#ENDSARS: Nigerians, panel members divided over reopening of Lekki toll gate

Nigerians and members of the Lagos State judicial panel set up to investigate the October 20, 2020 Lekki shooting incident are deeply divided on the re-opening of Lekki toll gate.

On Saturday, the judicial panel chaired by Doris Okuwobi approved the reopening of the Lekki toll gate following an application by the LCC through its legal counsel, Rotimi Seriki.

According to Okuwobi,“To put the record straight, it is the jurisdiction of this panel to investigate the incident of October 2020 and make recommendations is the premise by which the panel must comply with jurisdiction to look into the Lekki case.”

“The Lekki toll plaza is considered the seat of event of that day. This panel has given ample opportunity to all petitioners to access the toll plaza with the view to considering the investigation,” Okuwobi said.

She added that the report of the forensic team had been concluded hence there was no reason to hold on to the property.

“The report is ready as the panel has been satisfied and the assurances from the forensic team that it will no longer require any visit to the plaza. The panel has decided that it will not await the termination of the petitioners before it hands over control of Lekki to LCC,” she stated.

Speaking on contradictory views regarding the toll gate re-opening, Okuwobi said any evidence in connection to the property should have been taken before now as the panel had given petitioners the opportunity to do so before now.

“To say that its wreckage be preserved as evidence beats my imagination. Whatever evidence any interested person decides to have must have been taken before now as the petitioners do not have any review before the panel to restrain the use of the toll plaza,” Okuwobi added.

Unsatisfied with the decision of the panel chair, some youth representatives in the panel and legal counsel to victims of the Lekki shootings, said reopening the toll gate would hamper the recommendations of the panel.

Ebun Adegboruwa, lawyer and senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who is also a member of the panel, said the decision to hand over the property was hasty, premature and would overreach the panel’s report.

“It will overreach whatever decisions the panel may reach and foist a situation of complete helplessness and a fait accompli, on members of the panel, in respect of any recommendation that it may make, on the general operations of the plazas,” Adegboruwa said.

He added that since the panel was yet to ascertain the claims and counter-claims of fatalities and massacres at the toll gate, reopening it would seem ‘insensitive and callous’ to those who might have died from the shooting.

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Panel members say ruling cannot stand

A member of the panel, Rinuola Oduola, said the ruling would not stand because a quorum was not formed before the decision was made by the panel chair, Okuwobi.

“Also, the ruling that Lekki toll gate should be reopened cannot hold, as a quorum wasn’t formed today with the youth representatives absent.  It is also pertinent to note that five of nine can’t form a proper quorum.

“It should also be noted that the ruling did not include our dissenting opinions as members of the panel. Five other members of the panel held the view that the toll gate should be allowed to reopen,” Oduola said.

Stating her reason for objecting to the reopening of the toll gate, Oduola said one of her reasons was that the LCC had not given access of its CCTV servers to forensic experts.

She added that to her and another panel member, Temitope Majekodunmi, the investigation into the Lekki shooting had barely begun.

“Also, we are of the view that the investigations into the Lekki toll gate incidence have barely begun, and so the Lekki Toll Gate should remain shut until full investigations are concluded by the Panel,” she wrote on her Twitter account on Saturday.

She further noted that the same stand was also taken by Adegboruwa and Patience Udoh, members of the civil society groups in the panel.

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Nigerians divide over reopening

Many Nigerians, most especially on those on the social media,  are against the panel’s decision to hand over the property to LCC.

    Expressing their opinions on Twitter, one Nigerian, Abayomi, stated that “People died, the blood of Lagosians were shed by their own army and their own government. People were amputated because of bullet wounds shot at them in that place. It must never be allowed to open again. It is now a massacre centre.”

    Another user identified as Tee Praiz while responding to the argument of one of the members of the panel, Segun Awosanya (Segalink), who voted that the toll gate be reopened, said it was being done at the wrong time.

    “No doubts that I understand the stand of Segalink on the reopening of #Lekki tollgate but it’s being done at the wrong time and wrong venue. The reason for the panel is yet to be achieved, and you’re clamouring for the reopening of where souls of patriotic and hardworking youths,” Tee Praiz noted.

    Against some other opinions, a user identified as Theresa Tekenah said Lekki Tollgate was providing jobs, revenue for Lagosians and there was a legal agreement between Lekki Concession Company Limited and Lagos State government, meaning that the toll gate could not remain closed forever because of the sentiments of certain people.

    Lukman Abolade is an Investigative reporter with The ICIR. Reach out to him via [email protected], on twitter @AboladeLAA and FB @Correction94

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