Lagos State deserves true healing after the disturbances that trailed last year’s protests against police brutality, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said on Tuesday.
He said only sustenance of harmony can guarantee the realisation of aspirations of all residents.
Sanwo-Olu spoke in a live broadcast held at the State House, Alausa, on the State Government’s position on the recommendations of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry on #EndSARS submitted a fortnight ago.
The governor said the state currently faced the hard choice of restoring harmony or doing itself a great harm, urging residents to join his administration in strengthening harmony and put the state on the path of peace.
Sanwo-Olu asked residents to reject those fueling anarchy and suspicion, clinging to unsubstantiated belief that carried no weight of verifiable evidence, while choosing emotion over facts.
His administration, he said, is ready to facilitate better communication between youths and the state’s security machinery to resolve issues before they become intractable.
He said he would be leading ‘A Walk for Peace’ in December to herald the healing of the land, extending an open invitation to the youths, members of the diplomatic corps, civil society groups, students and the media as well as other stakeholders to join him in the Peace Walk.
The governor specifically invited Folarin Falana (Falz), Debo Adebayo (Mr. Marcaroni), Dele Farotimi, Temitope Majekodunmi, Segun Awosanya (Segalinks), Adedotun (Just Detoun), Seun Kuti, Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu and Commander of Rapid Response Squad (RRS), CSP Yinka Egbeyemi and others to join him in the “historic march for our dear Lagos.”
He said: “Nobody will build this city for us. Let us show the world who we are. We are Lagosians. A people of great renown, driven by the irrepressible spirit of Lagos. It is a testimony to our strength and resilience as a people that, despite the huge losses incurred because of these terrible incidents, we have bounced back, with our economy as vibrant and virile as ever. I have no doubt whatsoever that our prospects are as bright as ever and the best lies ahead of Lagos State and Nigeria.
“We will make it easier for our young people to initiate formal complaints on human rights violations through the Ministry of Justice. We will also improve the coordination between the state government and the security agencies, including the police and the military. In this vein, we are studying how to improve security policy formulation, information sharing, and clarifying rules of engagement in times of social unrest.
“Just as we have established a mechanism to compensate all those who lost homes, businesses, and livelihoods to the violent destruction of October 2020, we shall also establish a detailed procedure for the just compensation of citizens with verified claims of police brutality committed during the protests.”
Speaking on last year’s #EndSARS protests and the events that followed, especially the hijack of the protests by hoodlums, which led to the destruction of public and private property worth billions of naira, the governor said the government, the youth, protesters, the Police and other security agencies have learned the appropriate lessons from the #EndSARS protests, particularly the Lekki Tollgate incident, with a view to averting any recurrence to the detriment of the state.
On mixed reactions following the release of the report of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry, Sanwo-Olu said his administration remained committed to the process that would bring a closure to a “painful episode” in the history of the state.
The much-expected White Paper, the governor pledged, will be issued later in the day.
He recalled that the panel was originally inaugurated to investigate allegations of police brutality committed by the disbanded SARS and in the aftermath of what happened on October 20, 2020, he decided to expand the mandate to include investigating what happened at the Lekki Tollgate that night.
He said: “As a matter of good faith and a sincere commitment to uncovering the truth, we constituted a panel of individuals that we believed were independent, credible, and representative of the various stakeholder communities interested in the movement against police brutality.
“Apart from the chairman of the panel being a respected retired jurist, various stakeholders including the youths, #EndSARS protesters, the police and civil society groups were represented on the panel. I am sure no member of the panel can claim that the state government made any attempt to influence them in any way throughout the duration of its sitting.
“While I commend the panel for undertaking its task to the best of its abilities, it is however regrettable that the panel’s work and the leakage of an unauthorised version of the report have generated much tension. Sadly, a deep wound has been reopened.
“The heated exchanges among various shades of opinion on the report have unfortunately put us all at the risk of missing the larger picture; the fact that what we all seek in common is a land in which we are all safe and secure, law enforcement agents are trusted, and justice is guaranteed for all.
“We have no intention to engage in histrionics or further inflame passion on a matter that has generated intense interest and controversy nationally and internationally. Our decisions and actions will be based entirely on the law, the weight of evidence, and unblemished respect for the truth.”
Governor Sanwo-Olu, while expressing his administration’s commitment to end human rights abuses, said he has never been in any doubt as to the sincerity, patriotism and noble motivations of both organisers of EndSARS protests and those who participated in the movement to see an end to the human rights abuses by the now disbanded Special Anti- Robbery Squad (SARS).
He said it is also on record that the Federal Government accepted all the demands of the protesters, including the immediate scrapping of SARS, adding that the National Economic Council (NEC) also recommended the establishment of State Panels of Inquiry into cases of police brutality and the Lagos State Government was the first to set up its own panel.
He said: “I can boldly say that no state took the advocacy for police reforms and justice in the face of documented brutality more seriously than we did in Lagos. We have so far paid N420 million in compensation to victims of police brutality, in line with the recommendations of the panel.
“My good people of Lagos State, you will also recall that in solidarity with the protesters, I joined our youths at various points during the demonstrations, particularly at the Lekki Tollgate and Alausa.
“I received the charter of demands of the protesters and promised to pass them on to the President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari.
“I kept my word and passed on the demands to the President, who promised to act promptly on the issues raised. However, perhaps as a result of entrenched lack of trust between the government and the governed over the years, the protesters responded to the government’s concessions with skepticism, and the demonstrations continued, even growing in intensity.
“Regrettably, what had been very well organized and peaceful protests were subsequently hijacked in different parts of the country, particularly in Lagos. In the ensuing descent into anarchy, many of our compatriots were caught up in the violence. Several policemen were killed. Public and private property, including critical infrastructure, were set on fire, leading to losses estimated at several billions of naira.
“At that point, I imposed a curfew to restore normalcy in Lagos. We had only one goal in mind: the maintenance of law and order, and the protection of citizens going about their daily lives. This is more than a legal duty. It is a sacred obligation under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which I swore to uphold,” the governor explained.