The Lagos State Judicial Panel on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and other Matters has suspended its sitting indefinitely.

The Chairperson of the panel, Justice Doris Okuwobi (retd), announced the suspension on Saturday.

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 extension, it was further learnt, was because only 126 petitions out of the 235 petitions it received had been heard as of July 17.

But the chairperson of the panel, on Saturday, said the panel was yet to complete any of its reports.

During the break, Okuwobi noted that the panel will “evaluate, collate and make findings” on the Lekki shootings.

Sunday PUNCH gathered that reports had been received from major stakeholders involved in the Lekki case before the suspension of sitting.

Stakeholders that had submitted reports included the police, army, Lekki Concession Company, a forensic expert, hospitals, the state’s pathologists, and #EndSARS protesters.

Announcing the indefinite adjournment, Okwuobi said, “There are two reports that we are expected to work on and we are not close enough to any of them. We cannot continue with the sitting and end the assignment without concluding. So we will not be sitting from today.

“But as soon as we find ourselves in a comfortable situation, we will send hearing notices to cases that have been listed. Please bear with us, we cannot speculate on any further extension. We have to work towards completing the assignment as early as we can.”

Panel frustrated from reaching conclusion -Adegboruwa

However, in a short statement after the panel requested a short break, a member of the panel, Ebun Adegboruwa (SAN), claimed that the panel was being frustrated from reachinga  meaningful conclusion.

He, however, did not disclose the names of those he alleged were frustrating the panel or how it was been done.

“EndSARS panel is being frustrated. There are attempts to frustrate the EndSARS Judicial Panel from reaching meaningful conclusions on investigations into the Lekki Toll Gate Incident of 20th October 2020,” Adegboruwa alleged.

One of the panel members also confided in our correspondent that the panel lacked 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.

Lagos, LCC experts, witnesses shut out

During the sitting, counsels to the LCC and Lagos State Government protested the suspension of sitting.

They complained that there was an initial agreement that they would bring in their own experts and global witnesses at the end of the sitting.

Though their positions were not opposed by the #EndSARS protesters’ lawyers and Nigerian Bar Association representative, nevertheless, the panel insisted on the suspension of the sitting, saying the company should have called its experts and witnesses earlier.

The protesters’ lawyer, Ogunlana Adesina, scolded the LCC and the Lagos State Government counsels, saying he had earlier canvassed for six months adjournment which he said others were silent on.

He also urged the panel to be courageous and do what he described as the “right thing.”

“Others didn’t see what I saw when I was clamouring for six months adjournment. We saw this coming. The panel has a lot of work to do and evidence to examine. One of the EndSARS witnesses submitted over 100 video clips.

“I think they have heard from the major departments and they have a peculiar task unlike panels in other states. It is true that we agreed that LCCI and LASG should bring their experts and witnesses. Lagos wants to bring two and LCCI (also wants to bring) one. They should be allowed to do this in order to avoid credible criticism against the panel in future.

“I plead for extension. The work is taxing and the panel needs more time, maybe one month. However, we urge them to be courageous and do the right thing.”

Panel members divided over suspension

There was a division among members of the panel over the indefinite suspension after the LASG and LCCI canvassed to be allowed to bring their experts and witnesses, sources close to the panel told revealed.

While some members of the panel wanted LASG and LCC experts to be allowed, others insisted that there was a need to conclude deliberations on the case since the major departments had been cross-examined.

“Yes, we understand that there is a need to conclude, but we need to be fair to all. We have been doing that since the inception of the panel. Some of us feel that we should not stop them from coming with their witnesses. As the chairperson earlier said, there may be a review,” a member of the panel, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told our correspondent.

Another 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.”

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.”

Punch

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