On Saturday, and for the fourth time, the Nigerian Army boycotted proceedings at the judicial panel set up in October to investigate cases of police brutality in Lagos.
The lawyer representing the Nigerian Army, Mr. Akinlolu Kayode (SAN), who was represented by Mr. Samuel Agweh (SAN), had informed the panel about the disbandment of the legal team by their client, a clear reason the legal counsel has been absent in the last three proceedings.
“I am not here to represent the Nigerian Army, I have brought a message from Mr. Kehinde Akinlolu SAN.
“My lord, the letter written by Kehinde, dated 20th January which was already submitted to this panel explains it all that the team of legal practitioners led by Kehinde San, who represented the Nigerian Army at this panel based on the summons issued on October 28, 2020, has been disbanded,” Mr. Agweh noted.
“My Lord, that team had been disbanded. Our job finished on the 21st or 25th of November so we do not have any further mandate to represent the Nigerian Army in any subsequent proceedings.”
In acknowledgement of this, Mrs. Dorris Okuwobi, a retired judge heading the panel, admitted that the legal counsel had duly transmitted the termination of his brief before the panel.
She, however, established that the panel cannot compel the Army to appear before the tribunal.
“We cannot force them to come. We will take on the petitions as if they are not present, I made that very clear in the ruling. We have tried our best, served the legal summons, served the Chief of Army Staff, beyond that, there is no more the panel can do.”
On the flip side, Adeshina Ogunlana, one of the counsels to the victims of the Lekki Shooting, expressed shock about the position of the panel.
“I wish to say that with due respect, I am taken aback by the position that if the Nigerian Army decides not to come, there is nothing the panel can do,” Ogunlana said.
He added that the refusal does not portray the panel well to civilians and may frustrate the panel.
“It will not frustrate the panel, we have our rules of proceedings. If a party refuses to come or appear before the panel to do their case, it is deemed that they are abandoning their case,” Mrs Okuwobi responded.
Okuwobi eventually adjourned the hearing till February 27.
Calls to the Army spokesman, Sagir Musa, for comment were not answered.
Lawsuit underway against Nigerian Army
Barrister Evans Ufeli, a Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, condemned the absence of the Nigerian Army, describing it as a disregard for Nigerians, the panel and the government that set it up.
“The conduct of the Nigerian Army is full of contempt. From the onset, they have shown variation and layers of lies in their responses to the proceedings at the tribunal.
“The panel of inquiry was set up under an Act of Parliament and the action of the Army to jettison the sitting is against the oath they swore and a dereliction to their duties as a security outfit.”
“By a large extent, the abscondment means they are guilty of allegations levelled against them. The most dangerous thing is that it shows they can take laws into their own hands and get away with it.”
The lawyer also hinted FIJ that he was ready to file a suit for the enforcement of the Fundamental Rights against the Army.
On the basis of Section 33 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution which establishes the rights of all citizens to life, the lawyer noted that he would be suing the Army for their involvement in the Lekki shooting that killed some citizens.
“Order 4 of the fundamental rights enforcement rules, gives an individual the right to bring the fundamental right action on behalf of another individual or citizen whose right to live has been infringed upon,” he added.
Notably, on Thursday, Nigerians marked the 100th day of the military assault on protesters at the Lekki Toll Plaza.
Amnesty International also alleged that the Nigerian government attempted to cover up the killing of citizens during peaceful protests in Lagos last October.
“Nigerian authorities have failed to bring to justice those suspected to be responsible for the brutal crackdown by security forces on peaceful #EndSARS protesters at Lekki toll gate and Alausa in Lagos in October 2020 and have brazenly attempted to cover up the violence,” it said.
“Since the assault by security forces, which killed at least 12 people, Nigerian authorities have targeted supporters of the protests against police brutality by the disbanded SARS.”
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