Handover ceremony of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry report to the Lagos State Government.

On 15 November 2021, the Judicial Panel of Inquiry (JPI) on allegations of police brutality in Lagos State and the shootings at Lekki Tollgate during the EndSARS protest on 20 October 2020, presented its findings to the Lagos State Government.

Before this, a leaked version of the JPI report alleges that the Nigerian Army killed at least “46 people,” at the Lekki toll gate. The leaked report also referred to the manner of the killing as a “massacre.” However, there have been counterclaims on the authenticity of these leaked reports since several reviews and changes were made before submission on 15 November.

The Governor of Lagos State, His Excellency Babajide Sanwo-Olu

According to Lagos State Government, under the provisions of the Tribunal of Inquiry Law of 2015, a four (4) man White Paper Committee (WPC) was formed to produce a White Paper report in determining the next course of action for the State and other affected State actors, including the Federal Government.

What is a white paper you may wonder? Putting in focus a Government white paper, it is an administratively driven medium for reviewing the issues of a subject and conveying solutions or recommendations to guide policymakers.

On 30 November 2021, the State Government issued the much-anticipated WPC report, which was met with varied opinions about the State Government’s response to the 32 key recommendations in the JPI report. According to an issued statement, the Lagos State Government approved eleven (11) recommendations, accepted six (6) with adjustments, rejected one (1), and transmitted fourteen (14) recommendations to the Federal Government for consideration.

A legal partitioner, Pelumi Olajengbesi Esq. points out that the WPC ” lacked the legal competence to review, edit, modify, reject or alter the report” of the JPI, he explains why by stating that “the supreme court has opined in Momoh  v. Umoru (2011) 15 NWLR (PT. 1270) 217 that the report of a panel of inquiry is valid and could constitute res judicata in a matter and when a party is dissatisfied with the report, such a person may approach a High Court for redress.”

The primary points of the WPC report centred on the alleged death of protesters, conciliation, the punishment of security forces implicated in extrajudicial killings in the state.

On the alleged deaths at Lekki Toll Gate; in response to these claims, the state said that “the only victim of gunshot injury from LTG was picked up at 7:43 pm on 21st October 2020 after the curfew commenced. Furthermore, there was no shred of evidence regarding who shot him.” The WPC report goes on to say that the JPI report’s claims of nine (9) people dying [contrary to the claim of 46 people in the leaked version] at Lekki Toll Gate were based on assumptions due to WPC’s observations of inconsistencies and contradictions in the JPI report, rendering its findings and conclusions “unreliable.”

The principal focus of concerns forwarded to the Federal Government and other relevant Federal Institutions for consideration was the punishment of accused erring security officials, as the police and military services operate under the executive branch of the Federal Government. However, legal practitioners continue to claim that an offence committed on Lagos State Soil falls under the jurisdiction of the Lagos State Chief Judge. Others feel that, although such crimes occurred on Lagos soil, the State Government may only take the federal government to court to compel it to pursue the case if its application for required action is not enforced or delayed.

The JPI report had recommended for a memorial site for the EndSARS protest [devoid of any link to dead protesters], which according to the report, the Lekki Toll Gate plaza was its suggestion for this site, but the State Government in the WPC report had suggested that a park be built instead and themed “Peace Park.” Further recommendations were made for a fixed date for the memorial of the EndSARs protest to fall on October 20 each year, as well as making such days “Toll-free days,” which the Lagos State government accepted but recommended that such be forwarded to the Federal Government, as it was not within its power to declare a national day.

Following the WPC report release, State officials also called for a “Peace Walk,” which was rejected by prominent EndSARS activists due to allegations of a State-led effort to whitewash the issue, delay justice for deceased protestors, and victims of arbitrary arrest. Several additional groups, including student unions, civil society groups, and Lagos locals, have expressed support for the State Government-led “Peace Walk,” though some of these groups have urged that such marches be cancelled to avert an insurrection.

Although it is far too early to say whether there will be a consensus to support the peace walk; it remains very unlikely, given that, there remains a widening trust gap between the government and the people, particularly on the issue of EndSARS and the handling of protest demonstrations, given the persistence of police brutality since 2020 till date.

 

 

The topic of EndSARS continues to generate a high level of sensitivity across the country as it has come to serve as a beckon for politically driven anti-government rhetoric; however, the group maintains its apolitical claim. Nonetheless, the unavoidable rise in food prices during the yule and also anticipated hike in fuel pump prices, which will further worsen the existing desperation in the country, are variables that may encourage active crowds based on monetary motivation or genuine advocacy for a perceived injustice.

To maintain peace, the State Government led “peace walk” march should be shelved and substituted with dialogues aimed at bridging the communication gap and easing tension in the State and the country as a whole, given the national and international impact of the Lekki Tollgate shooting on 20 October 2020. However, with strong political tendencies, this march is likely to persist and likely to take place between 6 and 12 December 2021.