On 19 October 2020, Lagos State launched a judicial panel on SARS-related abuses. Read our summary of and highlights from each panel session below. Keep scrolling.
30 October 2020
The already questionable Lagos State Judicial Panel raises more doubts. This summary was prepared by Elizabeth Akpan.
Following local and international #EndSARS protests against police brutality in Nigeria, Lagos State launched the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS and Related Abuses in October. So far, the Judicial Panel is one of 28 such panels set up across Abuja and states in Nigeria. On Friday, the Lagos Judicial Panel held its second session. Most of the six-hour hearing was spent visiting locations that related to the Lekki Shootings of 20 October 2020.
Here are four key highlights from the hearing:
1. Bullet shells were found at the Lekki Toll Gate
The Judicial Panel spent most of Friday’s session visiting locations connected to the Lekki Shootings of 20 October 2020. One of such locations was the Lekki Tollgate. At the tollgate, the MD of the Lekki Concession Company (LCC), Abayomi Omoruwa, pointed out a camera set up on a mast. However, he highlighted, ‘there should be footage if the network works.’ Three bullet shells were also found at the tollgate.
2. LCC representatives never mentioned the Lekki Shootings
MD Omoruwa, and head of legal, Gbolahan Agboluaje, were the LCC representatives who met the Judicial Panel at the Lekki Toll Gate and they avoided mentioning the Lekki Shootings. Instead, they focused on discussing the properties destroyed. However, there was no mention of the value of properties destroyed.
3. The Judicial Panel adjourned the tollgate inquiry to Tuesday
The panel Chair, Justice Doris Okuwobi adjourned the inquiry into the event of October 20th at the tollgate to Tuesday, 03 November, at 11 a.m.
4. Soldiers delayed the Judicial Panel from entering a ‘crucial’ site
The Judicial Panel made an impromptu visit to the Military Hospital in Ikoyi after learning from an undisclosed source that the hospital may house information crucial to the investigation. Initially, when the Panel arrived at the hospital soldiers blocked them from entering the premises. However, 30 minutes later, after the soldiers consulted amongst themselves, they were allowed into the hospital. The Panel visited the morgue at the military hospital and learned the premises have not been used since October 2019. The Friday hearing ended at the hospital.
LSJP 30 October 2020
The already questionable Lagos State Judicial Panel raises more doubts.
On Friday, 30 October 2020, the Lagos Arbitration Court in Lekki was filled with members of the press and general public waiting for the Judicial Panel to begin. The hearing was meant to start at 10 a.m., however, the Panel arrived almost an hour late to the hearing. This is not too surprising considering the Panel was also late to the first hearing on Tuesday, 27 October.
At 10:56 a.m., the Friday Panel began by swearing in LCC representatives, Omoruwa and Agboluaje. After the swearing in, the proceedings for the day began.
‘When we received the letter on Wednesday, we discovered that three things were required, which are the footage, the investigation report and any other document. We have the footage, we have not done the investigation report and we don’t have other documents,’ Gbolahan Agboluaje said. He mentioned that the LCC has footage of the night of the shooting and asked for time to get legal representation.
After consulting with the members of the panel, the Chair, Justice Doris Okuwobi, announced that the Panel would be visiting the Lekki Toll Gate. Nineteen minutes after they sat, the Panel left to inspect the toll gate. This inspection lasted until 12.11 p.m.
At the toll gate, the Omoruwa claimed that there was a camera up on a mast that should have important footage. However, he highlighted, ‘there should be footage if the network works.’ During the Lekki Shooting, there were reports of network outage in the Lekki area. While unconfirmed, such reports made it unlikely that the camera had any footage.
As the Panel and a team of observers surveyed the tollgate, emphasis of the LCC representatives remained on the properties destroyed. ‘This is the backend electronic support’ Omoruwa said, pointing to one of the properties destroyed. The function of the ‘backend electronic support’ remained unclear and Omoruwa did not reveal any information on the worth of the properties destroyed.
There was no mention of the Lekki shooting or what happened on the night of 20 October. The panel reconvened at 12.52 p.m. and continued the hearing.
In the words of Justice Doris, ‘I have said earlier that the terms of reference of this panel must be given its due regard. So, we are going to adjourn.’ At 12:59 p.m., the panel decided to adjourn the hearing till Tuesday, 03 November.
