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Military authorities take Panel of Judicial Enquiry to empty morgue at 81 Division hospital

MEMBERS of the Lagos State Panel of Judicial Enquiry set up by Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Governor of Lagos State to investigate cases of police brutality and Lekki shootings were on Friday taken to an empty morgue at the Military Hospital at the 65 Battalions operating under 81 Nigerian Army Divisions.

This was after the panel was initially denied access to the Nigerian military hospital morgue.

“We were taken to a morgue but it was an empty facility,” Damilola Banjo, a reporter with the BBC Pidgin who was on the team of the journalists who went with the panel members told The ICIR.

Segun Odunayo, a reporter with The Punch who was also there confirmed that the “morgue was an empty room.”

The panel members led by Justice Doris Okuwobi (Rtd), its chairperson who went on an unscheduled visit were denied access as the military officers at the facility pushed them out and subsequently locked the gate.

Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and a member of the panel told journalists that they were at the hospital to check its morgue because they got confidential information pertaining to the military hospital.

“We came to the mortuary of the military hospital because we have confidential information about the event that took place in the hospital. So we are waiting for them to grant us access to inspect the mortuary as we believe that the facility is relevant to our investigation,” Adeboruwa said.

“We don’t want to make any conclusion until we have access to the mortuary to inspect it. We have a pathology who is here to help us conduct a medical examination of bodies that we may find at the mortuary. So we are waiting for the military.”

When asked if the panel obtained the military authority to inspect the mortuary, Adegboruwa, a human rights lawyer said the panel has authority from President Muhammadu Buhari.

“The president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria openly announced to the international communities that all matters relating to the #EndSARS protest should be directed to the Lagos Judicial panel,” he said.

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“We are not just here on the authority of the Lagos State, but that of the President and you would recall that it was the national executive council that gave the directive that this panel be set-up. We are only following due process and it is good that we visit the mortuary, make our findings, and make our relevant conclusion from it.”

Also, the panel earlier had found five bullet shell casing at the Lekki Tollgate Plaza, the scene of the alleged Oct. 20 shootings of #EndSARS protesters by officers of the Nigerian Army.

The panel had left the venue of its sitting at the International Court of Arbitration, Lekki Phase 1, Lagos, to visit the tollgate plaza scene of the shootings.

It will be recalled that Nigerian youths had in early October gone to the street demanding an end to police brutality across the country and also called for the scrapping of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a notorious Police unit accused of extrajudicial killings, extortions and torture.

The Lagos Judicial Panel was set up by the Lagos State Government after an unspecified number of protesters were believed to have been killed by security forces during the over 10 days’ protest.

Obianuju Udeh, a Nigerian disc jockey better known as DJ Switch, who live-streamed the incident on her Instagram handle in a video shared on her page on October 24 insisted that people were killed when men in army uniform opened fire on #EndSARS protesters on Tuesday.

She said at least 15 persons were shot dead on the night while several others sustained injuries of varying degrees.

Part of the mandates of the panel is to investigate cases of Police brutality particularly those attributed to the now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

The panel also seeks to investigate the involvement of soldiers in the now-famous Lekki Tollgate shooting of peaceful protesters.

The shooting which generated worldwide condemnation saw the military earlier denying report that they were at Lekki tollgate.

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John Enenche, the Coordinator, Defence Media Operations while addressing journalists in Abuja on October 23 said the incident of October 20 may not be true.

He had said, “I will say that for now, don’t take any response from me that yes we did it or no, but from what I can see, from all the evidence, as a general, I will tell you that it may not be true.”

But the Army in a statement by Osoba Olaniyi, a Major and the acting Deputy Director, 81 Division Army Public Relations, Lagos later admitted to soldiers’ involvement in the #EndSARS protest in Lagos, insisting that soldiers didn’t shoot at peaceful protesters.

It stated that there was no time its personnel shot protesters in Lagos and its involvement was based on a request by the Lagos State Government after a 24-hour curfew was imposed in the state.

The Army further stated that claims that soldiers shot at #EndSARS protesters were untrue, unfounded and aimed at causing anarchy in the country, adding that soldiers acted within the confines of the Rules of Engagement for Internal Security Operations.

It could also be recalled that Kukasheka Usman Sani, the former military spokesperson during an interview on Arise Television said that military personnel present at the Lekki shooting were armed soldiers trained to kill, but they did not take any life, despite the reports of protesters dying of gunshots.

He said, “Remember, the military is armed, and by the nature of their training they are trained to kill, they are supposed to come at a point in time and exit.”

“There are procedures for taking over and handing over. But over time, we have neglected the time tested mechanism of conflict resolution. So the military in their wisdom decided to use blank armour which is meant for training to fire blank and not live ammunition.”

On the allegations of the military mopping up bodies of ENDSARS protesters who were shot, Sani said there were standard principles and procedures on which accountability is cardinal.

“Accountability means they are conscious of the fact that whenever the military is called upon, definitely there would be an investigation, and it has happened several times over especially in the early 2000s where we had an internal crisis, especially in Kaduna,” Sani stated.

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“Therefore, you must be accountable and the military is not the public health agency of the government that they will have to clear scene or they have to tamper with evidence, no, they don’t but they must be accountable, take a record of everything that transpired because they know definitely they would be asked questions.”

Responding to a question on whether soldiers could mop up corpses in order to give account, Sani stonewalled. “No, don’t put words in my mouth, I already said they are not public health agencies”.

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