Panel suspends sitting as youths protest CBN freezing of members’ accounts

The sitting of the Lagos State Panel of Judicial Inquiry probing the alleged shooting of #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki tollgate was frustrated on Saturday due to the absence of the two youth members of the panel, Oluwarinu Oduala and Temitope Majekodunmi.

Oduala, who is one of the promoters of the #EndSARS protest, failed to show up for the Saturday sitting in protest against the freezing of her bank account by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

The PUNCH had reported that the CBN obtained a court order freezing the accounts of 20 #EndSARS promoters till January 2021. One of those affected was Oduala.

The chairman of the judicial, retired Justice Doris Okuwobi, said the panel had no other option but to suspend Saturday sitting as it could not form a quorum in the absence of the two youths.

Justice Okuwobi said, “We are confronted with a situation which prevented her (Oduala) from coming. We do not know if the two youths’ representatives will eventually pull out.

“We don’t want a situation where proceedings would go on and later it is impugned with controversy for lack of quorum.”

Justice Okuwobi stressed that it was important for all the sittings of the panel to be held in accordance with the law.

“In all matters, we have to wait for them (youth representatives) to join us. Without them, we are handicapped,” she said.

The panel scheduled Saturday to take the testimony of the Nigerian Army on the October 20 shootings by soldiers at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos.

A soldier had already taken the witness stand when before Justice Okuwobi announced that the sitting could not proceed.

Responding, counsel for the Nigerian Army, A. T. Kehinde (SAN), who explained that the army’s appearance on Saturday was pursuant to an October 28 summons by the panel, appreciated the panel for explaining its challenges to everyone.

He asked to be guided on the next date his client would appear before the panel.

Also speaking, counsel for the Lagos State Government, Olukayode Enitan (SAN), aligned himself with the submission by the counsel for the Army.

“The issue of a quorum is if utmost importance as to the competence of the panel to proceed and as to the integrity of recommendation to be made at the end of proceedings.

“Therefore, the directive for the panel to adjourn is quite appropriate,” Enitan said.

Counsel for #EndSARS protesters, Mr Adesina Ogunlana, described the development as an embarrassment to both the panel and lawyers.

Ogunlana, who claimed to have privileged information about plans to disrupt the panel sittings using thugs, advised the panel to be proactive and to ask the government to do the needful.

“Government cannot approbate and reprobate. This disconnect must be addressed immediately,” he said.

Also, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, who said he was before the panel on behalf of some victims who wanted to make a presentation before it said he would need the panel’s directive in view of the development.

Olumide-Fusika gave the names of some of his clients as Raimi Olumide, Solomon Samuel Ageze, Olamilekan Sanusi, Ayodeji Beckley, Samuel Asala, Agbese Isiawu and Onileowo Legend.

Justice Okuwobi adjourned further sitting of the panel till next Saturday, November 14.

The panel had on Friday fixed next Tuesday, November 10, to continue the viewing of the video footage of the Lekki shootings submitted by the Lekki Concession Company, operator of the tollgate.

In an interview with journalists, the #EndSARS protesters’ lawyer, Ogunlana, said the freezing of the bank accounts of the promoters of the protests had substantiated his submission to the panel on Friday that his life and those of his clients were being threatened.

He declared the freezing of the protesters’ accounts as a declaration of war by the government.

Ogunlana said, “Why are they boycotting the panel? Why did they choose to boycott the panel? It is because one of them has been sanctioned by the Federal Government via the court.

“These people say, ‘How can you put us on a panel for the purpose of resolving this issue and then you are sanctioning us very drastically?’

“We are talking about financial squeeze; they can’t operate their accounts again; that’s a declaration of war. You know one of the ways of fighting a war is starvation. So, these people are saying you can’t ask us to do a job, promising peace and progress, then you are punishing us. That is what happened. And the law setting the panel up say those young people, representatives of the youth are necessary. So, their presence is necessary for the panel to form a quorum.”

A member of the panel, who spoke to Sunday PUNCH on condition of anonymity, said the panel members generally felt betrayed by the government.

The member said, “Most panel members feel a sense of betrayal by the government. Many of the members are sacrificing their time, reputations and even careers, for this assignment, so that peace can be restored.

“It is unfair on the side of the government to provoke the protesters. Having set up the various panels, the government should not be the one undermining the gallant efforts of the panel members.

“In this regard, panel members view the freezing of the bank account of Miss Rachael Oduala (Rinu) as a direct affront on the integrity of the panel.”

The member said it amounted to “the greatest act of provocation for the government to freeze their bank accounts, seize their travel documents or even arrest the #EndSARS protesters since they embraced dialogue by agreeing to serve on panels set up by the government.

“If this should continue, how will the panel get witnesses to come out openly to narrate their experiences? The government should set good examples and not carry on as if there is no law regulating human affairs. We expect the government to reach out to the youth protesters to resolve all issues with them. The panel cannot sit under the present circumstances,” the member said. – Punch.

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