At 1:04 p.m., the panel rose to prepare for the second visit of the day—an unscheduled visit. The location of the visit was not disclosed at the time. Members of the public present at the hearing asked where the Panel was heading to and the Chair, Justice Doris Okuwobi (Rtd.) responded: ‘If you come, you will know when you get there.’
Just over an hour later, the Panel arrived at the Military hospital in Ikoyi. The Panel believed the hospital may house information crucial to the investigation. However, on arriving at the hospital, the Panel met soldiers who blocked the Panel from entering. According to an AriseTV reporter at the scene, an officer (by name of Mr. Haruna) said: ‘If the visitors do not leave, it will get very dirty.’ The gates were closed, and the officer made an announcement to the soldiers. Some minutes later, however, after the soldiers had discussed among themselves, the soldiers allowed the Panel into the hospital. While the hearing ended at the hospital, it was not clear what caused the delay, which added doubts to the integrity of the Panel’s already questionable investigative process⎈
31 October 2020
By placing the burden of what justice should look like on traumatized victims, the Judicial Panel showed it suffers a major bias. This summary was prepared by Elizabeth Akpan.
The prominent faces of police brutality victims in the #EndSARS protests are young people. However, at Saturday’s hearing, the victims who testified showed that police brutality in Nigeria also affects the elderly. The hearing ran for slightly more than four hours as two victims shared their experiences of police brutality with the panel.
Here are four key highlights from the hearing:
1. The Judicial Panel was late again
Like the first two sessions, members of the Lagos State Judicial Panel were late to the hearing. Today the Panel began at 11 a.m., one hour past the official start-time.
2. Ndubuisi Obechina lost two pregnancies due to SARS
At the session, Obechina narrated how police in Ikeja detained her illegally and threatened her life. Her family had two encounters with SARS officers in 2017, and both times she was pregnant. As a result of the trauma she suffered during these encounters, she lost both pregnancies. At the hearing she demanded N2 million.
3. Olajide Fowotade spent nearly N1 million treating SARS-related injuries
Fowotade, the second victim who testified, was beaten by the police in 2017, in the middle of the street. His encounter with the police left him with two broken teeth, a broken leg and a wounded eye. While his case already received media attention in 2017, he never gained justice.
4. A bias emerged in the Judicial Panel’s framing of justice
During the session, a youth representative asked Fowotade if he wanted justice against the police or for his health. Out of fear, Fowotade refused justice against the police. By framing justice in this manner, the Panel overlooked the power imbalance between the police and victims of police brutality.
LSJP 31 October 2020
The already questionable Lagos State Judicial Panel raises more doubts.
Despite an official start time of 10 a.m., today’s Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution hearing began at 11 a.m. At 11:06, hearing began and Mr and Mrs Obechina, a married, [visibly] middle-aged couple, were sworn in. ‘Our petition is about two-million-naira compensation from SARS,’ Mrs Obechina said, before sharing her SARS experience.
For 22 days, in 2017, SARS officers in Ikeja illegally detained Mrs Obechina. It began on 02 June, 2017, when the officers called her phone number pretending to be delivery men from DHL who had a package for her. A teacher, Mrs Obechina explained that she was in a classroom when the call came in. As soon as she went out to receive the package, she met the officers who accused her of being a kidnapper and an armed robber.
According to Mrs Obechina, the men beat her and pushed her into their car. They took her to the police station and ‘said I will die there,’ she said. When her husband, Okechukwu Obechina, discovered she was missing, he went to several police stations in search for her. After several pleas with the SARS officers Mrs Obechina said were called Christian and Haruna Idowu, she was allowed to speak with her husband on the phone. Mr Obechina was also beaten and locked up as soon as he got to the station.
Mrs Obechina was pregnant but her requests to see a doctor led to even more torture and threats. She lost the baby. While bail is free in Nigeria, the Obechinas had to pay a total of N400,000 to be set free.
In October 2017, Mr Obechina was re-arrested and from the emotional trauma of seeking justice in court, Mrs Obechina lost another pregnancy. Mr and Mrs Obechina’s case was not adjourned.
At 12:20 p.m, the Panel took a break.
At 2:08 p.m., the Panel returned, with a testimony by Mr Olajide Fowotade, an elderly man. While taking the oath, he broke down in tears. Fowotade’s experience with the police began on the 11 March, 2017, as he was heading home from work and waiting for a maruwa to make a U-turn, an impatient okada rider asked him to move. The okada rider was a policeman in plain clothes.
