#EndSARS: Why we can’t force Army to appear before us – Panel
The Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry has said there is nothing the panel can do if the army fails to appear before it with respect to the Lekki toll gate shooting.
Dorris Okuwobi, a retired judge heading the panel, spoke on Saturday while responding to a counsel who appeared before the panel to clarify issues with the Nigerian Army.
The judge said the panel “cannot force the army to come” to state its case in the Lekki shooting incident.
Mrs Okuwobi also alleged that reports about Akinlolu Kehinde, the counsel who represented the Nigerian Army in the earlier proceedings, and his ‘refusal’ to appear before the panel are not accurate.
“We cannot force them to come. We will take on the petitions as if they are not present, I made that very clear in the ruling. We have tried our best, served the legal summons, served the Chief of Army Staff, beyond that, there is no more the panel can do.
“The reports by the press have not presented the rulings of the panel, we never said he (Mr Kehinde) refused to come. The reports were not accurate, so do let him know that we did not in any way make such report,” she said.
At Saturday’s proceedings, Samuel Agweh, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, was prompted by Olumide Fusika, counsel to victims of Lekki incident, to announce his appearance since he was representing the Nigerian Army.
Mr Fusika made the call while cross-examining a surgeon from Reddington Hospital, who gave evidence of several people sustaining bullet wounds on the night of October 20, 2020.
Responding to the call, Mr Agweh said he was appearing for Akinlolu Kehinde, the counsel who represented the Nigerian Army. He said the army authority has disbanded the legal team.
“I am not here to represent the Nigerian Army, I have brought a message from Mr Kehinde Akinlolu SAN. Before now, Mr Kehinde has written a letter to this panel because what we read in the new media and some other things that led Mr Kehinde to ask me to come this morning is that the counsel representing the Nigerian Army has refused to show up.”
Mrs Agweh said the reports in the media portrayed that Mr Kehinde refused to show up, “which is not true because his brief for the Nigerian Army has been terminated”.
“My Lord, the letter written by Kehinde, dated 20th January, which was already submitted to this panel explains it all that the team of legal practitioners led by Kehinde SAN, who represented the Nigerian Army at this panel based on the summons issued on October 28, 2020.
“My Lord, that team had been disbanded, our job finished on the 21st or 25th of November, we do not have further mandate to represent the Nigerian Army in any subsequent proceedings.”
Mr Agweh said “it is not a matter of disrespect that the team was no longer appearing before the panel but the situation is that the team no longer exists”.
“When these cases were called, I did not even know that the army is in the matter. Because as at that time, these cases were not before this Tribunal, we had finished our business before these cases came up. So, any subsequent summons issued by this panel was not brought to us to come and represent the Nigerian Army.
“As a matter of respect to the panel and is members, that is why I did not announce my appearance, because I did not have any mandate to represent the Nigerian Army in any matter after the 21st of November,” Mr Agweh said.
Reacting to the senior counsel, Mrs Okuwobi said she appreciated that Mr Kehinde showed due respect to the panel “by not only writing to them but also asking the senior lawyer to explain to the panel further”.
“The reports by the press have not presented the rulings of the panel, we never said he refused to come. The reports were not accurate, so do let him know that we did not in any way make such report.
“His position as stated to the panel are quite clear, but having served so many summons on the Nigerian Army and they are absent, we felt he, as counsel on record, could assist the panel and at least let us know why the Nigerian Army are not appearing in this matter. We didn’t go beyond that,” she said.
Mrs Okuwobi said she appreciates the position of Mr Kehinde “and the panel will no longer bother him”.
“If he says his brief had terminated, we cannot revive the brief,” she said.
Olumide Fusika and Adeshina Ogunala, the counsels to victims of the Lekki Shooting, reacted to the position of the retired judge.
Mr Fusika said even though the tribunal cannot compel any lawyer to represent any party and Mr Kehinde’s brief has been terminated, the case against the Nigerian Army has not been terminated.
“I want that to be made very clear, so if they decided not to come and they told any lawyer not to represent them, that is their own decision.”
Mr Ogunlana also said he is taken aback at the position of the panel.
“I wish to say that with due respect, I am taken aback by the position that if the Nigerian Army decide not to come, there is nothing the panel can do.”
He said “the refusal can frustrate the panel and also does not portray the panel well to civilians”.
Mrs Okuwobi said the panel has made it very clear that he Nigerian Army should come so their side will be heard.
“It will not frustrate the panel, we have our rules of proceedings. If a party refuses to come or appear before the panel to do their case, it is deemed that they are abandoning their case.
“We cannot force them to come. We will take on the petitions as if they are not presented, I made that very clear in the ruling. We have tried our best, served the legal summons, served the Chief of Army Staff, beyond that, there is no more the panel can do.
“All other petitions affecting the Nigerian Army on which complaints have been made against them have been forwarded to the Chief of Army Staff and a summons for them to appear. If they fail to appear, there is nothing the panel can do,” the judge said.
Mrs Okuwobi adjourned the matter till February 27 for further hearing.