The Lagos State Government in Tuesday released its much-awaited White Paper on the report of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry over alleged police brutality, especially, the October 20, 2020 incident at the Lekki toll plaza and ripped it apart.
According to the White paper, of the 32 recommendations made by the panel on the Lekki toll gate shooting, the state government only accepted 11, rejected one outright, agreed on six, albeit with modifications, while 14, which fell outside its powers would be forwarded to the federal government for consideration.
Importantly, the White Paper, which addressed each of the recommendations and passed a verdict, rejected claims that nine people died at the Lekki toll plaza.
Meanwhile, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who for the first time, reacted to the panel’s report in a broadcast on Tuesday at the Lagos House, Ikeja, promised that his government would bring closure to the painful episode of the #EndSARS with the White Paper.
But the government, while disputing some of the claims in the report, insisted it was full of discrepancies, irregularities and inaccuracies with claims of deaths of victims, even when some paragraphs of the same report revealed different claims and assertion.
In the White Paper released by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, the government described as baffling, the report that nine protesters were killed during the protest, saying apart from listing out their names in tabular form on pages 297-298, the JPI offered no explanation regarding circumstances of their deaths, adding that the names only sprang up at 297-298 of the report without any justification.
“It is quite astonishing that in the list of eleven (11) deaths set at pages 297-298, two (2) of the names appeared twice (Kolade Salam, Folorunsho Olabisi as Nos. 37 and 38). Furthermore, the person listed, as No. 46, Nathaniel Solomon, who testified as a witness and petitioned the JPI in respect of his brother, who he alleged died at LTC, himself listed as having died at LTG on 20th October 2020.
“Remarkably, Nathaniel Solomon’s deceased brother (Abata Soloma, was then also listed as No 2 on the list of persons, who died at LTG. The only victim of gunshot injury from LTG was picked up at 7:43, on 21th October 2020 after the curfew commenced (see page 99). Furthermore, there was no shred of evidence regarding, who shot him.
“Another substantial inconsistency in the JPI Report was the award of compensation to only one (1) out of the alleged nine (9), listed as ‘deceased’, which showed that the JPI itself had doubts as to the deaths of eight (8) other allegedly deceased persons on its list. See page 304 of the JPI Report,” the White Paper stated.
The government also picked hole in the justification for the award of money to one Serah Ibrahim, saying she was neither a petitioner nor a claimant before the JPI.
“The JPI also surprisingly awarded the sum of N10m to one Serah Ibrahim (listed as No. 14 on Page 304 of the Report). Serah Ibrahi was neither a Petitioner nor a Claimant before the JPI. At Page 179 of the report, Serah Ibrahim testified on oath that she did not have any petition before the panel, neither did she have any claims for compensation.
“This award to Serah Ibrahim is also contrary to the provisions of Section 13, Tribunal of Inquiry Law 2015 (Cap. T6 La of Lagos State), which prescribes that only witnesses requested summoned by a Tribunal of Inquiry are entitled to witness fees subject to consent of the Attorney General. Serah Ibrahim did not testify at the request or summons of the Tribunal. See pages 17-18 of the report for the list of summoned witnesses,” the paper stated.
On what it considered as fundamental inconsistencies in the findings of the JPI regarding the nine (9) deaths at LTG, the state government maintained that it rejected the claim, because the finding were clearly and manifestly not supported by evidence.
The government added that the JPI attested to the fact that there was nothing contrary to that of Professor Obafunwa, that only one person died at LTG of gunshot wounds on 21st October, 2020.
“The JPI’s finding of nine (9) deaths is, therefore, irreconcilable with the evidence of Prof. Obafunwa, that only one (1) person died of gunshot wounds at 7:43pm at LTG on 21stOctober, 2020.
“Having held that there was no evidence before it to the contrary of what Prof. Obafunwa said, the question is, where did the JPI then get its finding of nine (9) deaths? (see table at pages 297-298).
