- To identify victims of abuse, brutality and extra judicial killings in the hands of Officers of the disbanded SARS and Officers of the Nigeria Police Force;
- To carry out investigative duties in respect of Petitions/Memoranda received on Police brutality and extra judicial killings in Lagos State;
- To evaluate evidence and draw conclusions on the validity of such Petitions/Memoranda received;
- To determine and recommend compensation for verifiable/deserving victims and their dependents;
- To interrogate serving or dismissed Officers of the disbanded SARS and Officers of the Nigeria Police Force, responsible for the abuse of victims and recommend their prosecution;
- Receive memoranda from concerned members of the public and inquire into case of abuses, brutality, torture, extra-judicial killings by the disbanded SARS in Lagos State;
- Identify the victims of brutality, torture and extra-judicial killings by the disbanded SARS;
- Identify Officers of SARS involved in the abuse of rights of citizens and make appropriate recommendations for prosecution of such Officers;
- Evaluate the cases of the victims; determine those deserving compensation as a result of such violations by Officers of the disbanded SARS and recommend compensations payable to them from the Victims Trust Fund established by the Governor;
- To investigate the incident at the Lekki Toll Gate on 20th October, 2020 and make necessary findings and recommendations;
- Examine any other matters incidental to any of the terms of reference stated above; and
- Make necessary recommendations to guide against future abuse of human rights by the Nigeria Police in Lagos State.
On Monday 15th November 2021, the panel submitted its report to Governor Sanwo-Olu and the contents sent ripples all over the country and the whole world.
Its findings are as follows:
- That the Nigerian Army was invited for intervention in the State and was deployed to Lekki Toll Gate on the 20th of October 2020. At the Lekki Toll Gate, officers of the Nigerian Army shot, injured and killed unarmed helpless and defenseless protesters, without provocation or justification, while they were waving the Nigerian Flag and singing the National Anthem and the manner of assault and killing could in context be described as a massacre. The Panel also found that the conduct of the Nigerian Army was exacerbated by its refusal to allow ambulances render medical assistance to victims who required such assistance. The Army was also found not to have adhered to its own Rules of Engagement.
- The Panel found that the Nigerian Police Force deployed its officers to the Lekki Toll Gate on the night of the 20th October, 2020 and between that night and the morning of the 21st of October, 2020, its officer shot at, assaulted and battered unarmed protesters, which led to injuries and deaths. The police officers also tried to cover up their actions by picking up bullets.
- The panel found that LCC hampered the panel’s investigation by refusing to turn over some useful and vital information/evidence as requested by the Panel and the Forensic Expert engaged by the panel, even where such information and evidence was by the company’s admission, available. It manipulated the incomplete CCTV Video footage of the Lekki Toll Gate on the night of the 20th of October 2020, which it tendered before the Panel.
- The Panel found that there was an invitation of the Nigerian Army to Lagos State made by the Lagos State Government through the Governor before the hierarchy of the Nigerian Army deployed its soldiers to the Lekki Toll Gate on the night of the 20th of October.
- The Panel found that there was an attempt to cover up the incident of the 20th of October by the cleaning of the Lekki Toll Gate and the failure to preserve the scene ahead of potential investigations.
Following the key findings, the Panel made some key recommendations:
- Holistic Police Reforms covering welfare, training and proper equipping of Policemen and their working environment;
- Sanctioning of the officers of the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Police Force respectively who participated in shooting, injuring and killing of unarmed protestors at the Lekki Toll Gate on the 20th and 21st October 2020;
- Development of more robust engagement between the Youth and the Government;
- Setting up of a Standing Committee/Tribunal to deal with cases of Violation of Human Rights by security agencies and a trust fund to settle compensation awarded by such committee/tribunal;
- A public apology to #ENDSARS protesters, who were killed, injured and traumatized by the Incident of the 20th October 2020;
- The memorialization of the Lekki Toll Gate and the 20th October going forward;
- The recognition of Hospitals and Medical Doctors who played heroic roles following the Incident of the Lekki Toll Gate on the 20th of October 2020 thereby saving lives and minimizing the impact of the injuries suffered by the victims, most of which were on a pro-bono basis;
- The Panel recommended various sums of compensation to victims of the Lekki Toll Gate Incident, which must be expeditious in order to accelerate the healing process;
- The Panel recommended that any data that may have been generated over the years on the impunity of the Police across Nigeria be studied and deployed as early warning signs (EWS) mechanism.
While the Lagos State Government is expected to issue a white paper on the report, what the Panel has submitted will hopefully put an end to all the lies and official denials, including the spin, particularly from the Federal Government. Many of us watched the live streaming by the young lady DJ Switch, whom officials tried to demonize and intimidate, and she has had to seek asylum elsewhere. She had said 15 persons were killed. He figure tallies with what the panel has in its report that 11 were killed and 4 are missing.
With the boldness the work was conducted and delivered on expectation, the Justice Okuwobi panel has proved many skeptics wrong as to their ability to right the wrong done to many Lagosians by the infamous SARS police team. Justice Okuwobi herself has etched her name in the annals of Nigerian history as someone who can lead a team that will take decisions, no matter who is involved.
Who is Justice Okuwobi?
Justice Doris Tomilayo Okuwobi was born in Lagos on the 10th of January, 1955 and attended the University of Lagos from 1973 as the pioneer set to be admitted to study Law. Her professional career started in private practice before she joined Lagos State Ministry of Justice as a State Counsel, rising through the ranks to become Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary from 1996 – 1998. She was appointed a Judge of the Lagos State Judiciary on 17th September, 1998 and worked in virtually all the High Court divisions in the performance of her judicial functions.
Justice Okuwobi retired from the Lagos State Judiciary in January 2020 after 42 years of meritorious service and her Chairmanship of the #ENDSARS panel was the first major post retirement assignment. While we wait for the reports from other #ENDSARS panels from the other States of Nigeria, the expectations are that they will all have the boldness of the Okuwobi Lagos Panel to ensure that justice and equity are the watchwords in their reports.
Meanwhile, several countries and international organisations have been reacting to the Lekki Toll Gate Panel Report.
The United Nations said in a statement that it welcomes the submission of report and called for the Government’s commitment to implementing the recommendations in order to rebuild trust and start the process of healing and reconciliation.
Mr. Edward Kallon, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, noted that the submission of the findings of the judicial panel would accelerate the process of justice and accountability.
In its reaction, the United States said looks forward to the response from the Lagos State Government as part of a process that represents an important mechanism of accountability.
The US Mission in Nigeria on Tuesday said in a statement on its website that it awaits the measures to be taken by both the Federal and Lagos State Governments to address the serious allegations against some members of the security forces, saying that it expects suitable measures to address the alleged abuses as well as the grievances of the victims and their families.
In its reaction, Amnesty International Nigeria noted that the report confirmed that the Nigerian army and police shot peaceful protesters at the Lekki Tollgate on October 20, 2020, calling it “the truth about what happened at Lekki Tollgate.”
It recalled its own preliminary investigation of what transpired at Lekki Toll Gate and said the panel’s findings are only the first step towards justice and restitution, calling on Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to act promptly to ensure that those found to be responsible for shooting and attacks on peaceful protesters are brought to justice in fair trial, with adequate compensation, restitution, and guarantee of non-repetition to victims and their families.
Amnesty International also called for the immediate and unconditional release of all #ENDSARS protesters unlawfully detained since last year.
IMAGE CREDIT: LASG, Thisday, dnllegalandstyle.com