EndSars: Lagos counsel faults judicial panel report

Jesusegun Alagbe

Mr Abiodun Owonikoko, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and counsel for the Lagos State government during the yearlong sitting of the Lagos Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS-related Abuses, on Thursday faulted the Justice Doris Okuwobi-led panel report.

Owonikoko said it was wrong for the panel to have awarded compensation to the victims of military shootings on the night of 20 October 2020 during the EndSars protest at the Lekki tollgate and forgotten about the policemen who also lost their lives.

The lawyer expressed his views on the panel report in a feature on The Morning Show, a daily programme of Arise Television.

He said he had issues with a member of the panel, Mr Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa (SAN), who he said was consistently absent during Saturday sittings on the Lekki incident.

“This same gentleman [Olu-Adegboruwa] had no legal or moral right to sign the report but he did,” Owonikoko said.

The Lagos counsel further said there was no place in the report that mention was made of an attempt to attack a traditional ruler and raze down Oriental Hotel at Lekki by hoodlums during the protest.

Owonikoko said the panel did not call the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) to tender its evidence – which he said was “major”.

He also said some of the protesters reported dead and which the panel awarded compensation of between N10 – N15m had come out to say they are alive.

In the report submitted on Monday, the judicial panel said the atrocious maiming and killing of unarmed, helpless and unresisting EndSars protesters, while sitting on the floor, waving the Nigerian flags, and singing the National Anthem can be equated to a “massacre”.

The panel found 11 protesters were killed by the security forces while over 40 were injured – contrary to claims by the army and the Lagos government that protesters were killed.

The army had claimed soldiers deployed to the Lekki tollgate only shot blank bullets into the air and operated within the rules of engagement. But the judicial panel report confirmed that officers and soldiers of 65 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, led by Lt Col Bello, left their base with blank and live ammunitions to confront and disperse youths holding only their national flags, with live bullets.

[Read also] Lekki Massacre: How soldiers, police attempted cover-up after killing unarmed protesters

“The soldiers actually shot blank and live bullets directly and pointedly into the midst of the protesters at the Lekki tollgate, with the deliberate intention to assault, maim and kill.

“The soldiers turned back ambulances that were invited to render first aid and assistance to the wounded protesters,” the report read.

The judicial panel stated ways in which the security forces and government agencies attempted to cover up the killings – including soldiers picking up bullet shells on the night of 20 October and policemen following up in the morning of 21 October to pick bullet shells.

Several unidentified bodies were reportedly removed by security agencies and Lagos State Environmental Health Monitoring Unit (LASEHMU) and deposited at various hospital mortuaries in Lagos State.

Also, three trucks with brushes underneath were reportedly brought to the Lekki tollgate in the morning after the shootings to clean up bloodstains and other evidence.

In separate reactions, the United States, the United Nations, and human rights groups have welcomed the judicial panel’s report and recommendations while urging government actions against those found to be involved in the Lekki massacre.

Although the Lagos government has yet to react to the judicial panel’s report, a White Paper is expected to be released in the coming days.

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