Fiery human rights activist and member of the #ENDSARS Judicial Inquiry Panel, MR. EBUN-OLU ADEGBORUWA SAN chronicles his encounter with Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwa-Olu and why he accepted to serve on the panel.

My phone rang unusually, but it was a call that I had to pick, given the assignment that came through that source some days earlier. He is my Learned Brother Silk and the Honourable Attorney-General of the State where I reside and practice. He is also a friend. About a week ago, he had politely requested me to serve Lagos State as a member of the Criminal Law Review Panel and I was already engrossed into that assignment, given the business-like model adopted by the Chairperson of the Panel, the Honourable Justice Adenike Coker. I had just returned from a very strenuous trip from Abuja, so I was thoroughly exhausted, but I had to pick the call. He thanked me for accepting to serve in the Criminal Law Review Panel but now he has a more urgent assignment for me. He then asked me to speak with His Excellency the Governor of Lagos State. Though the voice was somewhat calm, I could sense the urgency as well. He appealed to me to come to the aid of the State, at this time. He said he knows my position on issues and that is exactly why he has chosen me for a new assignment. He wanted people with an independent mindset who would tell it as it is, not minding what they uncover. He had given an undertaking to the youth to interface between them and the Federal Government in respect of the EndSARS protest and the National Economic Council has advised all States to set up Judicial Panels of Inquiry into the brutality suffered by citizens in the hands of the police. He wants me to serve on the Panel for Lagos State.

I thanked him and then requested for time to think about it, hoping in my mind to consult widely on the issue. I had a constituency and I began to call prominent members of my constituency, that is, civil society and the legal profession. Suggestions came forth in many ways and I gave the feedback to the State. Some adjustments were made and after securing assurances from the Governor, I accepted to serve as a member of the Panel. The next thing of course would be to ascertain the legality of the assignment, so I consulted the Tribunals of Inquiry Law of Lagos State, section 1 of which states as follows:

“1. Power to constitute Tribunal of Inquiry
(1) The Governor may when necessary, constitute one or more persons by a signed instrument, a Tribunal with authority to inquire into the conduct or affairs of any officer in the public service of the State, or any officer in a local authority in the State, or of any chief, or the management of any department of the public service or of any local authority or declarations of customary law relating to selection of an Oba or a recognized Chief or any matter relating to any chieftaincy dispute, or INTO ANY MATTER IN RESPECT OF WHICH IN THE OPINION AN INQUIRY WOULD BE FOR THE PUBLIC WELFARE.”

Given the position of the courts on the famed Oputa Panel, it became imperative to be well guided. In the opinion of the State, the Panel was primarily an attempt to heal wounds, to relate with victims of human rights abuses, by the police and other law enforcement agencies, such as Vehicle Inspection Officers, LASTMA, local government tax collectors, etc and then offer compensation. The Governor had assured of a Victims Trust Fund already established with a take-off grant of N200m, from which due compensation would be paid to the victims, as determined by the Panel. I had made other requests, concerning other members of the Panel and also my status, to serve only as a part-time member without the payment of any allowance, salary or benefit in any manner whatsoever. This was granted and indeed the Honourable Attorney-General ensured that members got the Instrument constituting the Panel signed by the Governor and also a letter of appointment. So far as these two documents were handed over to me, I was satisfied with the sincerity of the State, especially on the issue of autonomy and independence of the Panel.

The Panel members were sworn in at a brief ceremony at State House, Marina, on October 19, 2020 and we set to work immediately, by visiting the venue of its sittings at the Lagos State Waterways Authority office at Falomo, Ikoyi, Lagos. We indicated our disagreement with the venue for many reasons and the authorities obliged us with a change of venue to the Lagos Court of International Arbitration, LCIA, at the second roundabout of Lekki Phase 1. We requested an independent secretariat and other facilities, in order to be truly independent of the government. Then came the Black Tuesday, at the Lekki Toll Plaza. There was a national outrage on the events that happened at the Lekki Toll Plaza, especially as to different accounts from social media influencers. By Friday October 23, 2020, the Governor made a state broadcast by which he added the Lekki Toll Plaza matter to the terms of reference of the Panel. As usual, Panel members demanded for an Instrument in this regard.