“It also follows the irresistible conclusions to be drawn from the JPI’s acceptance of Prof. Obafunwa’s testimony that only one (1) person died of gunshot wounds at LTG on 21stOctober 2020 is that there was no massacre at LTG, contextual or otherwise.
“The findings of the JPI that nine (9) people died at LTG on 21st October 2020 from gunshots fired by the military are based on assumptions speculations.
“The inconsistencies and contradictions in the entire JPI report concerning the number of persons, who died at LTG on 20th October 2020, and their cause of death rendered the JPI’s findings and conclusions thereon as totally unreliable and therefore unacceptable.”
Further on other recommendations, the Lagos government said, it has no control over the internal affairs of the Nigeria Police Force, and that the recommendation would be forwarded to the appropriate authorities, namely the federal government of Nigeria, National Economic Council, Police Service Commission and Nigeria Police Force.
Government, however, promised to set up a separate statewide Helpline for human rights abuses in addition to its existing Emergency Toll-Free (767 & 112) Helplines, assuring the people that the recommendations would also be forwarded to the National Economic Council.
Specifically, on police brutality, the government said out of the 22 recommendations, it would only accept four and forward 18 to the federal government, three of which overlap and have also been accepted.
The state government further added that it lacked the powers to investigate and fish out police officers as recommended by the JPI at pages 249-254 of the report.
However, speaking yesterday, Sanwo-Olu, who sounded emotional in his broadcast and seemed willing to put the matter behind him as quickly as possible, noted that though he believed in the credibility of the panel members to have appointed them for the assignment, their work as well as the eventual leakage of the report had only reopened deep wound.
While promising that the decision of his government would be based entirely on the law, the weight of evidence and an unblemished respect for the truth, the governor also invited some of the youths, who were actively involved in the protests for a peace walk to herald the “healing of Lagos”.
Sanwo-Olu spoke in a broadcast held at the State House, Alausa, on the government’s position on the panel’s recommendations.
“I will start by saying that we, as an administration, are determined that the next steps that will be taken in this process of coming to terms with the events of October 2020, must bring closure to a painful episode in the history of our State, with the release of the White Paper later today. This, in my view, is a moment that beckons us to define who and what we are as a people,” he said.
Continuing, the governor explained that, “It is with great sense of responsibility that I address you today on the reactions that have trailed the release of the #EndSARS Judicial Panel of Inquiry Report submitted to me two weeks ago, and how it has played out in public discourse since then.
“I believe — and have always been vocal about this — that we owe it to you, the people of Lagos, to constantly speak and engage with you. In easy times, in difficult circumstances, we will never shy away from making our case to you, while also ensuring that we listen to you.
“To be a Centre of Excellence, we must be a Centre of Truth. To be a smart city, we first must be a just one. To be a prosperous state, we must establish ourselves as a peaceful entity. And to achieve the Greater Lagos of our dreams, we must learn to live in harmony, even amidst inevitable disagreement.”
Sanwo-Olu also said, in times like these, “with anger and animosity too quick and fast at hand, it is easy to hide behind our own prejudices, treating them as deeper truths instead of the superficial lies they are.
“It is far too easy to take sides and choose emotion over fact, even when the truth is to be found in shades of nuances. It is easy to choose darkness over light; to take perverse delight in playing unhelpful games of cynicism and suspicion; to cling to beliefs that do not carry the weight of verifiable evidence.
“To become a champion of prejudice is to own a fleeting and false victory. It is a victory of rancour over reason, of vengeance over justice, of anger over compassion. Today, I stand before you to declare that I reject this path; and I invite you all to do same.”
For some important context, he claimed that there were certain things the people must never lose sight of, recalling that the Judicial Panel of Inquiry was originally inaugurated to investigate allegations of police brutality committed by the disbanded SARS in the state.
