•Peterside flays lies
•Falana calls for implementation of report
Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja, Chiemelie Ezeobi in Lagos, and Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City
The just-released report of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry (JPI) on the Lagos #EndSARS protests last year has continued to generate interest within and outside the country, with the United Nations (UN) and the United States (U.S.) yesterday calling on both the federal and Lagos State governments to ensure the implementation of the White Paper on the report.
The UN, in a statement yesterday by its Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, urged the country to carry out a thorough execution of the recommendations of the judicial panel to rebuild trust and start the process of healing and reconciliation in the aftermath of the events of October 20, 2020.
Founder of Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc and renowned economist, Mr. Atedo Peterside, yesterday took a swipe at the government for denying the Lekki Tollgate killings, insisting that no country can make progress when it is led by people he described as “prominent liars.” Peterside spoke during a programme on Arise Television, THISDAY’s broadcast arm.
In a similar tone, human tights activist and lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said Lagos State was duty-bound to implement the report of the judicial panel of inquiry. Falana, who is Interim Chair of the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), stated that the report had exposed the official lie that the brutal killings were a figment of the protesters’ imaginations.
However, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Lucky Irabor, said on Tuesday in Benin City that only a White Paper from the #EndSARS judicial panel’s report could be the basis for informed comment.
But Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) demanded the institution of criminal prosecution against those indicted in the #ENDSARS report. The civil society group said this in a statement by its Director of Programmes, Philip Jakpor.
The judicial panel led by Justice Doris Okuwobi (rtd) had on Monday submitted a 309-page report to the Lagos State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, which indicted the army, police, and the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) for various crimes, ranging from killing innocent protesters to trying to conceal evidence.
The federal and Lagos State governments had at various times maintained that there were no deaths at the Lekki tollgate, effectively absolving themselves of any blames in the October 20, 2020 incident.
However, the panel of inquiry said 48 casualties were recorded at the tollgate, including 11 deaths, several missing persons, and many injured persons. It said 96 other corpses were presented to it by a Forensic Pathologist, Professor John Obafunwa.
A statement yesterday by the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria said the submission of the report of the judicial panel was a welcome development. He stated that the submission of the findings of the panel would accelerate the process of justice and accountability for those impacted by the incident.
“I urge the government to implement the recommendations of the judicial panel of inquiry to rebuild trust and start the process of healing and reconciliation,” Kallon added.
In a similar release yesterday, the U.S. government called for accountability in the implementation of the JPI report. It urged the Lagos State government and the federal government to take appropriate steps to address the alleged abuses.
The U.S. government said the report seriously indicted some members of the country’s security apparatus, stating that it is eagerly awaiting the response of government at the state and federal levels to the document.
The statement said, “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 the Lagos State and federal governments taking suitable measures to address those alleged abuses as well as the grievances of the victims and their families.”
Peterside said on Arise Television that Nigerian youth now had a chance to channel their anger and energies to make a statement in the 2023 general election by ensuring only credible persons run the affairs of the country henceforth.
According to the businessman, to ensure peace and unity in Nigeria, justice and truth must be critical principles guiding both the leaders and the followers.
“A nation that prominent liars are at the front will not make any progress and it becomes very dangerous because even when they are trying to tell the truth, nobody believes them,” he stated.
Peterside insisted that it was laughable that someone could sit in Abuja and confidently deny what occurred at the Lekki Tollgate, when those at the scene of the killings gave first-hand accounts of what transpired.
He stated, “It is tempting to laugh at those in government who came out and started making all kinds of wild statements. Why would somebody who was in Abuja be making statements about what happened and did not happen in Lekki when the named soldiers who were in Lekki have refused to open their mouths to say anything in front of a judicial panel?
“My assumption as a lay person is that the person who was on a crime scene knows that if he goes to a judicial panel and takes an oath and they ask him, did you or did you not kill somebody? Who did you shoot? He could be in trouble.
“So, if that person is running away, I expect others to have the wisdom to say, hang on a second, don’t ask me any questions, go and ask those who were at the scene.”
Peterside described officials who pushed a contrary narrative on the incident as “overzealous people in government” making hasty conclusions. But he commended the panel members for their courage and forthrightness.
“At the end of the day, we have some heroes from this exercise and it’s at such moments that nations get formed. If there was no Lekki Tollgate, there are many things that may never happen in this country,” he stated, cautioning the Lagos State government against shielding security operatives and government officials indicted by the report.
According to Peterside, “The Lekki Tollgate incident of October 20, 2020 may well be an important tipping point. Let’s wait for the White Paper from the Lagos State government. But from the little we all saw, and we’ve got brains, I would like to see how the Lagos State government would not prosecute people who were involved in the cover-up. And we want to see how Lagos State Government will not prosecute the people who refused to appear before a judicial panel.”
Peterside also urged the Lagos State Ministry of Justice to rise up to its responsibility, pointing out that Nigeria will not change until people stand up and do the right thing. “The judicial panel has stood up and we must clap for them,” he noted.
He added, “The governor of Lagos State must meet its own obligations and, like I told the youth during the #EndSARS, yes, you are angry and this judicial panel report might make you even angrier because the evidence is there that people were lying.
“But that anger should be channelled at something and it should be channelled towards the next election which is in 15 months’ time.”