We then set to work, developing the rules of practice and procedure for the Panel, to interview and interact with members of the Secretariat and to conduct a physical inspection of the venue for the sittings of the Panel. It would then seem very clear that the State was serious about the Panel. I have received a number of calls, counsel and prayers, about my membership of the Panel. Why would I accept to serve a government that I had battled with in court for so many years? First, the cases that I filed in court were not meant to derail the government but rather to strengthen the rule of law and help the government. Second, having fought tooth and nail these many years, any opportunity created for engagement should not be ignored by those directly involved in the struggle to liberate our people. Or how else do we secure victory if we run away from the solution? The Governor stated it to me clearly and indeed in all his public declarations on the matter that he wanted people with independent minds and who have the integrity to do a thorough job without being influenced one way or the other. Pray, how do I run away from an engagement that will lead to the compensation of victims of government brutality, most of who are the masses of our people? What then is the essence of the struggle over the years, if we shy away from holding the government accountable for its actions and inactions?

I have myself been a victim of brutality, by the police and by soldiers, by LASTMA and by other government officers, so I know what it means to be a victim. I count myself also as worthy and deserving of some compensation for the many abuses that I suffered in the past but I drop my own personal case on this occasion in the interest of others since God has been merciful to help me survive and overcome the trauma of my ordeal. So then I accepted to serve on the Panel, given the assurances of the Governor, the commitment shown with the signed legal Instrument constituting the Panel, my letter of appointment and the other members of the Panel who have all shown the desire to do a thorough job. And since I made it a condition to serve only on a pro bono basis, that in itself is a signal to the authorities that it would be a no nonsense exercise. We will say it as it is and as it should be, otherwise it will not be worth the trouble at all.

It will then be for me to appeal to all and sundry to come up with their claims, complaints and petitions. The rules of engagement by the Panel have been made so simple, such that victims can approach the Panel and be assisted by the Secretariat to document their complaints on oath, since it is a judicial panel of record. Those who wish to appear with their counsel are free to do so, by submitting their petitions accompanied with an affidavit verifying the facts of the petition. We have multiple assurances from the government and the agencies concerned of maximum cooperation with the Panel in the course of its assignment. I therefore appeal to all Nigerians to come up with the cases, video clips, write ups and other evidence of human rights abuses such as torture, extortions, arrest and detention, killings, deprivations and such other cases as perpetrated by any agency of government.

On Sunday, October 25, 2020, it was widely publicized that Ministers and Governors of the South-West visited the Governor of Lagos State on a sympathy tour of structures affected by the wanton looting and destruction that took place. In the course of their visit, they were led to the Lekki Toll Plaza, to assess the situation thereat. It was at the same Lekki Toll Plaza that the incident of alleged shooting of EndSARS protesters was said to have taken place.

Since the Panel has been vested with jurisdiction over the Lekki Toll Plaza, I verily believe that it is illegal for anyone else to conduct any visit to the said Lekki Toll Plaza in the absence of and without the authority and consent of the Panel. It was reported that in the course of the visit, the former governor of Lagos State and the Honourable Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN, discovered a hidden camera, which he took. This is a clear case of illegally tampering with exhibits that may become useful to the Panel in the course of its assignment. I appeal to the Governor of Lagos State to allow the Panel the full autonomy and independence that was promised at the time of inauguration. It is contempt of the Panel for anyone to usurp the powers of the Panel in the way that has been reported. In this regard, the Panel will not shy away from summoning anyone who is alleged to be involved in any contemptuous act that may obstruct the course of justice. It certainly cannot be business as usual.

The healing process has commenced and I can assure all Nigerians that the Panel is determined to do a thorough job, based on its terms of reference. It is painful that these infractions happened at all, but the opportunity for restitution and compensation should not be discountenanced.

Victims can reach the Panel through the following platforms: judicialpanelonsars@lagosstate.gov.ng

0901 051 3203, 0901 051 3204, 0901 051 3205. The Panel will be sitting at the Lagos Court for International Arbitration located at N0.1A, Remi Olowude Street, 2nd Roundabout, Lekki Phase 1, Lagos.

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