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#EndSARS: Concerns in Kwara over non inclusion of NBA in panel of enquiry

Amidst the widespread looting and thievery that followed the EndSARS protest in Ilorin penultimate week, the decision of the Governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq to set up a panel of enquiry to look into the cases of victims affected by the incident with a view to advising government on the way forward has unsettled the Kwara State chapter of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) over concerns that the Kwara State government did not carry the bar along in the process. ACTING EDITOR, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM writes on the issue.
On Friday 16, October, 2020, the Kwara State capital was literally torched when the EndSARS protests in the state degenerated to a wild conflagration that burnt many private businesses and government investments. The controversial protest which was hijacked by hoodlums left many residents and citizens counting their losses in the wake of the destruction that followed estimated to cost billions of naira.
The nationwide protest by the youths meant to put a stop to police brutality and impunity couched in EndSARS hash tag attracted the support of western countries, world leaders and other top global personalities who lend their support through tweets and statements calling on the country to reform the police in line with the demands of the youths.
Back home in Kwara, Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq has come under heavy vilification for personally leading the protest to the headquarters of the Police Command in Ilorin. The action of the Governor which coincided with the workers agitation for the payment of minimum wage was seen as a misdirection and failure to get priorities right as the number one citizen of the state.
According to Barrister Akin Akintoye, it is an irony for governors and politicians who find it expedient to join the protest but yet don’t feel it’s proper to respond positively to the agitation of their workers on payment of salaries.
Akintoye told Pilot Law that the support the protest has gained from people in the executive and legislative arms of government was political.
“That politicians are now supporting the protests is understandable; people have seen the direction that our young people are waking up and that it seems that they cannot be cautioned. So people want to quickly identify with them so that they may seemingly try to be exonerated from the entire clamour. It’s just a sham as far as I’m concerned, nobody is being fooled. A governor who is not paying his workers salary as at when due, you’re now identifying with EndSARS protesters, what picture are you painting? Nobody is being deceived and that is what you need to know”, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) hopeful submitted.
However, since the ugly incident in the state which saw departmental stores and some prominent gadget shops looted dry across the metropolis, the government has come out with a number of measures in response to the development.
Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq’s response to the protest started with the provision of N500m fund to support looted businesses. In addition to this, there was also the setting up of a panel of enquiry to look into the issue, a decision that has raised dust among the leadership and members of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) in the state. These actions coincided with arrest and subsequent trial of the suspected looters many of whom have since been remanded. At the police end, over 144 of the suspects were arrested and paraded and since then attention has now shifted to the courts.
Two Magistrates’ Courts on Monday in Ilorin, ordered that 34 suspects be remanded in Oke–Kura Correctional Centre, for their alleged involvement in looting and destruction of Kwara Mall and other stores. The police charged them with Criminal conspiracy, brigandage, theft, belonging to gang of thieves, destruction of public and private property. Magistrate Ibrahim Mohammed however did not take the pleas of the 15 suspects. Magistrate Afusat Alege also did not take the pleas of the remaining 19 suspects. Both Mohammed and Alege held that the courts lacked jurisdiction to entertain the matter. Magistrate Mohammed adjourned the matter until Nov. 9 while Magistrate Alege adjourned until Nov. 16. The prosecution counsel, Inspector Nasiru Yusuf had prayed the courts to remand the suspects pending further investigations. Releasing any of them on bail, he argued, would be premature in view of the tensed atmosphere.
Meanwhile, top lawyers in the state have reacted to the issue and the non-involvement of the NMA executive with a call on the government to address some aspects of her polices.
According to the Kwara State chairman of the NBA, Barrister Abdulganiyu Bello, “I think the government has done right. If loss occurs as it happened now, it is rare to see a government that will take care all the losses, but at least they will take steps to ameliorate the suffering or cost. For instance, just today (Friday), the executive committee of the Ilorin NBA visited the Shoprite environment and in fact what we saw was monumental and even the whole N500m might not be enough to take care of that place alone let alone others that were equally seriously looted. Other private sectors can come up and assist these businesses and the government can organise fund raising dinner for people that suffered damages. We have to consider other engagement of the government even if the money is small”, he said.
He however raised issue on the failure of the government to include the NBA in the formation of the panel of enquiry to handle complaints from the citizens.
“On the issue of the committee of enquiry, while we believe it’s good, the failure of government to include the NBA calls for concern. We believe a body like the NBA should have been part of that committee with representatives and we believe the panel should be expanded to achieve this. Although we have a lawyer there, Mrs Ronke Adeyemi, but she is representing a civil society”, Bello noted. He said there should be no need for the creation of a special court to handle the trial of the looters.
“There is no need to establish a special court to try these looters; we have more than ninety magistrates in Ilorin apart from the area courts. The regular courts should be able to handle these cases”, he submitted.
For his part, Barrister Olasehinde Adeseko said the bar nationally or in each state ought to be carried along because the lawyers were victims and lost property during the looting and brigandage that followed the protest.
“As lawyers and bonafide citizens of the state, whatever affect others, affects us. I should believe in each of this panel in every state, there should be at least a lawyer without taking the NBA along as a body. Such lawyer should always have at the back of his mind and be conscious of the fact that he is first and foremost a member of the NBA and representing their interest even if the NBA as body was not consulted. That is the way I see it. If the right of any individual is impeached, lawyers are not exceptional because as lawyer, one is first a Nigerian before becoming a lawyer and this should be prominent in our view. This is my own personal view about it and I am entitled to it. If the NBA feels that as a body, it ought to be represented in the committee and carried along, that fine.”
Also speaking, Barrister Abiodun Dada said the setting up of the panel of enquiry will not affect the cases in court but will deal with only those suspects that were caught in the midst of the protest and the action of the SARS members that will make the government to take a position.
“As for those that have been found to have been involved in the looting and have been arrested and arraigned in court, they will have the law to face; the law will definitely take its cause.
“Those alleged looters were arraigned under specific offences and we have courts that are dealing with similar offences that relate to their own. They are deemed to have committed criminal offences under the existing law and so they will be arraigned in line with those offences”, he noted.

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