“In the aftermath of what happened on October 20, 2020, I decided to expand the mandate of the Panel to include investigating what really happened at the Lekki Tollgate that night. As a matter of good faith and a sincere commitment to uncovering the truth, we constituted a panel of individuals that we believed were independent, credible, and representative of the various stakeholder community interested in the movement against police brutality.
“Apart from the Chairman of the panel being a respected retired jurist, various stakeholders including the youths, #EndSARS protesters, the police and civil society groups were represented on the panel. I am sure no member of the panel can claim that the state government made any attempt to influence them in any way throughout the duration of its sitting.
“While I commend the panel for undertaking its task to the best of its abilities, it is however regrettable that the panel’s work and the leakage of an unauthorised version of the report have generated much tension. Sadly, a deep wound has been reopened.
“The heated exchanges among various shades of opinion on the report have unfortunately put us all at the risk of missing the larger picture; the fact that what we all seek in common is a land in which we are all safe and secure, law enforcement agents are trusted, and justice is guaranteed for all.”
The governor reiterated that he had no intention to engage in histrionics or further inflame passion on a matter that had generated intense interest and controversy nationally and internationally, but maintained that, “Our decisions and actions will be based entirely on the law, the weight of evidence and an unblemished respect for the truth.”
According to him, “I have never been in any doubt as to the sincerity, patriotism and noble motivations of both organisers of and participants in the movement to see an end to the human rights abuses by the now disbanded Special Anti- Robbery Squad (SARS).
“It is also on record that the federal government accepted all the demands of the protesters, including the immediate scrapping of SARS. The National Economic Council (NEC) also recommended the establishment of State Panels of Inquiry into cases of police brutality. And the Lagos State Government was the first to set up its own panel.
“I can boldly say that no state took the advocacy for police reforms and justice in the face of documented brutality more seriously than we did in Lagos. We have so far paid N420million in compensation to victims of police brutality, in line with the recommendations of the panel.”
Sanwo-Olu further recalled that, in solidarity with the protesters, “I joined our youths at various points during the demonstrations, particularly at the Lekki Tollgate and Alausa. I received the charter of demands of the protesters and promised to pass them on to the President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari.
“I kept my word and passed on the demands to the President, who promised to act promptly on the issues raised. However, perhaps as a result of entrenched lack of trust between the government and the governed over the years, the protesters responded to the government’s concessions with skepticism, and the demonstrations continued, even growing in intensity.”
Sanwo-Olu acknowledged that what had been “well organised and peaceful protests were subsequently hijacked in different parts of the country, particularly in Lagos. In the ensuing descent into anarchy, many of our compatriots were caught up in the violence. Several policemen were killed. Public and private property, including critical infrastructure, were set on fire, leading to losses estimated at several billions of naira,” forcing the imposition of a curfew.
While hoping that everyone, including the government, the youth, protesters, the police, and other security agencies, would have learned the appropriate lessons from the #EndSARSprotests, particularly the Lekki Tollgate incident, with a view to averting a recurrence, he said “It is a testimony to our strength and resilience as a people that, despite the huge losses incurred because of these terrible incidents, we have bounced back, with our economy as vibrant and virile as ever.”
To that extent, Sanwo-Olu said he would be leading ‘A WALK FOR PEACE’ this December to “herald the healing of our land. Let me use this occasion to extend an open invitation to our youths, members of the diplomatic corps, civil society groups, students and the media as well as other stakeholders to join me.”
Sanwo-Olu, however, identified such individuals as Folarin Falana (Falz), Debo Adebayo (Mr. Marcaroni), Dele Farotimi, Temitope Majekodunmi, Segun Awosanya (Segalinks), Adetoun (Just Detoun), Seun Kuti, CP Hakeem Odumosu and CSP Yinka Egbeyemi as some of those he would like to have join him on the historic march for Lagos.
“Nobody will build this city for us. Let us show the world who we are. We are Lagosians – a people of great renown, driven by the irrepressible spirit of Lagos,” he stated.