Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu on Monday appealed to the youths demonstrating against police brutality in the state to leave the roads and embrace dialogue for the resolution of their agitations.
Sanwo-Olu made the appeal during the swearing-in of members of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution at the State House in Marina.
The governor said the state government had shown sincerity and willingness to address all concerns raised by the protesters, given the actions taken so far, including the constitution of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry and setting up of compensation funds for the victims.
Sanwo-Olu’s appeal came on the heel of the violent dimension assumed by the #EndSARS protests in some parts of the state.
Reiterating his solidarity with the protesters’ demands, Sanwo-Olu said the pain expressed and concerns raised were genuine and legitimate. This, he said, prompted the Federal and State Governments to immediately acquiesce to some of the demands, while setting process in motion to implement other changes demanded.
The governor urged the protesters to be part of the process of implementing the reforms they clamoured for in the police, stressing that with the continuous blocking of roads, government and private offices would slow down the procedure of implementing their demands.
He said: “We have shown unprecedented commitment to the complete overhaul of the Nigerian Police. The inauguration of this Judicial Panel of Inquiry is only the first step in a long line of reformative actions that will lead to a thorough revamp and reorientation of the Nigeria Police. I believe that some of the actions we have taken should, to a large extent, show our sincerity and willingness to address all your concerns.
“Let me reiterate that I am on the side of the young people out there. I understand your pain and I know your concerns are genuine and legitimate. While we are able to immediately acquiesce to some of your demands, some others will require time. We ask you to bear with us as we dutifully work on your demands.
“I will, therefore, like to renew my appeal to you to suspend the protests and create an atmosphere for the resolution of all pending demands. I encourage everyone brutalised by the disbanded SARS, including the families of those who died, to present their case before this tribunal.”
Sanwo-Olu said he believed the task of reforming the police was achievable, but required the input and cooperation of the youth to accomplish task.
He commended the cohesiveness of the “resilient” young people who stood their ground in the last two weeks. Their tenacity, Sanwo-Olu said, has made the much-desired change in the policing system become inevitable.
Speaking about the judicial panel, the governor said he was convinced that its outcome and recommendations would open a new chapter in police-citizen relationship.
He promised that the state government would ensure that all wounds are healed, justice served to victims of abuse, and guilty police officers prosecuted.
The state government, last Friday, reached out to the protesters to forward the name of their nominees into the judicial panel. The protesters, however, pleaded for more time to send the names of their nominees, four days after the government’s request
The tribunal, which will sit for six months, is charged with evaluating the evidence and draw conclusions on the validity of public complaints on police brutality and extra judicial killings in Lagos, with the aim to determining and recommending compensation for victims and their dependents.
Also, the tribunal, in its terms of reference, is mandated to interrogate SARS officers responsible for the abuse of victims and recommend their prosecution.
Sanwo-Olu said the panel took its legitimacy from Section 5 of Tribunals of Inquiry Law, Laws of Lagos State, 2015, stressing that the panel had powers to procure evidence and summon any person to attend its proceedings to give evidence or produce any document or other thing in the person’s possession.
His words: “Mindful that complaints may be against serving police officers or ones already dismissed, the tribunal has a mandate to carry out the directives of the Federal Government to enable it discharge its duties without fear or favour. We expect the panel to judiciously use its powers to ensure that all necessary parties appear before it to testify: the members of the panel have the mandate to ensure that the rule of law prevails.
“I thank the chairman and members of the Judicial Panel for responding to the call of duty at this crucial time. I am convinced that you all recognise the importance of the assignment, which I believe will open a new chapter in police-citizen relationship. I urge you to approach this task with all sense of responsibility even as Lagos residents look to you for a fair and just outcome.”
Sanwo-Olu promised that the state government would not wait till six months – the period set for the tribunal to sit – before compensating victims as may be recommended by the judicial panel.
He also pledged that the government would comply with and support the manner which with the tribunal members may decide to hold their proceedings.
The Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN) said the urgency of setting up the tribunal was an indication of the priority the governor usually accord to matters bordering on citizens’ interest.
He said the tribunal fully had the backing of the laws of the state and of the Federal Government to carry out investigative duties and give recommendations for prosecution of anyone indicted.
The chairman of the panel, Justice Doris Okuwobi, who spoke on behalf of the members, said the #EndSARS protests had proven formidable to elicit positive actions to re-awaken consciousness of the government on the need to address injustice meted out to members of the public by SARS operatives.
She said: “Having been invited to serve on this panel, we view our appointment as sacred, demanding our utmost commitment, passion, loyalty and sense of duty in the discharge this assignment.
“No stone will be left unturned. We shall be thorough, objective and transparent in line with the terms of reference and enabling legal instruments. As thorough-bred professionals and legal experts, we remain true to our calling and will ensure that victims of this loathsome abuse and brutality are identified with the society and recommended for due compensation.”
After the swearing-in, the tribunal members proceeded to the venue of its sittings, where the inaugural proceeding was held.
Mr. Segun Awosanya, a Human Rights activist, could not be sworn-in with other panel members, as he was held in a traffic while coming for the event.
Justice Okuwobi invited members of the public not to delay the presentation of their petitions and memoranda. She also urged the press to report the proceedings of the tribunal without sensationalism, noting that media houses could do live coverage of the panel activities for transparency.
Also, the representatives of the youth on the panel had not been nominated by the protesters at the time tribunal members were sworn-in. The protesters pleaded for more time to send the names of their nominees, four days after the state government reached out to them to provide their representatives.
Tribunal members who took the oath include Mr. Ebun Adegboruwa (SAN) (representing the Civil Society); Taiwo Lakanu (a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police); Ms Patience Udoh (representing the Civil Society); Mrs. Olutoyin Odusanya (Director, Lagos Citizens Mediation Center), and the representative of the Human Rights Commission.
Lagos residents, who have petitions against SARS and the police, can reach the tribunal’s help desk on these numbers: 0901 051 3203, 0901 051 3204 and 0901 051 3205.
Also, petitions can be sent to the dedicated email: [email protected]