Sunday Magazine

EndSARS panel’s report: Awaiting justice for victims of recklessness

• We can’t be humane to society that dehumanises us – Police Officer


• ‘Human rights won’t be relevant to policing’


• 99 bodies dumped in various mortuaries by soldiers traced to Tollgate

 

The Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and other Matters and Lekki Incident Investigation of 20 October 2020, has submitted its report to the Governor Babajide Sanwo – Olu. This is currently eliciting reactions from relatives of deceased, survivors and well meaning Nigerians. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA reports that not a few who reacted to the report want both the state and Federal Governments to implement the panel’s 32 – point recommendations and to ensure that those indicted were brought to book

 

“Shattered so many lives, tried to destroy mine…Only for what you desperately tried to hide to be made public…by you. The truth needs no defence! #EndSARS.” These were the words of Obianuju Udeh, popularly known as DJ Switch, while reacting to the report of the Judicial Panel on #EndSARS released by the Panel.

 

Despite the continuous denial by the government that nobody was killed at Lekki Tollgate during the #EndSARS protests, the newly released Panel’s report seemed to have vindicated DJ Switch and other survivors, who insisted that massacre of defenceless protesters occurred at the Toll Plaza.

 

In spite of alleged lies told by the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, that nobody died at the toll plaza, the report confirmed that nine people were killed while 35 others were, either assaulted or shot by the police and the soldiers. Furthermore, the report said that some of the 96 bodies deposited at various mortuaries in the state by the soldiers, some of them were traced to Lekki Tollgate massacre.

 

DJ Switch, who fled the country when her safety was no longer guaranteed by the state and its actors that were allegedly bent on silencing her, links experiences to the massacre, weaving her reminiscences with a glimpse of the horror and terror she went through. “On this day, last year 20.10.20, we were filled with hopes that young Nigerians took a solid stand. Through all the government’s antics, lies, counter protesters and thugs that were sent to attack us… we stood our ground,” she recalled.

“When the Nigerian government exhausted all their poorly planned tactics… they unleashed nothing short of evil on its citizens. I’ve not been able to talk today… and I cannot imagine what others, who had it worse, feel. “I’m so proud of our young generation of leaders and our celebrities that have shown great leadership. I also must say, it is not a one day affair… this is a fight for the very fabric of our nation,” she quipped.

“My life changed on this day… for worse. But, I also believe it changed for good. I now know what it means to need something so bad… and that need for me is a better Nigeria.

“To the youths who risked it all today in order to remember 20.10.20, are in every bit Superman/ Superwoman! Thanks to @davido for an anthem to remember,” she said at the first anniversary of the Lekki massacre,” she added. Reacting to the entirety of the revealing report, a panel of discussants on a radio programme wanted government officials and politicians, who lied to Nigerians that there were no shootings at Lekki Tollgate to publicly apologise to the nation.

 

They held that the police officers identified and indicted by the report, should be punished, insisting that the police and the soldiers, who went to the Lekki Tollgate to clean up the place to destroy the evidence should also be asked the whereabouts of the missing bodies and must be brought to justice. According to them, others who kept on defending the army by saying there was no shooting would be charged as accessories to genocide and should be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

 

Unfortunately, a serving senior police officer, who spoke to Sunday Telegraph on condition of anonymity, said the whole episode was a mockery of the country’s political values and norms, saying that many of such recommendations were made in the past and were not implemented.

The source said: “What happened to them? They are gathering dust in the archives. Since Channels TV did a report and highlighted the plights of the police, what has happened? President Buhari promised to implement police reforms.

What happened? “Let me tell you.

 

The police will never be humane to the society which dehumanised them. Human rights will never be relevant to policing.” Acting in response to these ugly situations in the country, the United Nations (UN) tasked the government’s commitment towards implementing the panel’s recommendations in order for it not to go the way of others. In a statement by the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon, the body welcomed the reports of the judicial panel on claims of brutality and shooting during the 2020 EndSARS protests.

 

“I urge the government to implement the recommendations of the judicial panel to rebuild trust and start the process of healing and reconciliation,” said the UN’s statement  Corroborating it, the United States government, in its reaction to the panel’s report, called on the Federal and Lagos State governments to seek suitable measures to address the alleged abuses, as well as the grievances of victims of the 2020 #EndSARS protest.

The statement issued by the US Embassy in Nigeria, reads in part: “The United States welcomes the conclusion of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry with the transmission of its final report. “We look forward to the Lagos State government’s response as part of a process that represents an important mechanism of accountability regarding the #EndSARS protests and the events that took place near the Lekki Tollgate on October 20, 2020.

“Those events led to serious allegations against some members of the security forces, and we look forward to Lagos State and Federal Governments taking suitable measures to address those alleged abuses as well as the grievances of the victims and their families.”

More so, the Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said perpetrators  must face justice, saying that Amnesty International is at home with the panel’s report, which confirmed that Nigerian army and police shot peaceful protesters at the Lekki tollgate.

He noted that the panel’s findings revealed the truth about what happened at Lekki, which contradicts the shameful denial by the Nigerian government that deadly force was used against peaceful #EndSARS protesters.

 

“For the survivors and relatives of the dead, the judicial panel’s findings are only the first step towards justice and restitution. President Buhari must act promptly to ensure that those found to be responsible for shooting and attacks on peaceful protesters are brought to justice in fair trial,” it added. The report also demands the Nigerian authorities to ensure access to justice and effective remedies, including adequate compensation, restitution, and guarantee of non-repetition to victims and their families.”

