Pursuant to the powers conferred on the Executive Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, by the Tribunals of Inquiry Law, Laws of Lagos State, 2015, (“the Law”) the Governor on 19 October 2020 set up a panel known as the Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution for Victims of Special Anti Robbery Squad Related Abuses. The Panel is to commence sitting on Monday, 26 October 2020, at the Lagos Court of Arbitration, Lekki.

Some other States of the Federation have also set up similar Judicial Panels of Inquiry to look into cases of police brutality in line with the relevant Laws of these States which are similar to the Lagos Law. For example, Abia, Anambra, Osun, Ekiti, Delta, Niger, Taraba, Kaduna, Ogun, Enugu, Imo, Plateau, Edo, Nasarawa, Ondo, Akwa Ibom, etc. The establishment of the panels was in line with the resolution of the National Economic Council.

Terms of Reference

The 8-person panel set up by Governor Sanwo-Olu has the following Terms of Reference:

  1. To identify victims of abuse, brutality and extra judicial killings in the hands of Officers of the disbanded Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) and Officers of the Nigeria Police;
  2. To carry out investigative duties in respect of Petitions/Memoranda received on police brutality and extra judicial killings in Lagos State;
  3. To evaluate evidence and draw conclusions on the validity of such Petitions/Memoranda received;
  4. To determine and recommend compensation for verifiable/deserving victims and their dependents;
  5. To interrogate serving or dismissed Officers of the disbanded SARS and Officers of the Nigeria Police, responsible for the abuse of victims and recommend their prosecution; and
  6. To look into the incident at the Lekki Toll Gate.

The Process

Just like a court, the Panel has the power to regulate its own proceedings. What this means is that the Panel has the power to dictate how the entire process of inquiry would go subject to the overriding power of control by the Governor. We must however note that the proceedings of the Panel differ from that of the regular courts as we shall soon see.

In effect, the Panel has the power to procure all such evidence (written or oral) and to examine witnesses. The Panel may require that evidence of witnesses be given on oath. The Panel may summon any person in Nigeria to attend any meeting of the Panel to give evidence or produce any document or other thing in the person’s possession, subject to all just exceptions. The Panel may issue a warrant to compel the attendance of any person who refuses to attend the proceedings after being summoned without justification. The person might be compelled to bear all costs incurred for the purpose of compelling the person. It is also an offence to fail, refuse or neglect to give evidence after being summoned. However, no one is obligated to give evidence incriminating himself or herself.

The Panel has the power to admit any evidence (written or oral) notwithstanding that such evidence might have been inadmissible in the regular courts. What this means is that not all the strict rules of evidence will apply at the Panel. In the regular courts, there are certain rules that guide the courts in admitting evidence. However, the Panel has the power to relax those rules.

The Panel has the power to appoint any person as interpreter. This is to help in occasions where a party or witness does not understand English language. English is the official language of any court or tribunal in Nigeria.

Freedom and Protection to Parties and Witnesses

It is important to note that evidence taken by the Panel will be inadmissible against any person in any civil or criminal proceedings. This is to guarantee further freedom to any person appearing before the Panel to freely bring forward the case and to testify. However, this freedom does not entitle any person to give false information to the Panel. Any person giving false information may be charged to Court for it. Penalty is 2 years imprisonment.

It is an offence to threaten, insult or injure any person acting as witness at the Panel. It is also an offence to hinder or attempt to hinder any person, or by threats deters or attempts to deter any person from giving evidence before the Panel. Penalty is 2 years imprisonment.

Witnesses, interpreters and any other person attending at the request of the Panel or upon summons will be paid such sums as allowances or for expenses with the approval of the Attorney General. The amount payable shall be paid out of public revenue.


Every person appearing before the Panel must show maximum respect to the Panel and not commit any contempt, whether or not in the presence of the members of the Panel. An act of contempt means any act of disrespect, insult or threat to the Panel or any of its members. Acts of disrespect, insult or threat to a member of the Panel include those committed at any time and place by any person on account of proceedings in the capacity as a member of the Panel. Any publication calculated to prejudice an inquiry or any proceedings is also an act of contempt.

Right to Legal Representation

It is interesting to note that any person whose conduct or affairs are the subject of the inquiry into police brutality or who is in any way implicated or concerned in the matter of police brutality will be entitled to be represented by a lawyer/counsel at the whole of the inquiry. (Section 19) This is also a constitutional right. It is advised that it is better to engage lawyers skilled in public interest litigation and human rights activism. To be legally represented at the Panel also includes assistance with relevant legal documentation.

Panel’s Report and Governor’s Order

The Panel shall at the conclusion of its assignment, make and furnish to the Governor a full report in writing of its proceedings, findings and recommendations and record an opinion and reasons leading to its conclusion. (Section 15)

Upon receiving the report by the Panel, the Governor may make any order as he deems fit and deliver same to the Registrar of a High Court in Lagos. The Registrar shall register the Order which shall have the same effect as the Judgment of a High Court and may be enforced accordingly. The Order will not be reviewed in any court by prerogative order or by any other means and no appeal will lie from the Order. In other words, any registered Order by the Governor based on the report by the Panel is final.

Possible Limitations to the Lekki Toll Gate Inquiry

Unfortunately, the whole idea about setting up a Judicial Panel of Inquiry to look into allegations of police brutality is faced with the challenges posed by the horrible incident at the Lekki Toll Gate on Tuesday, 20 October 2020. The incident has cast a lot of aspersions on the integrity of the Lagos State Government and ultimately, the Federal Government of Nigeria. The Lekki Toll Gate incident deserves a special attention.

In a decent society, the entire Lekki Toll Gate would have been properly marked as a Crime Scene since that bloody Tuesday night with no one allowed (not even the cleaners) to get close and tamper with evidence. Are the forces beyond the control of Governor Sanwo-Olu also responsible for not properly marking the area?

How well will a people who believe that they were being killed by the Government confidently step forward?

The Lekki Toll Gate is usually secured by top level Mobile Police Men. There is no single report that these officers made any attempt to stop those who opened fire on the protesters. There was no protection for these protesters during the raid. None! The State failed. If there was any, the Lagos State Government should prove to Lagosians and to the world the pragmatic efforts made to save souls on that unholy night, either from death or from grievous bodily harm. “Medicine after death” is always futile! It has been stated elsewhere that:

It is the duty of the Government to provide adequate security to protesters in order to ensure that the protest is not hijacked by hoodlums. This failure is also responsible for the escalation of the crisis. The Government must be proactive in beefing up security to ensure that any breakdown of law and order is contained and that there is no destruction of lives and properties. The duty to protect lives and properties is a duty that must be performed especially in the most demanding times and not in moments of tranquility only.

The Lagos State Government is commended for setting up the Panel and for taking up the hospital bills of those affected and also for offering to assist those who suffered losses in the hands of hoodlums.

Nonetheless, the Lagos State Government cannot pretend that the Judicial Panel of Inquiry set up will deal with issues of that Black Tuesday without putting the Lagos State Government on the hot seat. This also touches on the competence and effectiveness of the Panel set up by the Government itself to look into that very event. Beyond this, the Lagos State Government owe the people a duty to conduct a thorough and independent investigation and give a comprehensive report of what happened at the Lekki Toll Gate instead of appearing to be leaving that duty to the people to simply come forward to the Panel. This is if at all the powers beyond the control of the Lagos State Government will permit.

We must love justice as much as we love peace.

Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has advised a number of both established and startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.
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