Lawal Pedro, SAN is a former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, and Solicitor-General of the State of Lagos. In this interview, he talks about the federal government’s threat to the promoters of EndSARS protest across the country and the consequences of such action. He also offered insight into the difficulties faced by the numerous commissions investigating cases of human rights violations by disbanded SARS operatives.
By Henry Ojelu
What do you do about the latest threat from the federal government to go after the EndSARS promoters?
I’m sure the government will find an excuse to say that they’re not against the proponents of legitimate dissent. The EndSARS protest, as acknowledged by the government, is lawful and that is why the protesters have approved the plea. I see no excuse for going after the demonstrators.
Nevertheless, if the government has knowledge that the promoters are the people who supported the hoodlums that hijacked the protests to launch violent attacks and destroy private and public properties in Lagos and other parts of the world, then the government would be justified in going after those promoters who believe they are engaged in those illegal activities.
But are the numerous courts still looking into any of these allegations?
No, the courts are not looking at that part of the protest. The terms of reference for the different panels are limited in scope. It is my understanding that the panels are intended to locate victims of violence and extrajudicial killings by SARS officers, to examine allegations by members of the public, to analyze the evidence presented, and to draw conclusions. The panel is also required to make recommendations to the government. The function of the panels is therefore limited.
The government seems to be focused more on following alleged protest organizers rather than placing motions in order to address the demands of the protesters. Is this the right priority?
As I said, the government must be cautious and distinguish between the sponsors of the Lekki movement, which they themselves have admitted is lawful, and those who have evidence against the fact that they have actually encouraged and supported those who are engaged in vandalism.
If the federal government is able to establish that these individuals have been responsible for, or have facilitated, the destruction of properties, it is justified.
But if it is a general action, it would be illegal and unconstitutional for the government to embark on such a trip. If the government could identify that A or B, sponsored by the burning of the High Court of Lagos, sponsored persons who burned the NPA house, then it would be justified to take such action. But the government itself needs to be vigilant to deal with this kind of matter.
Those impacted do not hesitate to go to court in order to protect their rights. That’s the way of the rule of law. The government has an obligation and a duty to the generality of the people and individuals to have their constitutional rights.
If the federal government can not prove that these people have encouraged destruction anywhere, then there is no business clamping down on their behalf.
Without preempting the recommendations of the different courts, who do you think would bear the repercussions of compensating the victims of SARS barbarity?
This really is the problem with the police architecture of our country. The name is Nigerian police; whether they use or withdraw the force, the police are meant to be the police of the Nigerian federal government because we do not have the state police. If the police make a mistake in the course of their duties, both the federal and state governments must reimburse the victims. We have a federal police system, which is why the first agency to be responsible is the federal government. In this situation, it was under the order of the federal government that each state set up its commissions, so that collaboration between the two victims would otherwise be uncompensated.
One of the youth leaders in the Lagos panel is currently the government’s target to the crackdown. Will that have an effect on the sitting of the panel?
This is where I sometimes suspect that the government is operating on a cross-sectional basis. When the selection of youth members for the Lagos panel was made, no one knew that one of the individuals chosen would be the target of an investigation. I think that the problem can be resolved quickly and that the person in question has been able to return to his position. Really, if there are actual protestors, they’re the kind of people that the government shouldn’t follow.
I assume that the government had to do a full clampdown, and when they had finished investigating, they would have let go of the real demonstrators. The concern is the lack of investigation before the action is taken. In reality, most people do not know how the government works, and that is why government acts are sometimes misinterpreted. When incidents happen, the government and the police response is to apprehend everybody in the area of the crime and then encourage the suspects to prove their innocence.
But is that not a wrong approach?
In fact, I agree with you, but I am only restricting the issue to our Nigerian factor, where the investigation begins with the arrest. In Nigeria, if you don’t like someone, you’re just going to report that guy to the police, and he’s going to be arrested. It is a Nigerian system that needs to be corrected. I’m just telling you how Nigerian security operatives work. They’re just going to gather everybody up and start sifting them. This is a really wrong strategy.
Don’t you think that the 90-day duration covered by the freeze order on the EndSARS Promoter’s account is not appropriate?
I don’t think the order was incorrect. The court clearly said that the injunction would last 90 days. In reality, the number of days is meaningless. The person who has the consequence of the order will potentially go to the court to have the order set aside at any time.
How hopeful are you that the EndSARS courts will deliver justice to the victims of SARS brutality?
I have confidence in the different courts of the EnSARS. The argument is, after a recommendation, what is going to happen? That is why the media must track to ensure that the guidelines are followed. Once nobody thinks about it, the matter will actually die.