BY OLUGBENGA SOYELE, LAGOS
The Chairman of the Lagos state Judicial Panel on Restitution for victims of SARS related abuses, Justice Doris Okuwobi on Tuesday expressed displeasure over what she described as attempts by the police to stall its proceedings.
Justice Okuwobi, who was reacting to a request by the counsel to the police, Emmanuel Eze and Joseph Eboseremen for an adjournment to enable them produce their witnesses, warned that the panel will not continue to allow the police waste its time.
The eight-member panel had granted the police several adjournments to enable it produce its witnesses but during Tuesday’s proceedings the lawyers again sought short adjournments in the first two petitions heard by the panel.
In the first petition, police counsel, Emmanuel Eze continued the cross examination of a 34 year old trader, Ndukwe Ekekwe, who had narrated at previous proceedings the harrowing details of how he broke his spine sometime in 2018 when some policemen attached to SARS threw him off a two storey shopping complex at Alaba Market in the Ojo area of Lagos.
He had also gone a step further to produce a photograph of the Investigating Police Officer, Hamza Aruba who allegedly led the policemen to his shop in Alaba and supplied the officer’s telephone number.
But the police counsel had explained that with the disbandment of SARS, it had become difficult to get the police officers accused of committing the alleged human rights abuses against the petitioner. He had also said that the number supplied by the petitioner could not be reached.
At today’s proceedings, the petitioner closed his case. The police counsel expressed his intention to call a witness at the next sitting but Justice Okuwobi frowned at the move to waste the time of the court.
The retired judge said, “The panel is not ready to deal with your intent, the panel is ready to go on. We started hearing this petition on the 3rd of November and this is an assignment we have for six months and till date we have not delivered one judgment because of the excuses and requests for adjournment from the police. We cannot continue at this pace.
“In as much as the panel is out to do justice, at the moment, we have 210 petitions if we keep on adjourning, we will be here for another two years and we have not delivered a judgment and that is not the plan of the panel. You either conclude your case today or we close it and we know we are done with this one. We have given you enough time in respect of this matter.”
“Justice will be sacrificed on the altar of speed because the panel has an assignment and a defined date of six months. For the first three weeks of this panel, we couldn’t move because you were absent. Once you are here with us, the least you can do is make your cases move expeditiously. We cannot continue to wait like this.”
After further submissions by the police counsel on the difficulties of getting the officers involved, the panel in the interest of justice, decided to grant a final adjournment to Dec 8.
In the second petition, a building contractor, Olajide Fowotade had claimed that a policeman, simply identified as Ayo, had beaten him up and knocked out two of his teeth. He said the officer accused him of attempting to knock him down with his vehicle.
Mr Olajide mentioned DPO Akpan of Ketu Police Station, former police spokesperson, Dolapo Badmus, and the AIG Zone 2 Command, Kayode Aderanti as other officers who were aware of the case.
Again, the police counsel, Joseph Eboseremen claimed that he could not reach any of these officers, nor could he find any case file for the petitioner on the statements he claimed to have made at the Zone 2 police Command.
Eboseremen requested for more time and information to locate the officers involved.
He stated, “We have been to Ketu police Station, made thorough search and discovered that no such report was made on 11th of March 2016.
“We proceeded to Zone 2 and also found that Dolapo Badmus is now in Abuja, the AIG involved has retired and our search shows that there is no such report.
We could not locate the Ayo the petitioner referred to. We don’t want the panel to think we are trying to delay proceedings” he said.
At this point, Justice Okwuobi informed the parties that the panel was served a document by a member of the public who has furnished it with information of this officer, ‘Ayo Odudu’.
She said, “It has his phone number and other information showing that he was at Zone 2 and anti-vandals in Abuja and he did his police training in Ogere, Ogun State. He went to SARS in Ikorodu before the disbandment of SARS”.
“Members of the public have been cooperative and helpful in assisting the public and we welcome many more of such assistance so that we do not waste time waiting for the respondents to get information about officers involved in issues of abuse”.
The judge then adjourned the petition to December 8.
She also directed the registry to ensure that at least 50 of the petitions received are served on the police counsel by the close of business today and duly acknowledged.
She says this will give them enough time during the Christmas holidays to search for the IPOs and other officers mentioned by victims of SARS related abuses.