The Chairman of the Lagos State Judicial Panel on Restitution for Victims of SARS related abuses, Justice Doris Okuwobi, has reiterated that the panel will not continue to allow the police waste time by stalling on calling their witnesses, especially the officers alleged to have been involved in the various cases of abuses before it.
She gave the warning on Tuesday after the counsels to the police, Emmanuel Eze and Joseph Eboseremen, again sought short adjournments in the first two petitions heard by the panel.
In the first petition, 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 the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (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 provided 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 also said that the number provided by the petitioner could not be reached.
At Tuesday’s proceedings, the petitioner closed his case while the police counsel expressed his intention to call a witness at the next sitting.
In her reaction, Justice Okuwobi frowned at the move to waste the time of the court by the police.
She said, “The panel is not ready to deal with your intent, the panel is ready to go on. We started hearing this petition on November 3 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 an 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 and 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 with respect to this time.”
“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 could not 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,” the panel chairman added.
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 December 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, a 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, Eboseremen, claimed that he could not reach any of these officers, neither could he find any case file for the petitioner on the statements he claimed to have made at the Zone 2 Police Command.
He requested more time and information to locate the officers involved.
“We have been to Ketu Police Station, made a thorough search and discovered that no such report was made on March 11, 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,” the lawyer told the panel.
He added, “We could not locate the Ayo the petitioner referred to. We do not want the panel to think we are trying to delay proceedings.”
In her remarks, 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 a policeman, Ayo Odudu.
“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,” she said.
The petition was also further adjourned to December 8.
Justice Okuwobi also directed the registry to ensure that at least 50 of the petitions received were served on the police counsel and duly acknowledged by the close of business on Tuesday.
She stated that this would give them enough time during the Christmas holidays to search for the IPOs and other officers mentioned by victims of SARS related abuses.