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Human Rights

UPDATED: Lagos panel suspends #EndSARS sitting till further notice

www.nigerianeyenewspaper.com-Lagos-State-endsars-enquiry-suspended
www.nigerianeyenewspaper.com-Lagos-State-endsars-enquiry-suspended

The Lagos State Judicial panel of enquiry has suspended its sitting until further notice.

Doris Okuwobi, a retired judge heading the panel, announced this on Saturday.

“There are two reports that we are expected to work on, we are not close enough to any of them, we cannot continue with the sitting and end up the assignment without concluding. So we will not be sitting from today,” Mrs Okuwobi said of the indefinite adjournment.

“But as soon as we find ourselves in a comfortable situation, we will send hearing notices to cases that have been listed.

“Please bear with us, we cannot speculate on any further extension. We have to work towards completing the assignment as early as we can.”

She added that during the break, the panel will “evaluate, collate and make findings” regarding the Lekki shooting.

The sudden indefinite adjournment comes nearly a year after the panel initially suspended sitting following the withdrawal of youth representatives from the exercise.

The panel, however, resumed sitting in December 2020 with a mandate to conclude hearings by October 19, 2021.

In his immediate response to the adjournment, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and member of the panel, said their efforts were being frustrated.

“There are attempts to frustrate the EndSARS Judicial Panel from reaching meaningful conclusions on investigations into the Lekki Toll Gate incident of 20th October 2020. I will give details subsequently,” Mr Adegboruwa said in a short statement to journalists.

Forensic witnesses

Earlier, the lawyers representing Lagos State, Abiodun Owonikoko and Olukayode Enitan, made an application before the panel requesting that they be allowed to bring in two expert witnesses from the UK.

Following their request, the panel took a break to deliberate. When the panel resumed, Mrs Okuwobi denied their application, saying “we cannot afford much time.”

“We cannot accommodate such evidence at the moment.”

“At this point, it will be impracticable to take the forensic and security expert from the UK,” she said.

Thereafter, Mr Enitan said the panel should have adopted the “front-loading method” when he suggested it at the beginning of the hearing.

“At the beginning, I suggested that front-loading should be adopted. My lord, we are back there.”

He said if their application isn’t considered, “it will be like a bird flying with one wing.”

“We have always been present, at no point were we not here. And never have we requested for an adjournment except for once.ADVERTISEMENT

“It will be most unfair to not want to hear what we want to say. I would advise that the panel adopt a process that will ensure that all sides are heard.”

Also, a lawyer representing the Lekki Concession Company (LCC), Rotimi Seriki, said “I believe that in the interest of justice and given that this is a fact-finding exercise, any piece of evidence that will allow this panel in arriving at a decision should not be shut out.”

When the panel head asked Mr Enitan if the expert witness could be flown in immediately, he said no.

He explained that they will be required to observe the COVID-19 travel protocol before their appearance.

Adeshina Ogunlana, a lawyer representing some of the #EndSARS protesters, suggested that the panel should take the expert witness by virtual means.

He also advised that the sitting be either extended or an additional weekday be added to the settings of justice.”

Background

On October 19, 2020, the Lagos state government set up a nine-man Judicial Panel of Inquiry to investigate cases of brutality and human rights violations perpetrated by operatives of the Nigerian Police Force and the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

The panel was set up as a response to one of the demands of youth during the #EndSARS protests, which is investigating cases of police brutality and providing restitution to the victims.

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