The Lagos State Government on Tuesday night released the much awaited white paper (whatever makes it white) on the report of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and Other Matters.
The Lagos Government lived up to the expectations of many Nigerians who never expected anything surprising from the white paper, believing that nothing concrete will come out of it. It would have been an aberration and a total departure from the norm, many reasoned, if the state government had accepted the panel’s report, which was largely an indictment on not just the state government, but also the Federal and the nation’s security agencies.
The flurry of comments, condemnation and fault findings that trailed the release of the report, starting from the counsel to the Lagos State government, attacking the integrity and credibility of members of the panel, was more of an agenda setting move by the state government, preparing the ground for what will be released as a white paper on the report.
Following closely were the diatribes from the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who dubbed the report of the panel as fake and its findings as tales by moonlight! And off course, the Lagos State government’s white paper aligned with Mohammed’s outburst when it described the findings as ‘totally unreliable.’
Worthy of note also was Festus Keyamo’s outright declaration that the Lagos State #ENDSARS panel was illegal.
Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and off course, a sitting Minister of State for Labour and Employment, was disrespectful enough to declare a judicial panel properly constituted by the Lagos State government, an independent tier of government recognised by the Nigerian Constitution as illegal. A declaration that should have incurred the wrath of the state government, but for the agenda setting purpose its ultimately served.
To cap the agenda setting programme outlay, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on Tuesday afternoon, without prior notice, addressed the state on the #ENDSARS protest and report, without expressly giving himself out, talking about peace, healing and off course, how he gave the judicial panel free hand to operate.
However, those who read between the lines saw it coming, a final death sentence to the report of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry, an effort that lasted for one full year, the painstaking work of men and women, who have over the years carved a niche for themselves in their different areas of human endeavour.
A panel that included a retired high court judge, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police and many more, was with a wave of the hand dumped and discredited as ‘totally unreliable’.
“The inconsistencies and contradictions in the entire JPI Report concerning the number of persons who died at LTG on 20 October 2020 and their cause of death rendered the JPI’s findings conclusions thereon as totally unreliable and therefore unacceptable”, the Lagos State government white paper said in part.
In discrediting the report, the white paper relied heavily on the evidence of a pathologist, Professor Obafunwa, that only three bodies were brought to him for autopsy from the Lekki Tollgate and that only one died from gunshot wounds.
“This recommendation is not acceptable to Lagos State Government for the following reasons: The finding of the JPI at page 288 paragraph M is that “The evidence of the pathologist Prof Obafunwa that only 3 of the bodies that they conducted post mortem examination on were from Lekki and only one had gunshot injury and this was not debunked.
“We deem it credible as the contrary was not presented before the panel”, the white paper said.
The questions the Lagos State government should however answer is what happened to allegations that the military took away corpses of some of those shot at the Lekki Tollgate on the night of 20 October, 2020? Why was the military not disposed to allowing members of the panel inspect the mortuary of the military hospital in Yaba when they visited at the beginning of their sittings? Why did the military reject summons to appear before the panel to defend themselves and clear every doubt?
The committee that produced the white paper should also have known that Professor Obafunwa could only speak on the bodies brought to him only and that does not in anyway take away the fact that there might have been other bodies!
Another sore point in the Lagos State White paper was the denial that some private hospitals in Ikoyi and Lekki areas of the state treated victims of gunshots.
This denial runs contrary to the widely publicised visit of Governor Sanwo-Olu to some hospitals that night, with claims that he paid for the treatment of some of those that were being attended to. Or was that merely a populist publicity stunt because of the precarious situation at that time? Unsurprisingly Nigeria!
Nigerians are used to things like this, and have resolved not to be surprised when they come up but the damage the Lagos State government has done to itself may be monumental. Whatever trust the people of the state, especially youths have for the government and the Governor Sanwo-Olu may have just developed wings, unfortunately.
For the youths and arrowheads of the #ENDSARS protest, this may just be the time for reality check, a time to acknowledge that nothing will work until they all get involved in the process of choosing the right leaders that are humane, selfless and with the interest of the people at heart. It may just be the clarion call for them to get into the trenches of partisan politics and get involved actively in governance, as it has become glaring that nobody can protect their interests more than them!