Festus Keyamo, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, has said the Judicial Panel of Inquiry set up by the Lagos State government was an illegal one as the panel lacked the power to investigate federal officers.
The National Economic Council (NEC), under the leadership of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, had in October 2020 established judicial panels in states, including the federal capital territory (FCT), to investigate cases of police brutality.
The panels were established following the #EndSARS protests when youths took to the streets in different parts of the country in October 2020 to call for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The Justice Doris Okuwobi-led panel had in its report submitted on 15 November to the Lagos State government stated that at least nine persons were killed by the Nigerian Army and Nigeria Police Force at the toll gate on October 20, 2020, adding that the action of the security forces can be equated to a massacre.
But speaking in an interview on Sunday, Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said it was out of the jurisdiction of the panel to investigate the activities of Federal Government institutions and officials such as the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigerian Army.
He was asked why President Muhammadu Buhari called for the constitution of panels across the states to investigate cases of human rights abuses, while the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, would later dismiss the report by the Lagos panel.
According to the senior lawyer, by the virtue of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), only the federal government can investigate the military and police.
“I will not answer this question as a sitting minister, I will answer this question as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria — a member of the inner bar — and so I’m entitled to my opinion. This is not the federal government opinion,” Keyamo said on Channels Television’s Politics Today.
“For me, that panel was an illegal panel. It is totally illegal. All lawyers who are listening to me should go back and read to the Tribunal of Inquiry Act of Lagos state.
“It says that the governor will have power to inquire into the conduct of any person and chieftaincy matters and any matter that would promote the good of the public.
“However, ‘any person’ there was defined in Section 21 to mean public officers of the state. It is defined to mean somebody within the public service of Lagos State or of the local government as the case may be.
“Then, the phrase was used at the end of Section 1 that says ‘any matter’…that they can inquire into any matter. People now think that to inquire into any matter, it means that you can just be at large.
“However, if you look at Section 21 again, it says that it has to be within the legislative competence of Lagos State. In other words, it is only people over whom the Lagos State has control that they can inquire into their conduct. If you don’t have control over me, you cannot inquire into my conduct.
“The policemen, the Armed Forces, military; they are not under or officers of Lagos State, they are officers of the Federal Government. By virtue of the Constitution, it is only the Federal Government that can control the conduct of policemen and the military. Lagos State cannot be in control; they cannot legislate too, regarding police and military matters; they are on the Exclusive Legislative List.”