By Femi Falana, SAN
BUT it is on record that a few hours after the incident Governor Sanwo-Olu had disclosed that two people were killed at the Lekki Toll Gate.
The disclosure was made after the governor had visited several injured people who were then receiving treatment in some hospitals. It is, therefore, crystal clear that those who are out to discredit the report are obviously weeping more than the bereaved.
But no amount of campaign of calumny can impeach the solid credentials of members of the Judicial Commission. The panel was led by Doris Okuwobi, a retired judge and former Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary in the Lagos State Ministry of Justice. Other members are Taiwo Lakanu, a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police; Ebun Adegboruwa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Patience Udoh (representing the Civil Society), Segun Awosanya (human rights activist), Olutoyin Odusanya (Director, Lagos Citizens Mediation Centre), and Temitope Majekodunmi, a youth representative.
The remaining two members, who were among the protesters, resigned from the panel. No doubt, the Lagos State Government must have been stunned by the findings of the Commission.
Unlike similar bodies in other states of the Federation, the Okuwobi Commission was empowered by the Lagos State Government to pay compensation to victims of police brutality in deserving cases.
Based on its findings the Commission was able to pay not less than N409 million to victims of illegal detention and torture as well as bereaved family members of unarmed citizens who were extra-judicially executed by some trigger-happy police officers.
However, as police brutality has continued unabated the Okuwobi Judicial Commission has rightly recommended the establishment of a standing Human Rights Committee to address the allegations of human rights abuse by security forces. Since the Panel was only able to attend to186 out of the 252 petitions submitted to it by victims of police brutality the panel urged the government to authorise the proposed human rights committee to consider the remaining petitions.
Contrary to the antics of the critics of the report of the Commission the Lagos State Government has demonstrated its readiness to implement the recommendations. It is pertinent to note that while the Commission was sitting, Governor Sanwo-Olu visited the homes of the six police officers who were killed in Lagos during the protests, paid them N60 million and announced that the State Government would educate the children of the slain officers up to university level. The widow of a spy policeman who was killed by the mob has equally been compensated by the State Government.
To stop the police from killing participants during peaceful rallies and public meetings the Lagos State Government has equipped the State Police Command with canisters of tear gas and water cannon. The members of the Okuwobi Judicial Commission of Inquiry deserve commendation for the thorough investigation of police brutality in Lagos State.
In view of the integrity of the members of the panel and the quality of the findings, I am confident that the Lagos State Government will pluck up the courage to implement the remaining recommendations of the Commission.
President Muhammadu Buhari has said that the Federal Government is awaiting the report of all the Judicial Commissions of Inquiry instituted by the State Governments with a view to taking appropriate action on the recommendations. The Lagos State Government and other state governments should not hesitate to forward the reports of the Commissions to the Federal Government. To that extent, the Commissions that are still sitting should conclude the national assignment without any further delay.
Finally, while commending the witnesses and their lawyers for exposing the official cover-up of the egregious human rights abuse perpetrated by the merchants of death in the country last year the Federal Government and the various state governments should ensure that venues are designated where aggrieved citizens can hold rallies in the exercise of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly guaranteed by sections 39 and 40 of the Nigerian Constitution.
The violent attack of unarmed protesters during peaceful rallies by military personnel should be completely halted by the Federal Government.
This demand is in line with several decisions of Nigerian courts against the involvement of military personnel in the maintenance of internal security in the country.
Since section 83 (4) of the Police Establishment Act, 2020 has imposed a duty on the police to provide adequate security for citizens who participate in public meetings and rallies the Inspector-General of Police should stop the police from subjecting protesters to unwarranted attacks.