.ENDSARS report: FG must eschew defensive attitude to findings — Babatunde, SAN By Henry Ojelu Mr. Layi Babatunde, SAN and Publisher of Supreme Court Law Report, in this interview, spoke on the EndSARS report by various panels across the country and what the Federal Government must do. He also spoke on Justice Mary Odili house raid, prison reform, self-determination agitations, electoral reform and other sundry issues. Excerpt: AS one of the lawyers who condemned the recent invasion of the Abuja residence of Justice Mary Odili, what strong measures do you think should be taken by stakeholders to forestall such future attacks on judicial officers? There is no other way, than for the Executive to demonstrate its commitment to the principles of separation of powers and the rule of law, beyond mere platitudes, but in deeds as well. This is because, the deployment of the instruments of cohesion for ill or for good, are squarely within the purview of the Executive. As it is, the judiciary cannot as much ensure the execution of its own judgments, save with the co- operation of the Police, an institution firmly in the hands of the executive. The ball, therefore, is in the court of the executive and the eternal vigilance of well-meaning Nigerian people. The troubling dimension, is in the inability of the state, to promptly account for the actions of non-state actors, who are so brazen and audacious in their conduct, suggesting something more sinister and grave in its long term effect. It is, therefore, important that we all show interest and commitment to getting to the root of it all in record time. If the house of a sitting Justice of the Supreme Court can be recklessly invaded by supposedly "unknown entities ‘’ that are not entirely faceless and they get away with it, woe betide lesser mortals. Speakers at the just concluded Nigerian Bar Association, Annual General Conference, NBA-AGC clamored for a new constitution for the country. Do you think there are other ways the flawed provisions of the constitution can be amended, other than an entirely new one? While a new constitution that engenders egalitarianism and smoother operation of a proper federation is desirable; without a mindset change by the operators, we the people and political actors, it may all turn out a mirage. Motion without movement as it were. The greatest challenge we have, is molding our country into a nation of shared values. It will take more than paper work. A more workable constitution will do Nigeria a lot of good,but we need to own our country and make it a nation of equal opportunities where fair play is enthroned. The Federal Government recently approved N1000 as daily feeding allowances for each prison inmate, while the youth corp is entitled to only N650.Considering the current economic realities, do you think this is enough? The answer stares us in the face. It’s certainly inadequate, but we need to look at where we are today, economically. Our debt service to revenue, I understand is in the region of 70 percent or may be slightly more. Our economy no doubt, is challenged and our major source of revenue is not as valuable as it used to be. Making agriculture profitable takes time and lots of investment, so turning things around cannot be without challenges against the background of pronounced insecurity and poor infrastructure. This has even affected the performance of the Anchor Borrower’s Programme. If we are able to be more productive and businesses don’t feel choked, we may begin the journey to recovery again. Youth Corpers are a great national asset that we need to tap in and reward more than we are presently doing, but we need to change the template. To the best of my knowledge, the courts that sentenced convicts to prison terms, do not strip them of their abilities. The Government can still creatively tap into that and enhance their income in the process. I got unconfirmed information, that a particular country has developed a template for the deployment of prisoners as laborers in overseas construction sites. If true you can hardly win against such a country in a competitive bid, because of cheap labour in a win- win setting. You journalists should take it upon yourselves, to investigate that. Not every prisoner is an idiot or monster. Despite efforts to decongest the prisons, the facilities across the country remain highly congested. What reforms do you think can effectively tackle this challenge? Several commendable reforms have been made, in recent past, but we are not there yet. While occasional prisons decongestion efforts are commendable, we need to prevent people who ought not to be there, from being there in the first instance. We need more work in that area. We also need to make better use of existing laws particularly the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, which happily has been replicated in some states Nigeria has been witnessing a surge in self-determination