Renowned human rights lawyer and activist, Femi Falana (SAN) has declared that the Lagos State government goofed by setting up a white paper committee to review the findings and submissions of the judicial panel on the #EndSARS protests as well as the Lekki Toll Gate shootings.
Falana said though it was normal for the government to issue a white paper report on the findings of a commission of inquiry, the law under which the Lagos judicial panel operated didn’t give room for any white paper committee to challenge or modify the outcome of its findings after it was submitted to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
He argued that the retired Justice Doris Okuwobi judicial panel of inquiry is backed up by section 15 (2) of the Tribunals of Inquiry Law of Lagos State, and its findings can only be challenged in a competent court but the white paper committee has no legal backing, making its report illegal.
The judicial panel submitted two sets of reports — a consolidated report on police brutality cases and the Lekki incident investigation after which Governor Sanwo-Olu set up another committee to review the report and come up with a white paper report.
The White Paper was released on Tuesday night (30th November) but disagreed with the judicial panel of inquiry and rejected its earlier submission that nine persons were killed at the Lekki Toll Gate when soldiers opened fire on protesters last year.
The Lagos State government in the White Paper, described the claim of killings by the panel as “assumptions and speculations”.
While the panel made 32 recommendations, the Lagos Government according to the White Paper only accepted 11. One was totally rejected and six others accepted with modifications.
14 recommendations said to be outside the powers of the Lagos State Government will be forwarded to the Federal Government for consideration.
This development has sparked further controversy with reactions and counter-reactions.
In his own view, Falana has submitted that the White Paper committee did not have the legal backing and competence to edit, modify, alter or reject the report of the commission.
He said, “When the government set up a White Paper committee a fortnight ago, I questioned its legal validity. It was my view that since the committee is unknown to law, the members were not competent to edit, modify, alter, edit or reject the report of the commission, more so, that the members of White Paper committee did not have the opportunity of taking evidence from the witnesses who had testified before the commission.
“The governor cannot reject the report, summary of evidence and findings of the Okuwobi Judicial Commission in any material particular.
“In a bid to discredit the findings of the Lagos State Judicial Panel on Restitution for victims of SARS-Related Abuses and Other Matters, the White Paper Committee acted ultra vires by advising the governor to accept, reject or refer the recommendations of the panel to the Federal Government. Thus, the state government arrogantly stated that the claim that nine people died at LTG on October 21, 2020, from gunshots fired by the military are based on assumptions and speculations.”
The Senior Advocate argued that “Therefore, any institution and individual indicted by the commission may wish to approach the High Court to challenge any aspect of the report. Since the White Paper committee is illegal its findings are of no moment.”