Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), a member of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and other matters, has described as “uncharitable” following efforts by the Lagos State government to discredit the panel’s report on the Lekki Toll Gate shooting.
Adegboruwa said this in a statement issued on Friday in reaction to comments made by Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN), the counsel to the state government, concerning the report.
The panel, in its report submitted to Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Governor of Lagos State, on Monday, after over one year of investigation, stated that at least nine #EndSARS protesters were killed at the toll gate, and added that the actions of the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police Force on the night of October 20, 2020, can be equated to a massacre.
Reacting to the report, Owonikoko, in an interview on The Morning Show on Arise TV, faulted the report, claiming that he has identified 40 discrepancies contained herein.
The Lagos government counsel also questioned the integrity of the panel members, especially Adegboruwa. He claimed that some members of the panel, initially established to investigate abuses by the disbanded SARS officers, were already biased, especially following their antecedent with the security forces, and the government should have constituted another panel to specifically deal with the Lekki incident.
But responding, Adegboruwa said it is improper for the state government, through its counsel, to attack and disparage the report on the basis of technicalities.
According to the senior lawyer, he participated at the panel’s hearing with other members and is, therefore, entitled to sign the report, contrary to Owonikoko’s submission.
The statement read: “I have listened to the narratives of the Lagos State Government through one of its Learned Senior Counsel at the #EndSARS Panel, to the effect that Nigerians should reject the report of the Panel because I signed it, since I was not present at some of the sittings of the Panel.
“I served on the Panel on the mandate of the Governor of Lagos State, who told me on telephone that I was chosen to represent CIVIL SOCIETY. I requested for and approval was granted in writing, that my appointment was on a part-time basis. Furthermore, the Governor told me that two members were chosen to represent civil society on the Panel so that one of us would always be present at the Panel to excuse the absence of the other. I accepted the appointment in good faith, to serve the people, to calm frayed nerves at the time and also to restore normalcy to Lagos State. So, at all times, I functioned in partnership with my colleague from civil society, and there was no major sitting of the Panel in which both of us were absent.
“I also served on the Panel free of charge, from October 19, 2020, when the Panel was inaugurated till November 15, 2021, when the Panel submitted its report. The government was well aware of my identity, my perspectives, my philosophies and my general convictions, at least since my university days, before it nominated me into the Panel, that I will always say things the way they are. All Panel members acted in good faith, independently and in the fear of God Almighty.
“My principled struggles in respect of toll fee collection started way back from 2011, almost nine years before the Panel was inaugurated. Indeed, the Governor said that these were the factors that favoured my selection as a member of the Panel. Will I then deny myself, forfeit my reputation and discredit my constituency, my colleagues in the Nigerian Bar Association and comrades in civil society, in order to please anybody or cover up the truth? NEVER!
“It is therefore improper for Lagos State Government, through its lawyer that appeared before the Panel and other sponsored agents, to subject the report of the Panel and indeed the integrity of Panel members to media trials and attacks, all in the bid to build up the contents of its White Paper, which we can now reasonably foretell, from these sponsored media attacks.”
On the issue of the discrepancies, Adegboruwa said the panel has documents to back up and defend the report submitted to the Governor, insisting that the panel was unanimous in its recommendation.
He urged the state government to focus on the recommendations in the report instead of seeking to build anticipation to discredit the panel’s report in the expected White Paper or demonise panel members.
The statement read: “It is indeed uncharitable for the same government that urged the Panel not to be held down by strict rules of technicalities of law in order to unravel the real truth about the Lekki Toll Gate Incident, to now through its counsel, talk about alleged legal discrepancies, to frustrate the good work of the Panel that it set up.
“There are documents to back up and defend the report submitted to the Governor by the Panel but I have chosen to defer to His Excellency and to await the White Paper as promised because I believe that the Governor meant well in setting up the Panel and giving us free hand to operate. I appeal to His Excellency to continue in that note of sincerity.
“There is no minority report from the Panel as the report submitted to the Governor on November 15, 2021 was unanimously endorsed by all members of the Panel, who worked tirelessly, day and night, to serve the government and the people, even at great risks to their health, personal safety, career and family obligations and their general well-being.
“I’m very sure that Panel members would have been lionized to the highest heavens if we had bought into the narrative of the government before the Panel that it was criminals, cultists, hoodlums and unknown gunmen that operated at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020.
“I urge the government to focus on the findings and far-reaching recommendations contained in the report, in order to pursue the laudable objectives of setting up the Panel to achieve true healing and reconciliation, instead of seeking to demonise Panel members and their report or to evade responsibility. God bless Nigeria.”