Nigeria: Lagos #EndSARS Panel Criticise Police Delay Tactics

1 December 2020

"If we keep on adjourning and adjourning, we will be here for another two years," the judge said.

Doris Okuwobi, a retired judge heading the Lagos State Judicial Panel on Inquiry, on Tuesday expressed anger at the excuses and delays of the police in handling the cases of police abuse and brutality brought before the panel.

Mrs Okuwobi, who started Tuesday's proceeding appealing to members of the press on a change in the sitting arrangement and introduction of new rules, blew hot when the police counsel, Emmanuel Eze, asked for an adjournment in a case before the panel.

"We have not delivered one judgement because of the excuses and request for adjournment by the police.

"This is what transpires in normal courts in criminal matters, adjournment, adjournment, adjournment. We refuse to be bugged down by any further adjournment," the retired judge said in annoyance.

The Proceeding

Tuesday's proceeding commenced with the case of Ndukwe Ekekwe, a 34-year-old man that was paralysed after the alleged police pushed him off a two-storey building at Alaba market, Lagos on February 16, 2018.

Emmanuel Eze and Joseph Eboseremen were the legal counsel representing the police at the panel.

Mr Eze, who commenced the cross-examination of the victim on November 18, continued with the cross-examination on Tuesday where he asked several questions.

The police counsel said the suspect was arrested for receiving and buying stolen goods, adding that the police had a warrant to search his shop at Alaba International from where he was allegedly thrown off a two-storey building.

The victim, Mr Ekekwe earlier identified the operative of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that led the team for his arrest as Haruna Hamisu. He also provided a picture of the alleged operative which he told the panel his mother got from the officer's WhatsApp status.

The panel had since tasked the police counsel to identify the alleged officer and bring him before the panel to testify.

After concluding the cross-examination of Mr Ekekwe on Tuesday, the police counsel asked for an adjournment saying the alleged police officers will be brought before the panel to testify.

"We intend calling a witness, the IPO is not in this jurisdiction."

"The panel is not ready to deal with your 'intend'," the judge cuts in with annoyance.

"We started hearing this petition on the 3rd of November. This is an assignment we have for six months and indeed we have not delivered one judgement because of the excuses and request for adjournment by the police.

"We cannot continue at that pace. In as much as the panel is out to do justice to all parties concerned, at the moment, we have 210 petitions, if we keep on adjourning and adjourning, we will be here for another two years. And that is not the plan of the panel, you either conclude your case today or provide the witness by Friday," Mrs Okuwobi said, with other members of the panel nodding in agreement.

In an attempt to pacify the judge, Mr Eboseremen, the second police counsel in the matter prayed the panel to give the police little time. "I pray, may we not sacrifice justice on the altar of speed, the truth of the matter."

Interrrupting the counsel, Mrs Okuwobi said; "Justice will be sacrificed on the altar of speed because the panel has a timing which is six months. For the first three weeks of this panel, we could not move ahead because you were absent. Now that you are here with us, the least you can do is make your cases go on expeditiously. We cannot continue to wait like this."

Mr Eboseremen said the police counsel is doing their best but because police officers are scattered across the country and most of the incidents happened years back, due process must be followed.

"We are doing our best considering the fact that the nature of the job, we are scattered all over the country. Some are in Borno, some are in Maiduguri. I think this one is in Enugu now."

"If you don't have him here, then you don't intend to call him," Mrs Okuwobi responded.

Mr Eboseremen clarified that the police counsel wishes to call witness to assist the panel, but there is a chain of command the police that counsel must go through before they invite the alleged officer.

"You must provide your witness on Friday, if he is not here, the panel will close the case," the judge responded.

The police counsel prayed the court to give them until December 8 before they can bring in the witness, adding that the police was constrained because the number provided by the complainant was not going through among other difficulties.

Responding to the prayer of the counsel, Mrs Okuwobi said the hearing on the petition commenced one month ago and the respondent must note that the panel has only six months with 200 more petitions yet to be heard.

"This application for adjournment is another too many, in the spirit of fair hearing, however, the panel will grant this final audience of an adjournment to the respondent. Failure to present their witness at the next hearing date, their case will be closed."

Further hearing on the petition is adjourned to December 8.

Similarly, the police counsel asked for an adjournment in the further hearing of the petition Olajide Fowotade, a 60-year-old man that was allegedly brutalised by the police, as they needed more time to get the alleged police officers.

The panel also adjourned the matter to December 8.

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