By Femi Falana SAN
Pursuant to the Tribunals of Inquiry Law, Laws of Lagos State 2015 the Justice Doris Okuwobi Commission of Enquiry was instituted by the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu last year to probe sundry allegations of police brutality in the State. Upon the conclusion of the assignment last week the Commission submitted “a full report in writing of its proceedings, findings and recommendations and record an opinion and reasons leading to its conclusions” in line with Section 15 (1) of the Law. Thereafter, the Governor set up a 4-member Committee of cabinet members headed by the State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Moyosore Onigbanjo SAN, to advise him with respect to the position of the Government which will be contained in a White Paper.
We are not unaware of the purported rejection of the report of the Commission by the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed and the pressure on the White Paper Committee by some anti democratic forces to advise the Governor to jettison the findings and recommendations of the Commission. Such critics are certainly not aware that there is no provision for the issuance of a White Paper under the Law. In other words, a White Paper is a mere administrative medium for conveying the decision or position of the Government on the report of an Administrative or Judicial Enquiry. Therefore, since the White Committee is not known to law its members are not competent to edit, modify, alter, edit or reject the report of the Commission. More so, that the members of White Paper Committee did not have the opportunity of taking evidence from the witnesses who had testified before the Commission.
Having regard to the letter and spirit of the Tribunal of Enquiry Law it is submitted that the Federal Government lacks the legal competence to reject the report of a Panel of Enquiry duly constituted by the Lagos State Government. Therefore, Governor Sanwoolu should not hesitate to reject the gratuitous call for the rejection of the report of the Lagos Judicial Commission by Mr. Lai Mohammed. Indeed, the Governor may wish to draw the attention of the Minister to the case of Fawehinmi v Babangida (2003) 12 WRN 1 where the Supreme Court held that the power of the President to set a Tribunal of Enquiry is limited to the Federal Capital Territory as “the National Assembly cannot enact a general Law for the establishment of tribunals of inquiry for, and applicable in the Federation of Nigeria.”
With respect, the Governor cannot reject the report, summary of evidence and findings of the Okuwobi Judicial Commission. Thus, by virtue of section 15 (2) of the Law, the Governor is only empowered to “make any order in relation to any property or other matter dealt with in the report; and such order when made may be delivered to the Registrar of a High Court (which order the Registrar is empowered and required to receive and register without payment of fee) and when so delivered the order will have effect as a judgment of that High Court and may be enforced accordingly but will not be reviewed in any Court by prerogative order or by any other means and, no appeal will lie from the order.” In the case of Williams v Dawodu (1988) 4 NWLR (PT 87) 189 the Court annulled the aspect of the law that equated the order may pursuant to the findings of a Judicial Commission to the judgment of the High Court. Once a White Paper is issued by the Governor on the recommendations the institutions and individuals indicted by the Commission may wish to approach the High Court to challenge any aspect of the report.
The order of the Governor in respect of the findings and recommendations of the Judicial Commission “may be delivered to the Registrar of a High Court (which order the Registrar is empowered and required to receive and register without payment of fee) and when so delivered the order will have effect as a judgment of that High Court and may be enforced accordingly…” Once the order is registered by the Registrar any institution or individual who is dissatisfied with any aspect of the report of the Commission is at liberty to approach the High Court for legal redress. In Williams v Dawodu (supra) the Lagos State High Court had granted an interim order of injunction restraining the Judicial Commission of Enquiry set up to probe the cold murder of the Dawodu brothers in Lagos during a riot. The ground for the injunction was that the Police had charged the persons suspected to have killed the deceased.
But the Court of Appeal deprecated the injunctive relief. Speaking for the Court, Akpata JCA (as he then was and of blessed memory) held that “… if the tribunal ascertains and determines the extent of damage or loss suffered by the said families, and this is followed by reparation by the State government of such damage or loss, the reparation may assuage their pain or sense of loss. Also an inquiry may prevent a future occurrence of such civil disturbances. It seems to me both morally and legally wrong to prevent the State government from carrying out its responsibilities to the generality of the people of this State.” The Governor should not succumb to the blackmail of the merchants of death who have asked him to reject the report of the Commission in spite of the unchallenged evidence that 99 people were killed in Lagos by security forces during the #endsars protests.
Finally, the Okuwobi Judicial Commission has recommended a number of measures to ‘assuage the pain or sense of loss’ of the victims of the brutality meted out to them and the bereaved family members of the 99 persons whose bodies were dumped in the various mortuaries in Lagos State by police and military personnel. Meanwhile, on the directive of Governor Sanwoolu the Okuwobi Judicial Commission has awarded reparation to the tune of N409 million to other victims of police brutality that had occurred in Lagos State. Therefore, Governor Sanwoolu is legally obligated to implement the remaining recommendations of the Commission. On moral grounds, the Governor is equally bound by the directive of the National Economic Council to “immediately forward copies of final reports of the panels to their Attorneys-General for prompt arraignment and prosecution of all indicted persons”.
Being the speech delivered by Mr. Femi Falana SAN when some leaders of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) visited him in Lagos on Thursday, November 28, 2020