Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, on Monday inaugurated members of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution for Victims of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) abuses in Lagos State.
Speaking at the inauguration at the State House, Marina, Sanwo-Olu said that the panel was set up to investigate cases of brutality and human rights violations committed by operatives of the dissolved SARS.
He said that the swiftness of composing the panel members was an indication of the state government’s sincerity toward the quick resolution of issues that led to the ongoing nationwide protests against policing system.
Sanwo-Olu said that the state government selected an unblemished retired judge to head the tribunal, given the enormity of the task at hand.
The governor said that there was need to uphold the tenets of due process and fair hearing in the course of the panel proceedings.
“In the last two weeks, we have witnessed pockets of justified protests by our youths against police brutality.
“The pains of our young ones have been felt in various parts of Lagos and other parts of the country, as well as in the Diaspora.
“The protesters have spoken in one voice against the unbridled violation of fundamental rights and lives by the disbanded SARS operatives.
“In my engagements with the protesters, they handed me a list of five immediate demands, which I personally presented to President Muhammadu Buhari last Tuesday,´´ he said.
According to him, he has taken action on some of the demands, which include: the immediate release of all those detained on account of their participation in the EndSARS protests.
He said that the government had also set up a N200 million victims fund for compensation of families and individuals who were victimised by officers of the disbanded SARS.
The governor said the setting up of the judicial panel was in response to one of the demands of the youth.
He said that it was also in line with the resolution of the National Economic Council on Oct. 15, chaired by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
The governor said that the panel would be chaired by a retired Judge of the Lagos High Court, Justice Doris Okuwobi.
Sanwo-Olu assured all victims that justice would surely be served.
He said that the panel would sit for six months, and was charged to evaluate the evidence and draw conclusions on the validity of public complaints on police brutality and extra judicial killings in Lagos.
The governor said that this was with the aim to determining and recommending compensation for victims and their dependents.
He said that in its terms of reference, the panel was also 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.
According to him, the panel has 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.
“Mindful that complaints may be against serving police officers or ones already dismissed, the panel has a mandate to carry out the directives of the Federal Government to enable it to 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 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 the 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,´´ he said.
Sanwo-Olu, however, said that the state government would not wait till six months – the period set for the tribunal to sit – before compensating victims, as might be recommended by the judicial panel.
He also said that the government would comply with and support the manner with which the panel members might decide to hold their proceedings.
The Commissioner for Justice, Mr Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), said that the urgency of setting up the tribunal was an indication of the priority the governor usually accord to matters bordering on citizens’ interest.
Onigbanjo said that 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.
Justice Okuwobi, responding, said that 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.
“Having been invited to serve on this panel, we view our appointment as scared, demanding our utmost commitment, passion, loyalty and sense of duty in the discharge of 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 callings, and will ensure that victims of this loathsome abuse and brutality are identified within the society and recommended for due compensation,´´ she said.
After the swearing-in, the tribunal members proceeded to the venue of its sittings, where the inaugural proceeding was held.
Okuwobi invited members of the public not to delay in 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, 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.
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 Centre), 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 the numbers: 09010513203, 09010513204 and 09010513205.
Also, petitions can be sent to the dedicated email: judicialpanelonSARS@lagosstate.gov.ng (NAN)