Civil Justice: What Does the Future Hold?

Sam 'Dele Ogunti

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Of the many things we have experienced as a nation, in recent times, very few have rocked us like the disputed events of October 20, 2020.

The Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry which released its report, in October this year, listed 18 findings from its investigations based on the seven-point Term of Reference issued by the government. It further listed 38 recommendations for the government to consider, going forward.

Evidence considered by the panel in arriving at its findings were obtained in two ways: First, a visit to the locus in quo, i.e. the Lekki Admiralty Tollgate. The purpose of an inspection of locus in quo is not to substitute “the eye for the ear” but rather to clear any ambiguity that may arise in the evidence or to resolve any conflict in the evidence as to physical facts. At the site of the incident, two (2) empty shells suspected to be spent bullet were recovered by the Panel and damages to the facility observed.

Second, by examination of witnesses. The witnesses were first examined-in-chief, then other parties were allowed to cross-examine, then, the panel re-examined the witnesses,

As we head into 2022, what can the findings of the JPI report, the subsequent objections by the Lagos State government, tell us about the future of civil justice in the nation? It is hoped that an examination of three main points of contention, will shed light on the efficacy of the legal system where these things are concerned, and going forward, provisions will be made to address any issues, where they exist.

 

Was the army there? And were they there uninvited?

The panel arrived at the determination that the Nigerian Army was indeed present at the Lekki Toll Gate on the 20th October, 2020 based on the testimony of Brigadier General A.I. Taiwo (“Brigadier-General Taiwo”). Brigadier-General Taiwo is a Commander, 81 Military Intelligence Brigade, Nigerian Army, Victoria Island, Lagos. He stated, “Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu rightly request for the intervention of the Army by 12 noon, on the 20th October 2020 because the Police had been overrun and were also fighting for their lives”.

This is in direct opposition to the testimony of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN who said that the army was not present and that those who attacked the protesters were hoodlums who wore military fatigue.

He noted that the Governor made the request to the Chief of Army Staff as well as the G.O.C. 81 Division. Brigadier-General Taiwo further testified that troops were deployed from all barracks in Lagos state to forestall further violence and loss of lives throughout Lagos State, upon receipt of the signal to activate phase 4 of Internal Security (IS) – i.e. the immediate deployment of soldiers outside the barracks to intervene. Although stating the army’s displeasure at the governor’s initial claim that the army was not invited,  he acknowledged that, in accordance with Section 217 of the Constitution,  it was the reasonable and proper action to take, given the circumstance

Sentinel Forensics Limited, a forensics company who provided independent evidence on sevral matters, in their report corroborated this as the report identified seven (7) military vehicles to be present at the scene specifically at 18:51:14hrs.

 

Who Died, if any?

At the end of the panel’s inquiry, the report read: “The atrocious maiming and killing of unarmed, helpless and unresisting protesters, while sitting on the floor and waving their Nigerian flag, while singing the National Anthem can be equated to a ‘massacre’ in context.”

The panel reached the conclusion that the Nigerian Army used both blank and live bullets at the Lekki Toll Gate which resulted in grievous injuries and the loss of lives of the protesters. Despite the further testimony of Brigadier-General Taiwo , the Panel found that the testimony of Dr. Babajide Lawson of Reddington Hospital as to the nature of treatment offered victims of the Lekki Toll Gate Incident in relation to gunshot wounds which were high velocity ‘entry and exit’, all indicate injuries from military weapons, consistent with the bullet shells recovered by the Panel during its visit and the witnesses that testified before the Panel. The panel finds the cases of death or injured protesters as credible and uncontroverted; they also stated that most of ENDSARS protesters and victims of the Lekki Toll Gate incident of October, 2020 were largely unwilling to be identified in public for fear of persecution or harassment by the security agencies and the government in general.

The Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN) reacting to this finding said, “The position of Lagos State Government is based on the findings of the panel itself. So, it is not that Lagos State Government just conjured things from the air. We went through the report and what we saw particularly in reference to the death of nine persons is that they found the evidence of the Pathologist, Prof. Obafunwa, who conducted an autopsy on all the bodies picked up all over Lagos during the protests, not just at Lekki Toll gate but statewide, credible and there was no evidence to the contrary”. He also stated that the inconsistencies and contradictions in the report of the Panel, that 9 people died at Lekki Toll Gate last year made the panel’s findings in respect to the deaths at the Toll Gate unreliable, saying that for a finding that somebody died at a scene to be accepted, there must be no doubt.

How involved was the LCC?

The panel found the Lekki Concession Company complicit in the event of October 20, 2020 based on expert witness statements. Expert witnesses analysed the involvement of the Lekki Conservation Centre (LCC) in the incident of 20th October, 2020. The panel found that the LCC CCTV footage of the Lekki Toll Gate on that day ended at 8:08pm when the Nigerian Army was still at the Lekki Toll Gate. The panel found from the report of the forensic expert that the movement of the camera following a pre-set format most of the time and switching from this mode at other times, strongly suggests that it was operated on both automated and manual modes during the time under review, contrary to the evidence of the MD of the LCC that his men were not on ground.

 

Conclusion

Finally, a lot of lessons have emanated from these events, and clearly a number of factors might have influenced the quality of the evidence made available to the JPI negatively.  For example, the standard and ideal crime scene investigation protocol in forensics which is to preserve, secure, record, examine and investigate a crime scene as soon as a crime is reported was not employed in this case. The non-preservation of the crime scene occasioning the investigation defiles, standard and international best practices. In this case, LAWMA had announced via its Twitter account that it had cleaned-up the scene. This hindered his team’s ability to locate cartridge casings at the site.

Another crucial element to the satisfaction of justice, is the cooperation of governmental and non-governmental agencies. During the cross-examination of Mr. Funsho Ako of Sentinel Forensics Limited, he added that further to the above, attempts to reach LAWMA for further assistance proved abortive. He also noted LCC’s confessed inability to provide his team with relevant information, such as the LCC’s inability to provide his team with information due to the burning of their servers.

It is advised that in the nearest future, scenes of crime that would form basis of reasonable investigations should not be handled in the same manner as the Lekki Toll Gate, because it shows high presumption to conceal evidence from the parties of interest and the public by the government. And in a nation such as ours, transparency is key in winning the trust of the people.

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