By Clifford Ndujihe, Politics Editor
HUMAN rights Lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, has pooh poohed arguments of some lawyers including Minister of State Labour and Productivity, Mr. Festus Keyamo, SAN, that judicial commissions of inquiry set up by state governments following the ENDSARS protests were illegal and could not indict military and police officers.
Citing various cases across many states of the country, and recalling how the panels were set up, Falana, in a statement said that state judicial panels have ‘’unquestionable powers” to ‘’indict military and police officers.”
He submitted that the military and police personnel indicted for murder and allied offences in Lagos by the Doris Okuwobi Judicial Commission of Inquiry are ‘’liable to be prosecuted by the Attorney-General of Lagos State as the Attorney-General of the Federation lacks the power to prosecute any person accused of committing state offences.”
According to Falana, the President and state governors have powers to institute administrative or judicial commissions of inquiry within their areas of jurisdictional competence under the current political dispensation.”
Falana recalled that ‘’not too long ago, the Lagos State Government prosecuted the military and police officers including a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Police Commissioner for murder and allied offences which occurred in the State under the Sani Abacha junta. Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN who led the prosecution team was the then Attorney-General of Lagos State.”
His words: ‘’The controversy surrounding the legality of any Panel set up under the Tribunal of Enquiry Law of Lagos State was laid to rest as far back as 1987. For the avoidance of doubt, the validity of the law was upheld by the Court of Appeal in the case of Williams v Dawodu (1998) 4 NWLR (PT 87) 189 at 212- 213 where Akpata JCA (as he then was) held inter alia:
“In any event the Learned Trial Judge was not entitled to enquire into the constitutionality of the Tribunal of Inquiry Law (CAP 135) Lagos State, even if Section 5(e) and 14(2) thereof appeared to be unconstitutional. The Tribunals of Inquiry Law was promulgated on December 4, 1968. Thus, when the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was promulgated as of the 1st October, 1979 the Tribunal of Inquiry Law qualified as an ‘Existing Law’ under Section 274 of the same Constitution.”
‘’It is crystal clear that notwithstanding the enormous powers conferred on the Federal Government under the 1999 Constitution the power vested in the President of Nigeria to set up a Judicial Commission of Enquiry is limited to the Federal Capital Territory. The authority for this submission is the case of Chief Gani Fawehinmi v. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (2003) 3 NWLR (PT 808) 604 at 626 where the Supreme Court (per Ejiwunmi JSC) held that “…the National Assembly has the power to enact the Tribunal of Inquiry Act, Cap 447 with the limitation that it operates in the Federal Capital only. To this limited extent, the Act is an ‘existing law’ by virtue of the provisions of section 315 of the Constitution. It must be emphasized that though the Tribunals of Inquiry Act is ‘an existing law’ its application is limited and has no general application. I need to point out that perhaps this litigation might have been unnecessary if the framers of our Constitution had borne in mind the necessity of ensuring that the powers of each component part of the Federation are carefully set out in the Constitution.”
‘’Since the Tribunal of Enquiry Act is not a law of general application in the country it is a dangerous submission to say that only a commission of inquiry instituted by the President is competent to investigate the violations of human rights or murder committed by Federal officers in any State of the Federation. In fact, it is embarrassing that some public officers who had campaigned for the sovereignty of state governments within the Federation before 2015 have turned round to question the powers of State Governments to legislate on matters in the residual list including the Tribunal of Inquiry Laws.
‘’It is a matter of common knowledge that before the #endsars protests last year every state government in the country has been settling up administrative and judicial commissions of inquiry.
Some of them include the following:
*The Justice Kalu Anya Judicial Panel set up by the Military Governor of Lagos State to probe the burning of the residence of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti in February 1978;
*The Niki Tobi Judicial Commission set up by the Plateau State Government in 2003 indicted some police officers for their involvement in the brutal killing of people in Jos;
The Uwaifo Judicial Commission of Enquiry set up by the Osun State Government in 2010 indicted police officers in gross human rights abuse. The Panel was set up by Governor Rauf Aregbesola, the current Minister of Interior;
*The Truth and Reconciliation Commission headed by the Late Justice Kayode Eso set up by the Rivers State government in 2015 under Governor Rotimi Amaechi indicted Federal security agencies for not curbing cultist attacks in the State. Mr. Amaechi is the current Minister of Transportation; and
*The Garba Judicial Commission of Enquiry set up by the Kaduna State Government in January 2016 indicted the senior military officers who superintended the illegal killing of 348 Shiites in Zaria and the secret burial of their bodies in a mass grave in Mango in Kaduna State.