- Panel Chair Rules: ‘Forensic team will no longer require any visit to the Plaza’… It’s ‘Foolhardy’ to continue to stop LCC Operations
- Adegboruwa: Ruling ‘hasty, premature, ‘ll overreach Panel’s Recommendations’
By Abiola Olawale
Saturday’s sitting of the Lagos Judicial Panel of Inquiry investigating the Lekki shootings and other cases of police brutality degenerated into a quarrelsome session as panel members kicked against the order of Doris Okuwobi, a retired judge and the Panel Chairperson, to allow the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) to reopen the Lekki Toll plaza, around where the shooting incident of October 20, 2020 occurred.
Toll operations at the plaza were put on hold as a result of the damages caused during the attack on protesters by the military, following the #EndSARS protests.
The argument for the repossession of the Plaza by LCC threw up a major debate and squabble at the panel’s proceedings, Saturday, leading to discordant tunes among the panel members.
While announcing the ruling on the matter, Okuwobi, accompanied by four other members said the panel is satisfied with the forensic report and as a result the LCC should be granted permission to renovate the Lekki toll plaza and continue with its operation.
The ruling reads, “To put the record straight, it is the jurisdiction of this panel to investigate the incident of October 2020 and make recommendations is the premise by which the panel must comply with jurisdiction to look into the Lekki case. The Lekki toll plaza is considered the seat of event of that day. This panel has given ample opportunity to all petitioners to access the toll plaza with the view to considering the investigation. The panel in its ruling had decided that it will not take that ground and will only maintain control until its forensic expert concludes his report. The report is ready as the panel has been satisfied and the assurances from the forensic team that it will no longer require any visit to the plaza. The panel has decided that it will not await the termination of the petitioners before it hands over control of Lekki to LCC. To say that its wreckage be preserved as evidence beats my imagination. Whatever evidence any interested person decides to have must have been taken before now as the petitioners do not have any review before the panel to restrain the use of the toll plaza. Justice is a double-edged sword both for the petitioners and the LCC and the company was unfortunate to have its place of business vandalised during the protest. It will be foolhardy for any reasonable petitioner to say the toll plaza be closed for the lifetime of the assignment of the panel. The hearing of petitions of victims is not be seen to be tied to the closure of the plaza indefinitely. It is unheard off that a crime scene of this nature would be closed. We see a lot of sentiments going on in this whole matter of repossession of the tollgate by the LCC; a place people were alleged to have died or ‘massacred’. These are statements of no truth. In that case, the panel has find no tangible evidence with this allegation. They are mere speculations and the panel will not speculate and sentiments have no place in law. The speculations that the doctors that testified from Reddington of bullets removed from victims would not take any party back to the toll plaza. We should all be good citizens of the state and not for any consideration take a short route to justice. Upon all said, I thereby give an order for LCC to repossess the tollgate which has been under the control of the panel upon indication given that the forensic analysis of the said toll plaza are to be concluded. The order made for repossession is for evaluation of the plaza by LCC insurers, renovation and total control.”
Following the ruling, the panel members at the proceedings kicked against it on the ground that investigation is still ongoing.
Ebun Adegboruwa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Patience Udoh, a lawyer and human rights activists Rinuola Oduola, and Temitope Majekodunmi among other members opposed the ruling of the judge.
Disagreeing with the ruling, Adegboruwa said the reopening of the plaza at this time “is hasty, premature and will overreach the work and eventual recommendations of the panel.”
In his words, “Investigation by the panel over the Lekki Tollgate incident is still ongoing, it will therefore be premature to hand over the plaza that is still subject of panel’s investigation and proceedings, to LCC. It will overreach whatever decisions the panel may reach and foist a situation of complete helplessness and a fait accompli, on members of the Panel, in respect of any recommendation that it may make, on the general operations of the plazas. The panel is yet to ascertain the claims and counter-claims of fatalities and massacre of citizens on 20th October, 2020. If indeed such is established eventually, taking over the Toll Plaza at this time upon, the blood of the innocent citizens will be insensitive, callous and totally uncharitable to the memories of those who might have died. The final report of the Panel will lose credibility, if ever before it is submitted the subject matter of its investigation and proceedings, is already compromised.”
Similarly, Udoh, said the ruling was unnecessary as the forensic report of the plaza hasn’t been concluded. In her words, “Toll plaza should remain shut and under the purview of the panel until full investigations and hearings are concluded. As indicated by the provisions of the Panel’s Rules 2020 – Rule 6(1&2), every member of the Panel has a legal duty to provide written contributions to any report to be issued in response to any application or matter brought before the Panel. We have made efforts to communicate our position on the application by LCC to take repossession of the Lekki Toll Gate to the Chairlady as required by the Rules of the Panel but our dissent was not reflected in the ruling. It is important to ensure there is a full and thorough investigation into the Lekki Tollgate incidence to ensure justice for all victims and every one found culpable is recommended for appropriate action under the law.”
It would be recalled that, Rotimi Seriki, the Counsel for the LCC, had on four different occasions, submitted applications to the panel to order the reopening of the toll plaza.
The Lagos inquiry panel was set up following the killings that happened at the lekki toll plaza on October 20, 2020.
The panel is designated with the responsibilities of investigating who opened fire on unarmed youths who were at the tollgate protesting police brutality. The panel is also investigating the police brutality cases in the state.