The policeman, according to Fowotade, was a man named Sergeant Ayo. Sergeant Ayo moved the motorcycle and blocked Fowotade’s car. Fowotade explained that the policeman disembarked from the motorcycle and slammed his head on Fowotade’s head. Instantly, two of Fowotade’s teeth fell and he lost consciousness for a moment. According to Fowotade, onlookers tried to intervene but, stopped when they realized Sergeant Ayo was a policeman.
The policeman took Fowotade to a police station in Ketu, where the beating continued. The then-DPO of the police station, Mr Akpan, learned about Fowotade’s case and summoned the officers responsible. According to Fowotade, in the presence of the DPO, Sergeant Ayo knelt and blame the devil for his actions.
At the hearing, Fowotade showed the Panel a photograph of him receiving treatment at a hospital. He also mentioned that on Tuesday 14 March, 2017, newspaper, The Nation, had reported his encounter with Sergeant Ayo. Following the media exposure Fowotade’s case got, the AIG ordered an investigation into the incident.
In 2017, a panel was set up to investigate Fowotade’s case but Fowotade explained that the head of the panel visited the scene of the incident dressed in his police uniform. According to Fowotade, this made witnesses reluctant to testify and they only said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’ Sergeant Ayo left Fowotade with two broken teeth, a broken leg and an affected eye. At the hearing, Fowotade explained that he has spent close to one million naira on medical bills treating his injuries.
At this point, the legal representative of the police, objected to the documents Fowotade presented to the panel and demanded a ‘fair hearing’. However, justice Doris Okuwobi (Rtd.) insisted the documents Fotowade provided were admissible evidence. ‘The objection lacks merit,’ she said, ‘it is not tenable and the evidence by the victim will be accepted in this fact-finding panel.’
‘Do you want justice in punishment for the police officer or justice for your health,’ Temi Majekodunmi, one of the youth representatives on the panel, later asked Fowotade. To which Fowotade responded, ‘I don’t want anyone to say I am the reason they sacked him from work.’
With the glaring power imbalance between the police and victims of police brutality, such line of questioning can be frightening to victims. Fowotade stuttered as he answered the Majekodunmi’s question. In that moment, the responsibility of what justice should look like appeared to have been placed on Fowotade.
Soon after, the legal representative of the police asked for an adjournment ‘to enable us make contacts.’
The session ended at 3:18 p.m. and Fowotade’s case was adjourned to 10 November, 2020⎈
03 November 2020
Calling on anyone with interest to bring forward evidence, the Judicial Panel’s approach to investigating the Lekki Massacre is to ‘wait for evidence’. This summary was prepared by Elizabeth Akpan.
The hearing of Tuesday, 03 November, was the fourth by the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS and Related Abuses. This session was a little over three hours long and the Panel spent the time addressing petitions adjourned from last week.
Here are four key highlights from Tuesday’s hearing:
1. The brutal story of how SARS left Ndukwe Ezekwe with a broken spinal cord
Ezekwe, accompanied by his elderly mother, narrated how policemen from the Ikeja police division threw him down from a two-storey building, leaving him paralyzed. His spinal cord was injured and the SARS officers sold goods from his stores worth N15 million to strangers. His petition was adjourned to Friday, 13 November.
2. The struggle of testifying as a non-English speaker
As Ndukwe shared his story with the Panel, there were instances where he struggled to understand the Panel and vice versa. This was because he speaks Pidgin English. As Pidgin is the only form of English many Nigerians speak, it is important that the Panel is more accommodating of such speakers in future hearings.
3. LCC MD, Abayomi Omomuwasan, testified before the Panel
The previous Friday, the Panel’s session was adjourned after Omomuwasan requested preferred counsel. On Tuesday, however, he testified before the Panel, alongside the same counsel from Friday. Admitting that the LCC is 100 per cent owned by the Lagos state government, Omomuwasan shared his version of events leading up to the Lekki ‘Massacre’ of 20 October. The counsel of the Lagos State government, Abiodun Owonikoko, cross-examined Omomuwasan. However, most of the questions were leading questions. The investigation was adjourned to Friday, 6 November.
4. The Panel’s approach to investigating the #LekkiMassacre is to ‘wait for evidence’.
After the cross-examination of the LCC MD led by Abiodun, the Panel was ready to move on without asking Omomuwasan any question regarding the shootings of 20 October. Justice Doris Okuwobi (Rtd.), a member of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and Chair of the Panel, said that they would only investigate this if anyone was ready to come forward with evidence.