 

Again, the Interim Chairman, Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, said the revelation that some of the 99 dead bodies dumped in the various mortuaries in Lagos by soldiers were traced to the Lekki Tollgate has exposed the official lie that the report of the brutal killing was a figment of the imagination of the protesters.

 

He recommended that a certified copy of report of the panel should be forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari, given the recommendation that the soldiers and police personnel who engaged in the torture and reckless murder of citizens be sanctioned. He noted that the policemen, who were killed by criminal elements during the protests should be honoured, notwithstanding that their family members have been compensated by Lagos State government.”

 

Also reacting to the report, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), accused the Nigerian government led by the All Progressives Congress (APC) of being murderous, describing the handlers in President Muhammadu Buhari’s government as bloody liars for attempting to cover up their atrocities.

 

In a statement by its spokesperson, Kola Ologbondiyan, titled ‘Lagos EndSARS Report: PDP Demands Prosecution of Killers, APC Collaborators,’ it said: “The PDP says the report by the Lagos State EndSARS panel confirming the gruesome killings of innocent youths at the Lekki Tollgate during the 2020 EndSARS protest, strengthened the fact that APC is running a murderous and oppressive regime that has no regard for life.

“It is now clear that no matter how much the wicked strive in denial, the truth will always prevail. Therefore, the blood of our innocent youths killed by agents of the APC and its administration must not be shed in vain.

Those responsible for these callous acts must be made to face justice. “Of course, all those whose hands have become bloodstained will never know peace. The PDP hereby invites Nigerians to stand for our slain compatriots by ensuring that those behind the massacre of our youths as well as their supporters in government have their days in the dock.

“The PDP again commiserates with the families of the slain young Nigerians, who were cut in their prime for demanding for a just, equitable and secure nation governed by the rule of law.”

However, the families of nine protesters, who were allegedly killed are currently recounting their ordeals on that fateful day.

 

The nine people, who paid the ultimate price with their lives include Victor Sunday Ibanga; Abuta Solomon Jide; Olalekan Abideen Ashafa; Olamilekan Ajasa; Kolade Salami; Folorunsho Olabisi; Kenechukwu Ugoh and Nathaniel Solomon, while Abiodun Adesanya, Ifeanyi Nicholas Eji, Tola and Wisdom, who are currently missing are presumed dead.

 

While the missing persons presumed to be dead, were, perhaps, those bodies that were allegedly taken away by the police and soldiers in order to cover up their tracks and leave no vestiges behind, it was noted that 96 other corpses were presented by a forensic pathologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Prof. John Obafunwa.

Thus, in their endless search for missing loved ones, between October and November, 2020, relatives of Lagos #EndSARS protesters, who didn’t return home after the joint operations of Nigerian Police and Army unleashed terror on the defenceless youths, went round the hospitals in search of their loved ones with high hopes to meet them alive.

They were slain by the police and soldiers while singing the Nigerian National Anthem, and waving the Nigerian flags, protesting for a better Nigeria. After a long search for them in the hospital wards, they extended their search to mortuaries to no avail.

So, family members who suspected that their loved ones were victims of the #ENDSARS protest outcome lamented over the evil of the police and army. Many of them extended their search to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, with the hope of locating their missing relatives if they are still alive; or to have the opportunity to identify and claim their bodies if they are dead.

This was followed after a public announcement was directed at those who have lost loved ones between October 19 and 27, 2020. To assuage the pain and agony of the survivors and the relatives of the deceased, the Panel also made a total of 32 recommendations including sanctioning the officers of the Nigerian Army and the Police, who participated in shooting, injuring and killing of unarmed protestors at the Lekki Tollgate.

The Panel recommended development of more robust engagement between the youth and the government; and setting up of a standing committee/tribunal to deal with cases of violation of human rights by security agencies and a trust fund to settle compensation awarded by such committee/tribunal.

 

It equally called for a public apology to #EndSARS protesters who were killed, injured and traumatised by the incident of October 20, 2020. However, the Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, General Lucky Irabor, in his reaction to the report, said only a White Paper on the report would confirm the alleged incidents. He said Nigerian Armed Forces remained committed to its professional calling of protecting the territorial integrity of Nigeria. He also cautioned Nigerians against making inciting comments on what was happening across the country, saying, “I am sure those of you in the media must have seen that there is a report that was released.

 

“Whether it is a true report, I can’t tell but I would like to indicate that the normal procedure is to have such a report submitted to the convening authority and then, there will be a white paper, based on which one can make informed comments.

 

“But whatever you see currently, I would like to indicate that the armed forces of Nigeria are professional, we are peopled by Nigerians and we remain committed to constitutional mandates. “We do not at this point, think that Nigerians should make disparaging remarks regarding the armed forces of Nigeria in the sense that we are professional armed forces and if there are issues, of course, we address them within the ambits of the provisions of the law.

 

“It will not be right to disparage men and women, who have worked so hard to ensure that the territorial integrity of this nation is kept intact. Meantime, until I see the full report, I may not be able to comment, but I can assure you that the armed forces of Nigeria are well disciplined and we do not engage in any ignoble acts.

 

“If Nigerians don’t trust us, then we wouldn’t have been doing what we are doing and in any case, it is the armed forces of Nigeria. So, let us not make inciting comments that will put the entire space on fire. That is not right.”

 

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