The United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, has urged the Nigerian government to ensure accountability and address the grievances of victims of the police brutality and their families as well as the #EndSARS protests.
He said the US government was working closely with Nigeria to help the population most affected by conflict and violence in the country, particularly in the North-East, where his country is providing vital humanitarian aid to approximately 2.2 million internally displaced Nigerians.
Blinken said this on Thursday during a joint press briefing with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema, shortly after he visited the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He said, “We discussed the importance of a comprehensive approach that builds effective security forces, addresses the underlying drivers of extremism, and respects Nigerians’ basic human rights.
“The United States is committed to helping Nigeria do that by continuing to invest in our security partnership, and the institutions that strengthen the rule of law, and that hold accountable those who commit human rights abuses, corruption and other acts that harm the Nigerian people.”
By tackling these issues, Blinken said the US could help to address some of the problems that had been key drivers of insecurity.
He also welcomed the conclusion of the investigation by the independent panel of inquiry set up by the Lagos State Government to look into the events that took place at the Lekki tollgate in October 2020, , including killings and other alleged abuses by the security forces.
“We anticipate and look to the state and the Federal Government’s response to the findings, and expect those to include steps that ensure accountability and address the grievances of the victims and their families,” he stated.
Buhari had earlier told Blinken that his government would allow the system to exhaust itself by awaiting the pronouncements of state governments, which set up panels to probe alleged police brutality in the country.
However, controversy has enveloped the report of the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses and other matters as a counsel, who represented the state government before the panel, Abiodun Owonikoko, SAN, said about 40 discrepancies had been identified in the report.
Owonikoko, who spoke on Arise TV on Thursday, said people should not hastily hail the panel’s report until the government’s decision on it, which comes by way of White Paper, the counsel noted that he had identified almost 40 discrepancies in the report.
He said, “As a citizen now and not as a lawyer to Lagos State, I’m interested in trying to clarify matters, because you have invited me and I’m telling you that if you have to subject this report to judicial screening, these are the things that will come up and people must not be in a haste to begin to hail a report that is mute until we know the final outcome.
“I have read the report. Since you now confirm that it is supposed to be authentic, I have identified almost 40 discrepancies, very material discrepancies in that report, including awarding damages to people, who are claimed to have died, but who never died; who have even come out to say they did not die.
“Including awarding damages to somebody they claimed died, but who actually was a witness to testify as to his brother’s death not even at the Lekki tollgate; does that not show you that there was a thorough job done? How do you make that kind of serious mistake to award millions and millions to somebody claiming that he died when actually he was even a witness before you?
“In the report itself, you will find where the witness was there and they recorded his evidence, and the list they posted, they said he died and awarded him N15m; what kind of report is that? Any report that has that fundamental error will crash.”
He emphasized that the recommendations and resolutions in the panel’s report were not meant for the public, stressing that only the state government’s review and final decision on it ought to be available for public consumption.
However, human rights lawyer, Mr Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa, said some people suspected to be officials of the Lagos State Government were launching attacks on members of the Lagos panel.
Adegboruwa, who was a member of the panel, said this in a statement on Thursday titled, ‘#EndSARS Panel Members are Being Unfairly Persecuted’.
Adegboruwa said since the submission of the report to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on November 15, 2021, “Members of the panel have become subject of vicious attacks by those suspected to be agents of the government.”
He said all manners of allegations had been made against the panel members, some of whom had been called unprintable names.
The activist stated, “I can confirm that no member of the panel lobbied to be appointed into the panel. As a matter of fact, in my own case, His Excellency, the Governor of Lagos State, appealed to me to accept my appointment, which I saw as a call to national service. The primary reason the governor gave to me then was that he wanted men and women of integrity, independent and not subject to manipulation, to be on the panel.
“Just today, my attention has been drawn to an interview by a senior counsel to the Lagos State Government to the effect that panel members collected bribes in the course of the assignment. It is unfair, ungodly and least expected of the government and its lawyers.
“The Lagos State Government asked for two weeks to enable it to release a White Paper on the report submitted to it by the panel. And we have been waiting, but it would seem that the Lagos State Government has now unleashed mindless propaganda upon panel members whilst at the same time asking for restraint from the general public.”
FG awaiting states’ decision, says Buhari
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, disclosed Buhari’s position in a statement titled, ‘#EndSARS probe panel report: We wait for the states, President Buhari tells Blinken, American Secretary of State’.
Buhari stated, “So many state governments are involved and have given different terms of reference to the probe panels. We at the federal (level) have to wait for the steps taken by the states, and we have to allow the system to work.
“We can’t impose ideas on them. The Federal Government has to wait for the reaction of the states.”
Reps minority caucus seeks Lai Mohammed’s resignation or sacking
Meanwhile, the minority caucus in the House of Representatives has called for the immediate resignation of the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, or his sacking by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).
The caucus made the call in reaction to comments earlier made by Mohammed on the killing of #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki tollgate on October 20, 2020, before the panel set up by the Lagos State Government submitted its report.
The demand was made in a statement issued on Thursday by the Minority Leader of the House, Ndudi Elumelu, titled,
‘Lagos #EndSARS Report: FG Officials Have Questions to Answer – Reps Minority Caucus’.
The statement read in part, “The minority caucus is, therefore, apprehensive as to what furtive motive must have made the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who ought to know the truth, to rush to the media ahead of the judicial panel to insist that there were no killings at Lekki tollgate, even in the face of testimonies of witnesses at the sad event.
“The Minority Caucus, therefore, calls on the APC-led administration to come clean on the killings as well as the furtive moves to cover up the vicious act. Also, giving the findings of the Lagos panel, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, is expected to resign immediately or be fired by President Muhammadu Buhari.” ,,