Falana said, in a statement, that a certified copy of the report of the panel should be forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari in view of the recommendation that the soldiers and police personnel who engaged in the torture and reckless murder of citizens be sanctioned.
He urged the Lagos State government to accelerate the issuance of the White Paper as well as the implementation of the far-reaching recommendations. The human rights activist also said the policemen who were killed by criminal elements during the protests should be honoured, notwithstanding that the Lagos State government had compensated their family members.
He stated, “However, as police brutality has continued unabated, we call on the government to set up the Lagos State Human Rights Committee in line with the recommendation of the panel. This was part of the unanimous resolutions of the members of the National Economic Council (NEC).”
Falana commended the witnesses and their lawyers for exposing what he termed “the official cover-up of the egregious human rights abuse perpetrated by the merchants of death”. He called on the Lagos State government to designate venues where aggrieved citizens could hold rallies in exercise of their fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and expression.
He stated, “The violent attack of unarmed protesters during peaceful rallies by police and military personnel should be completely outlawed 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 peaceful meetings and rallies.”
But the CDS said only a White Paper could for the basis for comment on the #EndSARS panel report. He assured, however, that the Nigerian Armed Forces remained committed to their professional calling of protecting the territorial integrity of the country. Irabor cautioned Nigerians against inciting comments on happenings across the country.
Speaking to journalists shortly after a courtesy visit to Governor Godwin Obaseki at Government House, Irabor said the operations of the armed forces should not be compared to that of the police, adding that his men and women remain professionals.
Irabor, who was on a familiarisation visit to military formations in Edo State, said, “I am sure those of you in the media must have seen that there is a report that was released, though, in my view, a wrong channel that is making the rounds in the social media.
“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 conventional authority and then there will be a White Paper based on which one can make informed comments.
“But whatever you see currently, I will like to indicate that the armed forces of Nigeria is professional, we are peopled by Nigerians and we remain committed to constitutional mandates. So 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 ambit of the provision.
“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. So in the meantime, until I see the full report, I may not be able to…
“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 and remember, we are not talking about the police, we are talking about the armed forces, with emphasis, armed forces, so when the armed forces are called out, it is because there is a need for the armed forces; there is no one who do not require and desire to live in peace. We need to understand that the armed forces is there to keep the peace, to provide the ambience that will enable each and every Nigerian to live up to his desires in peace and harmony.
“Let us not make inciting comments that will put the entire space on fire, that is not right.”
Earlier, Obaseki lauded the CDS for his efforts at improving security in the country. Obaseki sought the collaboration and support of the defence chief in the effort to eliminate bandits and other criminals from Edo forests.
The governor told Irabor, “You are one person that we are very proud of; apart from being a well-decorated officer, in a short while, you have taken charge of the defense functions through your network. We have been watching with admiration the way you are coping and thriving with the very difficult challenge of stabilising the security of this country.”
Obaseki added, “We have been able to record quite a lot of success in relation to what is going on in the rest of the country. We have some challenges and we would like you to support us. We are currently experiencing problems in some of our forests, particularly the Okomu axis, which borders the Ose River.
“We find bandits and criminals coming there to undertake massive logging of woods and transport them; they now buy arms to reinforce their activities there. I am glad you came with all the men in the navy to see how you can give us additional support to patrol the waterways to checkmate the activities of these criminals.”
He further noted, “In the last couple of weeks, we have found lifeless bodies in the forest, which is now a den for cultivation of cannabis. We would like to work with the military to root out these criminals.
“We want to assure you that you can always count on us in Edo to help in working with you to stabilise the security situation in this country.”
CAPPA, in its statement, recounted that the panel sat for over a year before submitting its findings to the Lagos State government on November 15, after establishing the fact that the Nigerian Army, led by Lieutenant Colonel Bello, was at Lekki Gate on October 20, 2020, and further described the event of that day as a ‘’massacre in a context’’.
The statement said, “Part of the recommendations of the panel included that all men of the Nigerian Army, excluding Major General Omata, that were deployed to the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020, should be made to face appropriate disciplinary action and, or stripped of their status and dismissed, while disciplinary actions should be taken against Major General Godwin Umelo and Lt. Col S.O. Bello, who refused to honour the summons of the panel in order to frustrate the investigation.
“The panel indicted Nigerian Army officers of having ‘shot’, injured and killed unarmed helpless and defenceless protesters, without provocation or justification, while they were waving the Nigerian Flag and singing the national anthem and the manner of assault and killing could in context be described as a massacre.”
“Despite an abundance of evidence which includes testimonials and visuals, the Nigerian government continued to deny that protesters were shot and killed. Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, even went as far as describing the Lekki incident as a ‘phantom massacre’.”
In is reaction, CAPPA’s Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi said the events of October 20, 2020 were a sad commentary on the country.
He stated, “The findings of the judicial panel that the Lagos State government received is what we confirmed long ago and documented in our report Lies and the Hail of Bullets.”
Oluwafemi pointed out that in the face of undeniable atrocities perpetrated by Nigerian security forces the Nigerian government and their image-makers walked the lonely road of woeful denial, adding, “what we are now demanding is justice for the victims.”
“The report both in print and video documentary format was accompanied by a follow-up letter by CAPPA to the United Nations, office of the High Commissioner and the International Criminal Court, urging both bodies to act and investigate the incident.”
Source: THIS DAY