•Panel Commences Proceedings In Lagos
•Sanwo-Olu Charges Panel Members On Justice, Fairness
•Govt Still Awaits Youth Representatives As Tribunal Hears Petitions On Police Brutality
At 10:30am on Monday, members of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution set up by the Lagos State Government to investigate cases of brutality and human rights violations committed by operatives of the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) took the oath at the State House, Marina.
Then, the panel members led by their chairman, Justice Doris Okuwobi, immediately moved to LASWA Building located at Falomo Roundabout in Ikoyi for the inaugural proceeding.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said the swiftness of the process of the panel members’ composition was an indication of State Government’s sincerity towards the quick resolution of the issues that led to the nationwide protests against policing system.
Sanwo-Olu said the Government selected an unblemished retired judge to head the inquiry tribunal, given the enormity of the task at hand and the need to uphold the tenets of due process and fair hearing in the course of the panel proceedings.
He said: “In the last two weeks, we have witnessed pockets of justified protests by our youth against police brutality. The pain of our young ones has been felt in various parts of Lagos and country as well as in the diaspora. The protesters have spoken in one voice against the unbridled violation of fundamental rights and lives by the disbanded SARS operatives.
“In my engagements with the protesters, they handed me a list of five immediate demands, which I personally presented to President Muhammadu Buhari last Tuesday. Before then, I had taken action on some of their demands, which included the immediate release of all those detained on account of their
participation in the EndSARS protests and the raising of N200 million victims fund for compensation to families and individuals who were victimised by officers of the disbanded SARS.
“In response to one of the demands of our youth and in line with the resolution of the National Economic Council on October 15, 2020, chaired by the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, the Lagos State Government has constituted a Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution under the chairmanship of a retired Judge of the Lagos High Court, Justice Doris Okuwobi. We assure all victims that justice will be served.”
The tribunal, which will sit for six months, is charged to evaluate the evidence and draw conclusions on the validity of public complaints on police brutality and extra judicial killings in Lagos, with the aim to determining and recommending compensation for victims and their dependents.
The tribunal also, in its terms of reference, is mandated to interrogate SARS officers responsible for the abuse of victims and recommend their prosecution.
Sanwo-Olu said the panel took its legitimacy from Section 5 of Tribunals of Inquiry Law, Laws of Lagos State, 2015, stressing that the panel had powers to procure evidence and summon any person to attend its proceedings to give evidence or produce any document or other thing in the person’s possession.
The Governor said: “Mindful that complaints may be against serving police officers or ones already dismissed, the tribunal has a mandate to carry out the directives of the Federal Government to enable it discharge its duties without fear or favour. We expect the panel to judiciously use its powers to ensure that all necessary parties appear before it to testify: the members of the panel have the mandate to ensure that the rule of law prevails.
“I thank the chairman and members of the Judicial Panel for responding to the call of duty at this crucial time. I am convinced that you all recognise the importance of the assignment, which I believe will open a new chapter in police-citizen relationship. I urge you to approach this task with all sense of responsibility even as Lagos residents look to you for a fair and just outcome.”
Sanwo-Olu promised the State Government would not wait till six months – the period set for the tribunal to sit – before compensating victims as may be recommended by the judicial panel.
He also pledged that the Government would comply with and support the manner which with the tribunal members may decide to hold their proceedings.
Lagos Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo, SAN, said the urgency of setting up the tribunal was an indication of the priority the Governor usually accord to matters bordering on citizens’ interest.
He said the tribunal fully had the backing of the laws of the State and of the Federal Government to carry out investigative duties and give recommendations for prosecution of anyone indicted.
Justice Okuwobi, who spoke on behalf of the tribunal members, said the EndSARS protests had proven formidable to elicit positive actions to re-awaken consciousness of the Government on the need to address injustice meted out to members of the public by SARS operatives.
She said: “Having been invited to serve on this panel, we view our appointment as scared, demanding our utmost commitment, passion, loyalty and sense of duty in the discharge this assignment.
“No stone will be left unturned. We shall be thorough, objective and transparent in line with the terms of reference and enabling legal instruments. As thorough-bred professionals and legal experts, we remain true to our calling and will ensure that victims of this loathsome abuse and brutality are identified with the society and recommended for due compensation.”
After the swearing-in, the tribunal members proceeded to the venue of its sittings, where the inaugural proceeding was held.
Justice Okuwobi invited members of the public not to delay the presentation of their petitions and memoranda. She also urged the press to report the proceedings of the tribunal without sensationalism, noting that media houses could do live coverage of the panel activities for transparency.
Mr. Segun Awosanya, a Human Rights activist, could not be sworn in with other panel members, as he was held in a traffic while coming for the event.
Also, the representatives of the youth in the panel had not been nominated by the protesters at the time tribunal members were sworn. The protesters pleaded for more time to send the names of their nominees, four days after the State Government reached out to them to provide their representatives.
Tribunal members who took the oath include Mr. Ebun Adegboruwa, SAN (representing the Civil Society), Taiwo Lakanu (a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police), Ms Patience Udoh (representing the Civil Society), Mrs. Olutoyin Odusanya (Director, Lagos Citizens Mediation Center), and the representative of the Human Rights Commission.
Lagos residents, who have petitions against SARS and the police, can reach the tribunal’s help desk on the numbers: 0901 051 3203, 0901 051 3204 and 0901 051 3205.
Also, petitions can be sent to the dedicated email: judicialpanelonSARS@lagosstate.gov.ng