By Henry Ojelu
Some legal practitioners have described the Oath of Secrecy administered on members of the panel investigating the Lekki Toll Gate shooting as a betrayal of trust by the Lagos State Government and the panel members.
Some members of the panel were reported to have been compelled to sign an Oath of Secrecy form personally issued and signed by the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
When contacted, a member of the panel who did not want to be named refused to confirm the action of the governor but simply said ‘the issue has been resolved.’
Our correspondent, however, sought the view of lawyers who observed that it is wrong for the panel members to be sworn to an Oath of Secrecy for an inquiry that should be opened to the public.
Speaking on the issue, former 2nd Vice-President of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Monday Ubani said, ‘If an oath of secrecy was administered on the panel members, I don’t think it is right considering the fact that the governor is an interested party. I also think the oath of secrecy is irrelevant here when everybody is clamouring that the proceedings of the tribunal should be broadcast live.
“The tribunal started with an open hearing so I wonder why this issue of secrecy should come in at this time. Unless the panel is indicating that they would later go into a closed-door meeting after the entire process, I don’t see why this should arise now. It is procedurally ineffective that a Governor who is an interested party would want to demand secrecy from the panel.”
Also addressing the issue, National Welfare Secretary of the Nigeria Bar Association said that if indeed the oath of Secrecy was taken, then it amounts to a betrayal of trust in the government and the panel.
He said, ‘The Lekki shooting incident and the lies and denials thereafter are in the public sphere. They are there for posterity. It is good that there is a Judicial Panel hearing complaint from members of the public.
“Nigerians want to follow the proceedings every day. In fact, the proceedings of the Panel should be televised live for all Nigerians to see and hear about the rot in the system. It will be unpatriotic to the nation and a disservice to the memories of the victims of the shooting if the proceedings or any aspect of it is conducted in secrecy.
“Oath of Secrecy for what? That is a betrayal of trust in the government and the Panel. I hope it is not happening. For crying out loud it is a judicial panel where justice must be seen by all to have been manifestly done. The interest of justice and public good supersede any other official motive. The law does not support any secrecy considering the circumstances of the shooting and #EndSars protest.”
Also speaking on the issue, Former President, Centre for the Defence of Human Rights, CDHR, Malachy Ugwummadu said, “For the Oath of Secrecy, it identifies the persons to take it and expressly provides that it will be sworn before a Head of Ministry or a person authorised in that before.
“Certainly, that cannot be the Governor even if the heads of the Ministries who are the respective Commissioners may be appointed by the Governors. Thus, from the standpoint of the law, the Oaths administered or sought to be administered by the Governor are illegal.
“Secondly, and without prejudice to the very essence and purpose of Oaths of Secrecy administered on persons which is to preserve classified information and materials in the management of the affairs of Government, any such oath to be sworn before the Governor and not the Attorney General of the State as the head of the relevant Ministry of Justice immediately communicates the posture and signal of loyalty to the Governor and Government of Lagos State. This is contrary to the conditions of independence, transparency, neutrality and impartiality demanded by the youths and promised in the interests of Justice and for this exercise.
“In any case, it is likely that, at some point and given the circumstances of this inquiry, Mr Governor himself may be required to testify or give evidence (maybe by proxy in view of the immunity he enjoys under S. 308 of the 1999 Constitution) or even send memoranda or petition. At that point, where will the Independence and impartiality of the panel be when members of the panel have sworn all manners of Oaths including that of Secrecy to him?
In the same vein, Executive Director Cadrell Advocacy, Evans Ufeli said, “If the assertion is true that there was an administration of an Oath of Secrecy on members of the panel in Lagos then that derogates vagrantly from the provisions of section 5 of the Tribunal Inquiry Laws of Lagos State which empowers the governor to set up the said panel of inquiry.
“The Tribunal Inquiry Laws of Lagos state have no provisions for Oath of Secrecy, therefore if that act is found to be true in any way directly or indirectly, then it compromises the integrity of the panel. The Lagos State must be careful not to paint itself with filt at this trying time of her history. The state government is an interested party who’s on trial on this issue by implication.
“In 1999 The Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission of Nigeria, also known as the Oputa Panel, was set up by former President Obasanjo following the collapse of the military dictatorship that controlled Nigeria there was never an oath of secrecy anywhere taken by either the panellist or the parties. Let us do the right thing according to law. “
On his part, Senior Law Lecturer, Gbenga Ojo said, This is interesting. It is a public hearing. Everything in that tribunal or panel must be in the Public domain or space for the whole world to see the transparency which will forget public confidence and trust. If the government has nothing to hide, the Oath of Secrecy is absolutely not necessary.
“Two, the panel or inquiry performs a quasi-judicial function. Oath of Secrecy becomes illegal. The pertinent question is: do Judges swear to Oath of Secrecy? Of course not. They aren’t a secret society. The Judges swear to Judicial Oath which is inter Alia to bear allegiance to the Constitution. So, why should the panellists swear to Oath of Secrecy?
It is difficult for me to understand. The members that refused to swear to the Oath Secrecy did the right thing. Perhaps, it is necessary to point out that, it is civil servants qua civil service might be required to swear to such oath. Not a body that sits in the public and performs a quasi-judicial function. ‘