Last week, I opined that the Lagos EndSARS Panel should be adopted as a model for justice administration in Nigeria. This piece has nothing to do with the report of the Panel submitted to His Excellency the Governor of Lagos State, as to the merits or otherwise, as the White Paper promised by the government is being awaited. Let me now invite you to look at some aspects of the Panel that can be of benefit to our dear nation, especially the judicial sector.
Mode of appointment of judicial officers
It is my firm conviction that one of the principal factors that help to determine the independence, integrity and effectiveness of a judicial officer is the mode of appointment. The old saying remains ever true that he who pays the piper dictates the tune. We should therefore remove the influence of lobby in the mode of appointment of judicial officers, in order to guarantee their independence. Let the appointment be on merit, so that it will be treasured and become impactful. For the EndSARS Panel, the Governor of Lagos State did an excellent job in the assemblage of men and women of integrity into the Panel. The Governor stated that prior to her appointment as Chairperson of the Panel, he had not met Honourable Justice Doris Okuwobi (Retd) and indeed many other members of the Panel. So, we didn’t feel obliged to kowtow to anybody but to act in good faith, in accordance with our conscience and in deference to God. Objectivity was the watchword for Panel members as there was no faction, no allegiance to any godfather, bait of Financial inducement or indeed any reason for patronage.
The Chairperson of the Panel was a no nonsense and fearless judicial officer, who had demonstrated rare integrity on the Bench before she retired honourably. She recorded all proceedings of the Panel in long hand and had her own personal record and files for every petition. The other Panel members were people with vast experiences in human rights, civil society organisations, criminology and indeed general law enforcement mechanisms. There were no preconceived notions or ideas but rather superiority of intellectual arguments based on rational convictions. At times, a particular petition may look this way or that way but by the time the Panel meets at its Conference to analyze it, even the members do sometimes get shocked at the outcome. Such was the robustness of discourses at the Panel and we always looked forward to the Conferences. So if judges can be appointed without recourse to tribal or religious affiliations, they stand in good stead to perform more excellently than the current trend where traditional rulers, politicians and moneybags in some cases, determine who goes to the Bench.
Qualification, experience and competence
Closely linked to the issue of appointment is the quality and experience of the judicial officer. If appointment is based on patronage, then anybody will get to the Bench, irrespective of qualification and experience. In relating this to the EndSARS Panel, it parades some of the best in relation to the subject matter of the assignment. The Chairperson had an unblemished career spanning so many years, having risen from the Ministry of Justice. She had the zeal for the assignment and gave her very best to it. Although I was chosen as her deputy by the other members, I was led in my spirit not to ever preside over the proceedings of the Panel in her absence and I told the other members and pleaded with them. So, we kept encouraging her and praying for good health and strength for her such that throughout the sittings of the Panel, she was never absent on ground of ill health. The Panel had a seasoned officer who had distinguished himself in security intelligence and operations. That’s why I was shell-shocked when I heard about the alleged ‘discrepancies’ or ‘missing links’ (all traceable to the government, one from a paid counsel and the other from a paid government employee) being bandied about by the government and its agents, one of which was that the Panel did not consider the case of policemen who suffered brutality in the course of the EndSARS protest.
This elderly, humorous and polished officer would guide the Panel in all matters relating to security and he indeed made a very strong case for the consideration of police officers who were victims of abuses. When the Panel was inaugurated, it had a floodgate of petitions so this had to be capped on December 22, 2020 which was the last date we received any petition at all. The Panel was set up to examine the complaints of citizens against the police but we met and felt moved by the cases of police officers that lost their lives, relations or property. So the Panel decided to waive the closing date in order to receive petitions from police officers who were victims.
We got about 64 petitions but since it was just about two weeks for the Panel to wind up its open sittings, we decided to filter the petitions and narrow them to cases with loss of lives, serious injuries or loss of property. We heard these petitions and awarded compensation in cases that we considered meritorious. None of the police petitions relate to the Lekki Toll Gate Investigation as no single policeman or any other security officer was reported to have died from the Lekki Toll Gate. So we decided to group police petitions along with the general cases of police brutality which constitute volume one of the Panel’s report that was submitted to the Governor on November 15, 2021 in hard copy.