Lawal Pedro, SAN is a former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice and Solicitor-General of Lagos State. In this interview, he speaks on the threat by federal government to go after the promoters of EndSARS protest across the country and the implication of such action. He also gave insight into the challenges before the various panels investigating cases of human right abuse by the disbanded SARS operatives.

By Henry Ojelu

What do you make of the recent threat by federal government to go after promoters of EndSARS?

I am sure the government would make an excuse by saying they are not against promoters of lawful protest. The EndSARS protest as admitted by government is lawful and that is why they have acceded to the request forward by the protesters. I do not see any justification for going after the promoters of the protest.

However if government has information that the promoters are the people that sponsored the hoodlums that hijacked the protest to launch violent attacks and destruction of private and public properties in Lagos and other parts of the country, then the government will be justified in going after those promoters that it suspects engaged in those illegal activities.

But the various tribunals are already looking into some of these allegations?

No, the tribunals are not looking into that aspect of the protest. The terms of reference of the various panels are limited in scope. My understanding is that the panels are to identify victims of abuse and extra-judicial killings by SARS officers, carry out inquiries in respect of complaints by members of the public, evaluate evidence provided and draw conclusions. They panel is also expected to make recommendations to government. So the role of the panels is limited.

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Government appears to be focusing more on going after perceived promoters of the protest instead of put motions in place to meet the demand of protesters. Is that a right priority?

Like I said government has to be careful and differentiate between sponsors of Lekki protest, which they themselves have admitted is lawful, as against those they have evidence against that they actually promoted and sponsored those that engaged in vandalism. Unless federal government is able to show that these people were responsible or promoted the destruction of properties, then it is justified.

But if it’s a blanket action, then it will be unlawful and unconstitutional for government to embark on such voyage. If government can identified that A or B, sponsored the burning of the High Court of Lagos, sponsored persons who burnt the NPA building, then it would be justified in taking these actions. But the government itself must be careful in dealing with this kind of matter.

Those affected should not hesitate to go to court to enforce their rights. That is the way of the rule of law. The government has a responsibility and obligation to the generality of the people and the individuals too have their fundamental rights. If federal government cannot show that these people promoted destruction anywhere, then it has no business clamping down on their account.

I believe this will also affect the tribunal sittings because people will now be afraid to give evidence. Some of them will reason that if government can go after their genuine sponsors, then they are not safe. Their thinking would be ‘’If people who have money and sponsored us against SARS, are being clamp down, what will happen to us in the next two to three weeks if we give evidence at the tribunal.” So I think the current government’s decision to go after promoters of EndSARS will actually be counterproductive to the desired expectations from the tribunals.

Without preempting the recommendations of the various tribunals, who do you think will bear the consequence of compensating victims of SARS brutality?

That is the problem with the police architecture of our country. The name is Nigeria police; whether they put or remove force, the police is supposed to be the police of the federal government of Nigeria since we do not have state police. If in the course of duty, police commits an error, both the federal and the state government, could compensate the victims. We practice a federal police system, so for that reason, the first entity to be responsible is the federal government. In this case, it was at the mandate of the federal government that each of the states set up their panels, so there must be cooperation between the two otherwise victims will go uncompensated.

One of the youth representatives in the Lagos panel is currently a target of government clamp down. Would this affect the sitting of the panel?

This is where sometimes I believe that government work at cross purpose. When the selection of youth representative for the Lagos panel was being done, nobody was aware that one of the persons selected would be a subject of investigation. I think the issue can easily be resolved and the person in question allowed to returning back to her role. Really if there are genuine protesters, those are the type of people that government should not go after.

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I believe that government must have done a blanket clampdown and when they finish investigation, they would let go of genuine protesters. The problem is with lack of investigation before carrying out action. Most people do not actually know how government operates and that is why government’s actions are often misinterpreted. When things happen, government and police approach is to arrest everyone within the vicinity of the crime and then allow the suspects to prove their innocence.

But is that not a wrong approach?

I actually agree with you but I am only limiting the issue to our Nigerian factor where investigation commences with arrest. In Nigeria if you don’t like anyone, you just report that person to the police and he will be arrested. It is a Nigerian system which must be corrected. I am only telling you how the Nigerian security operatives operate. They just round everybody up and starting sifting them. That is a very wrong approach.

Don’t you think that the 90 days period within which the freeze order on EndSARS promoter’s account covers is improper?

I don’t think the order was improper. The court simply said the order would last for 90 days. The number of the days is actually irrelevant. The person who the order effects can actually go to the court to have the order set aside anytime.

How optimistic are you that the EndSARS tribunals will bring justice to victims of SARS brutality?

I have faith in the various EnSARS tribunals. The point is, after recommendation, what happens? This is why the media must follow up and ensure that the recommendations are implemented. Once nobody is talking about the issue, the matter wll simply die.

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