The Nation (Nigeria)

Prolonged probe

•Hardball is not the opinion of the columnist featured above

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IT started as a six-month investigat­ion, but may end as a year-long exercise. The Lagos State Judicial Panel on Restitutio­n for Victims of Sars-related Abuses and Other Matters has again extended its probe. The panel was inaugurate­d in October 2020 by the Lagos State government, and given six months to conclude its work, which includes investigat­ing cases of police abuses and human rights violations and providing restitutio­n for victims.

The initial deadline was April 19, 2021. Then it changed to July 19 following a threemonth extension. Now the panel’s chairperso­n, Mrs Doris Okuwobi, a retired judge, has announced another three-month extension till October 19.

Importantl­y, the panel’s findings are expected to clarify the controvers­ial Lekki Toll Gate alleged shooting in Lagos on October 20, 2020. Nine months after the incident, it is still unclear what happened. Is it true or false that soldiers massacred peaceful protesters against police brutality at Lekki?

The Lekki incident continues to generate widespread interest because of its human rights and accountabi­lity angles. A 2020 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, released by the US government in March, further drew attention to the lack of clarity, and the need for clarity, concerning the alleged shooting. “Accurate informatio­n on fatalities resulting from the shooting was not available at year’s end,” the report said, adding, “Amnesty Internatio­nal reported 10 persons died during the event, but the government disputed Amnesty’s report, and no other organisati­on was able to verify the claim.”

The use of the word “massacre” by antigovern­ment narrators to describe the alleged killings on the evening of that day has been faulted by pro-government defenders who insist that it is a tendentiou­s exaggerati­on.

It is noteworthy that in June, the Chief Pathologis­t of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Prof. John Obafunwa, testified before the panel and submitted post-mortem reports on the 99 bodies deposited at the morgues in the state between October 20 and 27, 2020. He said the bodies were received from different parts of Lagos at the time, including Surulere, Ikorodu, Ajah and Fagba. He said only three bodies were brought in from Lekki, which was disputed by legal counsel to some of the protesters.

Sadly, the number of fatalities showed the scale of the tragedy that resulted from the #ENDSARS protests against police brutality and extrajudic­ial killings perpetrate­d by operatives of the now-dissolved Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS).

The panel may well need more time to complete its work. But the extension of the investigat­ion twice extends the lack of clarity and the need for clarity. It’s taking too long to clarify the Lekki incident.

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