JUST as the judicial panel investigating the Lekki toll plaza shootings of October 10 started its job in Lagos State, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), aired his views about the tragedy. Mr. Malami suggested that it was unclear who shot at the protesters in Lagos, and that it could in fact have been hoodlums that infiltrated the peaceful protests and took over proceedings. According to him, “You cannot rule out the possibility of perhaps hoodlums that set in to create a scene could equally partake in the process.” He in fact suggested that it was ‘preemptive’ to conclude that there had even been a shooting in the first place.
Earlier, the Nigerian Army had after some flip-flopping admitted that its men were at the toll gate but claimed that they fired only blank ammunition to scare away the protesters. As a matter of fact, a high-ranking military officer has since told the panel that on the night in question, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu called him to say that a certain Colonel Bello was shooting at protesters at Lekki. But here was the country’s chief law officer saying that hoodlums could have been responsible for the reported carnage.
This immediately raises a number of questions. Was the Attorney General mandated to put up a defence for the Nigerian military? How does the country reconcile his account with that of the military high command? If it was hoodlums that invaded Lekki toll gate on October 10, where did they come from and how did they obtain the weapons used? And how is it thatthe military, which has begun testifying before the panel, never for once mentioned these ‘hoodlums’? If the Minister of Justice has a clearer view of what happened on the night in question, why not make the facts at his disposal available to the panel?
We think that being the country’s Attorney General should ordinarily have conferred on him a certain degree of patient neutrality in this very serious matter. He should have done everything at his disposal to avoid muddling up the waters of the judicial procedure, particularly since the panel’s report might eventually end up on his table, and it would be a great danger to the process if he already had an opinion which preceded the process. How indeed would he prove that whatever decisions reached eventually wouldn’t be premeditated, now that he has offered a judgmental opinion that hoodlums might be behind the Lekki shootings? We had hoped that the work of the judicial panel investigating the Lekki toll plaza shootings would help the country and the world to know the truth about what actually happened on October 10.
To say the least, Malami’s declaration while the investigations are still ongoing is preemptive and inimical to the ultimate goal of the panel. What will happen if eventually the panel unearths other facts about the whole thing which run contrary to the AGF’s declaration? Will justice still be served by the process? We are persuaded that the AGF shouldn’t have interfered with the work of the panel. This is not the intended function of the AGF and it is worrisome that it is the path that he has chosen to tread in this unfolding saga.
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