On Saturday, the Lagos State Judicial Panel on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and other Matters suspended its sitting indefinitely.
The Chairperson of the panel, Justice Doris Okuwobi (retd), announced the suspension, saying that the break is needed to “evaluate, collate and make findings” on the Lekki shootings.
The panel was set up on October 27, 2020, to investigate cases of police brutality, especially involving officers of the now-defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad, and determine whether protesters were killed at the Lekki tollgate plaza on October 20, 2020, or not.
Though the panel was to last for a period of six-months -April 27, 2021, the Lagos State Government gave it a three-month extension which elapsed on Monday, July 19.
After that, the state government again extended the panel’s tenure by another three months, which would expire on October 19, 2021.
The chairperson of the panel, on Saturday, said the panel was yet to complete any of its reports.
During the sitting, the police, army, Lekki Concession Company, a forensic expert, hospitals, the state’s pathologists, and #EndSARS protesters submitted their reports, evidence and cross-examined.
A member explained that the panel had earlier sought further extension but it was rejected by the Lagos Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
The panel member said, “(Suspension of the sitting of the) EndSARS Judicial Panel is to enable the panel collate its report on the Lekki Toll Gate investigation.
“The panel was initially set up to probe police brutality but Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu later added the Lekki Too Gate incident to the work of the panel.
“The panel feels it should have at least a whole month to look through all the detailed testimonies of so many witnesses on the Lekki Toll Gate incident, including the Army, Lekki Concession Company, Lagos State Government, the Police, Reddington Hospital, forensic experts, pathologists, and EndSARS protesters, all numbering about 50 witnesses and over 100 video clips.
“So, what the panel has done is to suspend hearing on all other regular petitions in order to focus on Lekki Toll Gate incident. The panel had sought extension of its tenure to be able to handle all the close to 300 petitions it received as it has not been able to hear all the petitions but the governor declined further extension beyond October 2021.
“So, unless the panel suspends its sittings on regular petitions, it will not be able to produce any report on the Lekki Toll Gate Incident. The strategy is to work on the Lekki Toll Gate incident for the next two weeks in order to produce a report and if there is enough time left the Panel will resume hearing of regular petitions.
“It was in this circumstance that some lawyers are still pressing the panel to call expert witnesses in respect of the Lekki Toll Gate, which if granted, will derail the work of the panel.”
One of the panel members also confided in our correspondent that the panel may lack funds to pay compensation if sitting was not suspended.
“The panel has not been funded though we heard the governor (of Lagos State) had approved the release of funds. This is why the panel has not been making its decisions on regular petitions known as there is no fund to pay compensation to victims whose petitions are successful,” the member said.
When contacted, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, declined comment on the suspension of the panel’s sitting.
He said, “The Panel is independent and it is dealing with a sensitive matter. I would not like to comment on their decisions.
“On the issue of funds, I do not have that information. I will have to find out.”