agitations in some parts of the country, do you think that perhaps these agitations are symptoms of a bigger problem? Justice and fairness are the pillars, upon which nations are built. Most agitations, arise from feelings of marginalization and perceived injustice, that are not being remedied. It does not matter whether a unit is small or large, injustice begets restlessness, just as Justice is a precursor to peace. We see that, even in families of same parentage, not to talk of a multi ethnic and multi religious country like Nigeria. Nigeria can profit from the biblical account of the prodigal son.It’s a story of anger and a feeling of not being appreciated, unfair treatment and reconciliation. We saw a senior brother, with no previous account of disobeying his father, deliberately absenting himself, in protest from a major family function being staged by his father, because he felt marginalized and cheated. How his father, went about reconciliation within the family should be a lesson for Nigeria at this time. Our situation today, is not about who is right, but what is right for our country. We should seize the moment to seek reconciliation with one another than allow things to boil over. We will all pay dearly for it, should we allow that to happen. There are concerns in some quarters that the federal character principle was not adopted in the last elevation of Court of Appeal judges. Do you share this concern and what do you think is the implication for the judiciary? Nigeria has some of the finest Judges, by whatever standards, but obviously over the years, some camel have managed to pass through the eye of the needle. We need to plug such holes, by constantly reviewing the process. Appointment to the bench should not be a function of political patronage nor quota for quota sake. Nigeria has fine lawyers, in all corners of the country. The private Bar should play a more involving role, than what prevails presently. I believe, those whose responsibility it is to work the process, are not sitting back idle. Every human process, requires fine tuning to achieve optimal performance. Despite assurances by the government during last year’s EndSARS protest to reform the police, there are still no noticeable changes in their behavior. Do you see any seriousness on the part of the government to reform the police? Why talk about reforming the police in isolation? I’ll rather we look, into why the implementation of vision 2020, failed woefully, after 10 years of its launch, with much fun fare and pump. The answer to your question, may be situated within that context. Part of the key component or goals of vision 2020,were to reduce the problems of hunger, poverty, inadequate housing, poor basic facilities etc. Did we succeed in dealing with any of them over 10 years plus? And now you are talking about a promise made last year? We obviously need to look deeper. I want to believe, we need to make the best of our limited material resources and abundant human assets, if we are to achieve our God given potentials. The police is part of a whole. Perhaps this may be one of the positive fall out of EndSARS after all, but for that to happen the Federal Government must eschew a defensive attitude, to the findings of various End SARS panels, especially those empaneled by the various states. We can seize the moment and make it a new beginning. The Senate recently approved an amended Electoral Act to include electronic transmission of results and direct primaries for political parties. What do you think is the implication of this on future elections in the country? If the National Assembly, can legislate a cure for power, for the sake of it and at all cost syndrome, that seems to pervade our political space, that will be a ray of hope. As awkward as it may seem, our politicians, must learn, to behave as statesmen, given our circumstances, if we are to make any appreciable progress. Technology can be used to add value, to any process, but never a be all solution. Some politicians, are deft at abusing the process and that is why we need to dust the Uwais Report, beyond the Nnamani committee’s review. Electoral bad behavior, must be punished and swiftly too, to serve its deterrent purpose. INEC has limitations, in that regard and the commission needs all the support it can get. Transmission of electoral outcomes by electronic means will no doubt be a good addition to upgrading our electoral process and the president should waste no time, in signing the Bill into Law, but the politicians need to show more faith in our country and her destiny to be great. I wished that in addition, they had insulated the courts from disputes over party primaries and let the political parties lay on their beds as they have laid it. With time, they will learn their lessons and our beloved judiciary, will be saved the indignity, of desperate politicians unending misconducts and unjustified aggression against the judiciary