LSJP 03 November 2020
Calling on anyone with interest to bring forward evidence, the Judicial Panel’s approach to investigating the Lekki Massacre is to ‘wait for evidence.’
On 16 February 2018, Ndukwe Ezekwe was selling at his shop in Alaba when some SARS officers came there to arrest him. He asked them the reason for his arrest and the people around demanded that the policemen show their identity card. The police claimed that his arrest was an order from the Inspector General (IG) of police and took him to the police station in Ikeja. On the way there, Ezekwe tried to call his mother and inform her about the situation. One of the SARS officers, an inspector, destroyed his phone. According to Ezekwe, ‘they collected my phone, N58,000 and threw me in a cell’. He was hit on the head with the butt of a gun and stabbed in his hands. He sustained injuries in both places. At the police station, he was stripped naked and beaten by the policemen. ‘I don’t like going out in public’, he said, describing the traumatic response to the torture from the police. Till date, the police have not told him his crime as they chalked it up to an ‘intelligence report’. At the hearing, Ezekwe mentioned a certain Hamza Haruna as the SARS officer who led his arrest.
Ezekwe, now a paraplegic, was accompanied by his aged mother to the hearing. He described how the police took him to his shop at night, raided the place and sold his goods to strangers. The policemen also pushed him down a two-storey building. Patience Udoh, one of the Panel members asked him how much he lost from his store. ‘I lost up to fifteen million naira’, Ezekwe responded. After his encounter with the police, Ezekwe’s spinal cord was injured and he was taken to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) where he had a surgery. Despite the financial extortion and his near-death experience at the hands of the police, Ezekwe still has not gotten justice.
Delivering his testimony in pidgin, Ezekwe grappled with communicating with the Panel. At some point, a member of the Panel, Ebun Adegboruwa (SAN), said ‘You must convince us that the story is correct so, we make it believable’. It came across as insensitive to people present at the hearing. The Panel may need to be more accommodating of non-English speaking petitioners in future hearings.
Ezekwe’s petition was adjourned to Friday 13 November and at 12:15 p.m., the Panel rose for a recess, returning at 12:54 p.m. Okolie Agu Abunike was present to represent his client. However, the witness was absent, and the case was adjourned to Friday, 13 November. The LCC case was called at 12:58 p.m. Abayomi Omomuwasan, the LCC MD, was already seated. The reason for the adjournment the previous Friday was to allow the LCC MD testify with his preferred counsel. However, he showed up with the same legal representative from the previous week.
At 1.03 pm, a member of the Lagos state legal team, Abiodun Owonikoko, led Omomuwasan as he testified before the Panel. The first ten minutes were spent describing the different types of camera at the toll gate and their varied functions. During the testimony, Omomuwasan, on behalf of the LCC submitted video footage, press releases denying bribing the police to stop the #EndSARS protests, and emails, as evidence to the Panel. He claimed the surveillance camera at the toll gate worked till 8 p.m. and failed to record anything due to network failure. He also claimed no staff of the LCC was present due to the initial declaration of a state-wide curfew by the Lagos State government. He added that the routine was to switch on the lights at the toll gate at 7:30 p.m. ‘As at today, it is owned 100 per cent by the Lagos state government’, Omomuwasan said, responding to a question on who owns the LCC. Asked if there was any incident that led to him inviting law enforcement during the #EndSARS protests from the 8 October to 20 October, he said ‘None. Never. Not for a second.’ To ascertain the state of the footage, Omomuwasan was asked about the situation of the audio in the footage and he said ‘we did not update the audio capacity’.
Responding to a question on who is responsible for the advertisement billboard at the toll gate, ‘They are totally independent’, he said. A man in the audience asked why the Lagos State legal team was leading the LCC MD in testimony. Justice Doris Okuwobi (Rtd.), responded that they were only investigating and invited anyone with evidence to come forward. As the Panel takes a more laid-back approach to investigating, waiting on evidence from anyone with interest, an outcome where perpetrators of the Lekki Massacre are brought to book hangs in the balance. For technical reasons, the footage provided by the LCC team could not be played, and the case was adjourned to Friday, 6 November. The panel rose at 2:38 p.m., ending the hearing for the day⎈