#EndSARS: White Paper not known to law —Falana

1 week ago 11

THE concept of White Paper in the official treatment of reports authored by judicial commissions of inquiry is not known to the Nigerian law, leading lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, disclosed on Thursday. 

The Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) went legal to stress why the report of the panel that investigated the Lekki tollgate shooting of October 20, 2020, cannot be tampered with, by both the federal and Lagos State governments. 

His verdict would be a blow to the ongoing administrative process being undertaken by the state government on the panel report, as the committee set up by the governor has a few more days to submit a White Paper on the report. 

In a speech delivered when some leaders of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) visited him in Lagos, the advocate also said Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is constitutionally-barred from rejecting the report, noting that the court of law is the only option available to those indicted. 

Apart from claiming White Paper is unknown to law, he added that members of the White Paper committee set up by the governor are also not legally-competent to alter the report as submitted by the panel. 

“We are not unaware of the purported rejection of the report of the commission by the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed and the pressure on the White Paper committee by some anti-democratic forces to advise the governor to jettison the findings and recommendations of the commission. 

“Such critics are certainly not aware that there is no provision for the issuance of a White Paper under the law. In other words, a White Paper is a mere administrative medium for conveying the decision or position of the government on the report of an administrative or judicial enquiry. 

“Therefore, since the White Paper committee is not known to law, its members are not competent to edit, modify, alter, edit or reject the report of the commission. More so, that the members of White Paper committee did not have the opportunity of taking evidence from the witnesses who had testified before the commission.” 

Noting that the survival of the report is even beyond the governor, Falana added, “With respect, the governor cannot reject the report, summary of evidence and findings of the Okuwobi Judicial Commission. Thus, by virtue of Section 15(2) of the Law, the governor is only empowered to ‘make any order in relation to any property or other matter dealt with in the report; and such order when made may be delivered to the Registrar of a High Court (which order the Registrar is empowered and required to receive and register without payment of fee) and when so delivered, the order will have effect as a judgment of that High Court and may be enforced accordingly but will not be reviewed in any court by prerogative order or by any other means and, no appeal will lie from the order. 

“In the case of Williams v Dawodu (1988) 4 NWLR (PT 87) 189, the court annulled the aspect of the law that equated the order may pursuant to the findings of a judicial commission to the judgment of the High Court. Once a White Paper is issued by the governor on the recommendations, the institutions and individuals indicted by the commission may wish to approach the High Court to challenge any aspect of the report. 

“The order of the governor in respect of the findings and recommendations of the judicial commission may be delivered to the registrar of a High Court (which order the registrar is empowered and required to receive and register without payment of fee) and when so delivered the order will have effect as a judgment of that High Court and may be enforced accordingly… 

“Once the order is registered by the Registrar any institution or individual who is dissatisfied with any aspect of the report of the commission is at liberty to approach the High Court for legal redress. 

“In Williams v Dawodu (supra), the Lagos State High Court had granted an interim order of injunction restraining the judicial commission of enquiry set up to probe the cold murder of the Dawodu brothers in Lagos during a riot. The ground for the injunction was that the police had charged the persons suspected to have killed the deceased. 

“But the Court of Appeal deprecated the injunctive relief. Speaking for the court, Akpata JCA (as he then was and of blessed memory) held that ‘… if the tribunal ascertains and determines the extent of damage or loss suffered by the said families, and this is followed by reparation by the state government of such damage or loss, the reparation may assuage their pain or sense of loss. Also, an inquiry may prevent a future occurrence of such civil disturbances. It seems to me both morally and legally wrong to prevent the state government from carrying out its responsibilities to the generality of the people of this state.” 

Encouraging the governor to be bold and affirmative, the rights lawyer asked him to reject overtures by federal agents. 

“Having regard to the letter and spirit of the Tribunal of Enquiry Law, it is submitted that the Federal Government lacks the legal competence to reject the report of a panel of enquiry duly constituted by the Lagos State government.

“Therefore, Governor Sanwo-Olu should not hesitate to reject the gratuitous call for the rejection of the report of the Lagos judicial commission by Mr Lai Mohammed. 

“Indeed, the governor may wish to draw the attention of the minister to the case of Fawehinmi v Babangida (2003) 12 WRN 1 where the Supreme Court held that the power of the president to set a tribunal of enquiry is limited to the Federal Capital Territory as ‘the National Assembly cannot enact a general law for the establishment of tribunals of inquiry for, and applicable in the Federation of Nigeria.” 

He said the panel, having awarded reparation to the tune of N409 million to other victims of police brutality that had occurred in the state, Governor Sanwo-Olu is legally obligated to implement the remaining recommendations of the commission. 

“On moral grounds, the governor is equally bound by the directive of the National Economic Council to immediately forward a copy of final report of the panel to the Attorney-General for prompt arraignment and prosecution of all indicted persons,” he said. 

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