…Report should be published in full, says Femi Okunnu

…As PDP Reps caucus wants the US govt to speak against human rights abuses in Nigeria

By Godfrey Bivbere & Levinus Nwabughiogu, LAGOS

THE youth representative on the Lagos judicial panel on police brutality, Temitope Majekodunmi, yesterday, insisted that there are errors in the panel’s report currently in circulation.

Majekodunmi, in a statement, said: “A leaked report of the Panel has been in circulation since yesterday, and I got numerous calls and messages from various persons asking me to confirm if the report was authentic.

“While others were particular about the error of name duplications, it is imperative to note that the leaked report in circulation is not far from the original, but I can confirm that the original is without all the identified errors.

“Furthermore, we did approve the report for print after several reviews of a typographical error, omission of some documents but duplicated as final edit; final, final edits and final of the finals of edit.

“Regardless of errors identified, it is important that we stick to the facts of the findings and its recommendations contained therein and also interpret appropriately.

“This report is all-encompassing for the reasoning of peace and justice. I am sure every one of you must have gone through the details.

“To provide a summary, you can find an executive summary of the report on pages 11-15, background on page 16, general proceedings on pages 17-280, panel findings on pages 281-304, a compendium of recommendations on pages 305-300 and the conclusion to page 305.

“The report of the panel further validates our position that peaceful protesters were injured and/or killed by security operatives who were meant to protect us. The findings of the panel, and most importantly, the recommendations are now in the public domain.

“In conclusion, it is not the time to rest or sleep; it is the time to peacefully demand accountability and ensure that the recommendations of the panel are implemented.

 “It is the time to ensure that our fallen heroes do not die in vain and that citizens of Nigeria are never afraid to peacefully protest in their native country.”

Meanwhile, a former Federal Commissioner of Works, Mr Femi Okunnu, yesterday, urged the Lagos State government to publish the full report of the panel.

Similarly, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, caucus in the House of Representatives, yesterday, urged the visiting Secretary of State of United States of America, Anthony Bliken, to hold the Federal Government responsible for human rights abuses in the country.

Reacting to the EndSARS report, Mr Okunnu, who spoke in an interview on Arise Television, said that for his age, he would have joined youths to protest at the Lekki Tollgate last year.

Okunnu said: “If not for an age, I could have been at the Lekki Tollgate myself to demonstrate against the government of Nigeria and Lagos state.”

On Lagos State government’s decision to set up a committee to work on producing a white paper on the report, Okunnu said: “The Lagos State Government cannot hide it because members of the panel have their copies. The report should be published in full. The purpose of a white paper is for government to set its views paragraphs by paragraph. It’s not to rewrite the report.”

PDP Reps caucus wants US govt to speak against human rights abuses in Nigeria

Meanwhile, the leader of the PDP caucus, Mr Kingsley Chinda urged the United States Government, through Secretary Bliken, to hold the Nigerian Government responsible for the violence to suppress peaceful protesters, particularly activists of the #EndSARS Movement In a statement.

Chinda said: “It is our fervent hope that Secretary Bliken will engage the government’s failure to address the increasing terrorist attacks in Nigeria.

“We expect that he would use his visit to address the growing human rights abuses, increasing threats to democracy, insecurity, and corruption in Nigeria.

“Our country cannot afford the luxury of losing military officers to terrorists when it can seek strategic military and counter-insurgency assistance from the United States that has for many years built strategic and sustained military and intelligence frameworks for fighting terrorism.

“We note that the insistence of the Government of United States that all strategic military, anti-terrorism and counter-insurgency engagements must be in accord with the Leahy laws.

“Beyond all of this, and as strategic partners, with shared vision and future for peace, we are convinced that the shared vision and future are impossible without the United States showing more than a passing and curious interest on respect for human rights.

“The nexus between human rights and peace is beyond contest. Sustainable development is only possible when human rights become the cornerstone of governance.

“Under this government, human rights abuses have become the spur of violent conflicts, halting economic progress, growth and development.

“Secretary Bliken should as a matter of urgency hold the Nigerian Government to account for the wanton assaults on rights, abuse of state power, systematic use of state violence to suppress peaceful protesters, particularly activists of the #EndSARS Movement and campaigners for self-determination, extra-judicial killings, intimidation of the judiciary; and declare to this government that abuses of human rights have consequences.”

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