Leaked #EndSARS Judicial Panel Report – To What End?

In the last decade, many campaigns have breezed through the Nigerian public sphere, from #OccupyNigeria to #BringBackOurGirls, #SexForGrades, and even #RevolutionNow. However, none garnered such deep concerns, enjoyed such immense interests, and riddled almost every stratum of the Nigerian society as the #EndSars campaign, which made its first public appearance in 2016, has done. It is, thus, not surprising that when the movement morphed into an expansive protest in many states in Nigeria and the demonstrators demanded a 5-point request, the Lagos State Government raced to constitute a judicial panel of inquiry into the alleged impunity of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the police.

He said “a better run and administered Police force would undoubtedly be to the advantage of the Government and all residents of the state. Our stance is Zero tolerance for police brutality. The setting up of the Judicial Panel is a very important step in the journey to reforming the police.”

On October 19, 2020, the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu,  inaugurated an 8-man Judicial Panel of inquiry to review allegations of abuses by the notorious SARS unit and suggest recommendations to remedy any damages and heal sores. Just a day after the constitution of the panel, the state witnessed what has remained largely a riddle. Consequent to this, the panel’s terms of reference were expanded to include a specific review of the Lekki Toll Gate Incident which received global condemnation and earned the Lagos and Federal Government’s global aspersions.

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One death is enough tragedy. However, with allegations that the Lekki Toll Gate Incident of October 20, 2020, resulted in the mindless killing of over 120 peaceful protesters (Amnesty International) by the Nigerian Army, nothing is more dear than the truth.

After more than a year, the Hon. Justice Okuwobi-led ‘fellowship of the truth’ would eventually submit a report that has brought fresh doubts and controversies. Foremost, a panel of such repute ought to know that its report was for the government which constituted it and not the public. The supposed leak that made the rounds on social media before the original presentation to the governor and the insinuations that the report presented to Governor Sanwo-Olu could be different cast doubts on the integrity of the panel and its report and have brokered fresh conspiracy theories that will deepen the distrust between government and citizens.

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More shocking are the conclusions of the report and the verdict that the Lekki Told Gate Incident can qualify for ‘a massacre in context’ even as there is no sound evidence to corroborate the verdict. As a broadcast journalist, like many others, who covered the entire proceedings of the panel; witnessed the evidential warfare between invited parties, the thorough examination of claims and exhibits and the ensuing detailed cross-examinations, the findings of the panel as published in the report put a dent in my fiery hope for truth. None who participated actively in the panel’s yearlong exercise would have expected such a report awash with incongruity from the Justice Okuwobi-led panel. In logic, true conclusions always have true premises, without which such conclusions are considered flawed and untrue. Needless to say that the third term of reference given to the panel at its constitution was ‘to evaluate and draw conclusions on the validity of such petitions/memoranda received.’ But could we say they did even with the obvious discrepancies?

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As Frank Herbert once said, ‘emotions are the curse of logic.’ In a dire situation as this, we must, as a people, renew our commitment to the truth than let our frustration direct our verdict. There can be no justice when the truth is elusive.

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