20.10.20 was a horrible day in the history of Nigeria and Nigerians that will never be forgotten. On a now torrid Friday evening, members of the Nigerian Army shot at, injured and killed peaceful protesters at Lekki Toll Gate by orders of the one who is yet to be identified.
The homicide which took place in about 24hours after the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwoolu, inaugurated the state’s Judicial panel of inquiry and restitution to investigate Police brutality and Human Rights violations committed by operatives of the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) , sent shivers down the spines of citizens of Nigeria, young and old alike. The panel is expected to run for a duration of six months.
The panel followed an announcement by the Vice President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, that the 36 state Governors and FCT Minister will set up judicial panels which will adopt public hearings. On the day of Lagos state’s panel inauguration, 2 youths representative and a member of the National Human Rights Commission were yet to join the panel. Six days after the Lekki Toll Gate massacre ( 26.10.20), Rinu Oduala and Temitope Majekodunmi were announced as the people voted to represent the youths on the judicial panel. (Worthy of mention is that similar panels were inaugurated in different states of the country.) The Governor of Lagos state, also, expanded the scope of the panel to cover the Lekki Toll Gate incident. Every week, testimonies and updates from the panel kept hope for justice alive and conversations going. The last report i read on EiE Nigeria showed that the Lagos state Panel, as at the 23rd of January 2021, had received 230 petitions from victims for police brutality and human rights violations.
Earlier this year, the Nigerian Army stopped appearing before the judicial panel. Counsel to the Nigerian Army disclosed that their mandate with their clients, expired in November 2020 and the panel had been so informed. Justice Okuwobi however, adjourned the date for the response of the Army to already issued summons to February 27.
On the 6th of February 2021, News outlets reported chaos at the Lagos state Judicial panel, “following a decision on the repossession of the Lekki Toll Gate, proceedings degenerated into a shouting match after Chairman of the panel, Justice Doris Okuwobi, gave a ruling allowing the Lekki Concession company repossess the Toll Gate”. A member of the judicial panel had said via his twitter handle that the panel had received four applications from LCC for repossession of the Toll which were all turned down, only for forensic investigation and the exercise is now over.
By Morning of Monday (8th Feb 2021), reaction to the decision by the panel was the announcement of an Occupy Lekki Toll Gate protest against the permission to reopen the toll gate was to commence on the 13th of February 2021 at 7AM. On the 12th of February 2021, one of the youths representatives on the panel – Ms. Rinu Oduala, announced her decision to step down from the panel, stating that she “will not be part of a coverup”. Many were outraged and rightly so. The incident of 20.10.20 lives rent free in our minds and we yearn for justice. The position of majority of the dissenters is that the reopening of the toll gates will compromise evidence and forensic analysis on our path to seeking justice as the Lekki Toll gate is a crime scene while some were just really outraged, awash with emotions, demanding some form of acknowledgement, memorial and remembrance of lives lost. The Latter is totally understandable and the people in government should be able to tap into their conscience (if they have any left) in partnership with LCC to meet that need. However, let’s focus on the former – Crime scene, forensic analysis, etc.
What is a Crime Scene?
A crime scene is any physical scene, anywhere, that may provide potential evidence to an investigator. It may include a person’s body, any type of building, vehicles, places in the open air or objects found at those locations. “Crime scene examination” therefore refers to an examination where forensic or scientific techniques are used to preserve and gather physical evidence of a crime (Source; United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime)
There are 3 types of crime scene – outdoor, indoor & Conveyance and for any crime scene to serve its purpose then it must be properly secured. This reminds me of the rude shock i got when I was told that I could drive through the Lekki Toll gate barely one week after the incident. I told the person giving me that information that it should be impossible and one should expect that that place is cordoned for further investigation. I almost placed a bet in favour of the toll gate being closed only for me to drive through unhindered. I got home that day to read up on crime scenes, forensic investigations, evidence tampering, etc. you would think I started a course on criminal investigation.
Has Lekki Toll Gate Been treated as a crime scene? Ever?
An outdoor crime scene is the most vulnerable to loss, contamination, and damaging evidence. Environmental conditions such as rain, heat, etc. call for effective protection of biological evidence and evidence that cannot be protected because of these conditions is expected to be quickly collected or integrity stands to be compromised.
This also reminds me of the ‘Inspector Fash BS, where Nigerians dragged Minister of works and housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, over his claim to have found a hidden camera at the Toll Gate. We had banters and laughters but we were hurt and we also spoke from a place of knowledge. A ‘Crime scene’ where LAWMA swept, media visited, Governor visited, they found nothing but inspector gadget was able to find a camera. Laughable.
It was also laughable when we heard in January 2021, almost 3months after the incident, that Lagos state Government had hired a forensic team to conduct an independent forensic examination at the same Lekki Toll Gate; where probably you and myself have driven through countless of times. This is why calling the Lekki Toll Plaza a crime scene can be emotionally and sentimentally correct but factually and scientifically laughable. And using that as a reason to call for a protest will generate confused and chaos from different corners.
Is Lekki Concession Company (LCC) Ltd. Liable?
The Admiralty circle plaza is located in Eti-Osa local government area of Lagos state, was established to collect tolls along the 49km road expansion on Lekki-Eti-Osa expressway. It is a public private partnership (PPP) agreement between Lagos state’s government and Messrs Ikeja Concession Company Limited LCC where Activity started at the plaza on the 5th of January 2011. However, in the month of august 2013, Premium Times reported a ‘buy back’ of Lekki Epe expressway contract. In a statement signed by the commissioners for Justice and Finance, the state government bought back the concession rights ahead of the 30year period stipulated in the Design, Build, Operate and Transfer (DBOT) concession agreement. The ‘buy back’ was to allow the state government take control over the determination of the toll rates in order to continue to make it affordable for road users. Albeit now owned by Lagos state, LCC is a fully commercial entity with financial commitments to local and foreign lenders, including the African Development Bank (AfDB), and must succeed for the benefit of taxpayers and the larger society.
So to answer the above question, I will refrain from responding with an outright yes or no, as we hope to get justice. However, we have questions that must be answered and some by the LCC; What happened to the CCTV at the Lekki Toll Gate? Why were the lights turned off? Who Switch Off the CCTV? Who asked the army to go to the toll gate? Who ordered the killings?