By Onozure Dania – Lagos
The Lagos State Judicial Panel on Restitution for Victims of Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS Related Abuses and Other Matters, and the October 20, 2020, Lekki Tollgate shootings, Monday, ended its assignment one year after it was set up by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu for enquiry.
The Justice Doris Okuwobi-led panel awarded N148.2million as compensation to 24 petitioners, bringing the total amount awarded since the panel started sitting on October 26, 2020, to N410million to 71 petitioners.
Justice Okuwobi said the Panel received 255 petitions from members of the public out of which 252 were considered for hearing, adding that it was able to decide on 182 petitions.
She also noted that 52 petitions, were not heard due to time constraints, adding that they would be included in the Panel’s reports for necessary advice and actions to be taken by the Lagos State Government through the Ministry of Justice.
Okuwobi assured those whose petitions were either not concluded – but were adjourned sine die – or not taken, not to despair.
The judge further stated that a body that will treat cases of human rights abuses might be set up by the state government to handle some of these petitions.
Meanwhile, the long-awaited report of the October 20, 2020, Lekki Tollgate ‘shootings’ was not read.
Justice Okuwobi said it was being prepared, noting that the investigation of the incident, including taking of evidence and exhibits, had been completed.
The judge emeritus assured petitioners that the panel’s recommendations would include compensation to victims, if any, of the Lekki Tollgate incident, among other recommendations.
Police victims of the violence, if any, would also not be left out of any recommendations for compensation.
Justice Doris Okuwobi, said.”The panel has officially ended it’s sitting today, starting from tomorrow the panel will no longer sit.
“Tomorrow, October 19, was actually the end of the panel’s sitting, but since it’s a public holiday, the sitting officially ends today.
“The panel sitting has officially ended, but we are still working” she said.
Responding to a plea by one of the #EndSARS protesters’ lawyers, Mr Adesina Ogunlana about making the Lekki Tollgate shootings report public, the judge emeritus noted that the panel’s duty, first and foremost, is to abide by the resolution of the National Economic Council requiring it to submit the final report to the government.
The panel said it would submit two reports to the Lagos State Government through the supervising Ministry of Justice.
The reports are the findings and recommendations on the Lekki Tollgate shootings on the one hand and another one on the Nigerian Police-related abuses, especially the disbanded SARS.
There were no fewer than 14 petitions relating to the alleged shooting incident, out of the 255 petitions received by the panel between October and December 2020.
The petitioners alleged that soldiers from the Army’s 81 Division, Victoria Island, Lagos fired live bullets on peaceful protesters, injuring and killing some.
They claimed that after the soldiers left, policemen arrived and shot at the protesters that returned to the scene.
But the army, which appeared thrice before the panel, denied the allegations, saying soldiers fired blank bullets in the air to disperse the crowd.
It, however, shunned repeated summons by the panel requiring it to respond to petitioners’ further questions and protesters’ evidence challenging its claims.
On October 19, 2020, the Lagos State Government inaugurated the nine-man Judicial Panel of Inquiry to investigate cases of brutality and human rights violations perpetrated by the Police and SARS.
The panel was a response to one of the demands of youth during the #EndSARS protests.
While inaugurating the panel, the Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said it was “in line with the resolution of the National Economic Council on October 15, 2020, chaired by the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo.”
He explained that the panel was set up based on Section 5 of Tribunals of Inquiry Law of Lagos State (2015) which gives the panel the powers to procure evidence and summon any person to attend its proceedings to give evidence.
The government, however, expanded the locus of the Judicial Panel on October 21 to include the investigation of the October 20, 2020, Lekki Tollgate shooting incident.
Saddled with the responsibility of providing restitution to the victims of police abuses in the state, a N200 million fund was approved by the state as compensation for victims.
But Lagos State has been funding compensation awards made by the panel after the N200million was exhausted.
The panel was given a six-month timeline to accomplish its tasks, from October 2020 till April 2021. But, following its inability to conclude all the petitions before it, the panel requested for and got two extensions, the second of which ended yesterday.
The panel commenced sitting on October 26, 2020, but heard its first case on October 27. It received 235 petitions between October and the December 2020 deadline for submission of petitions.
Some of the recipients of yesterday’s compensation awards were the Late Ayodele Solaja Family which received N10million.
Others included Abayomi Likinyo – N4million, James Arebha -N4m, Juliana Adeoti – N1million, the Late Yemi Abdulkareem family N10m.
A petitioner, Mrs Adeola Mukaila, who was brutally beaten by policemen while five months pregnant and her co-petitioner Stella Edegwa were awarded N700,000 and N500,000 for their ordeals.
Esther Sylvester, whose father, Okoronkwo Sylvester was shot dead by policemen in the Tejusho area of the state, was awarded N10m compensation.