For the third time since hearing began over the Lekki Shooting incident, the Nigerian Army has failed to honour the summons issued to its officers by the panel investigating the event.
The army failed to present the officers involved in the shooting.
The Nigerian Army, first on the cause list of the panel for Saturday’s proceedings, did not present any witness.
On January 8, the last adjournment of the proceeding, S. O Bello, the Officer that led the 65 Batallion that went to Lekki Toll Gate, Godwin Umelo, the General Officer (GOC), 81 Division and Francis Omata, a Brigadier General, all failed to appear before the panel.
That marked the second time the Army would not be appearing. Their officers were not also present on December 12, the previously adjourned date, PREMIUM TIMES reported.
Neither the summoned officers of the Nigerian Army nor their legal representative, Akinlolu Kehinde, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), appeared before the panel on Saturday.
Speaking on the status of the summons sent to the Army officers, Jonathan Ogunsanya, counsel to the panel, said the army officers including Colonel Bello were issued summoned.
“We sent to Godwin Umelo, at the General Office, 81 Division, Lagos and Ogun state of the Nigerian Army, Victoria Island, it was sent by way of DHL. The third summon was issued and served on Brigadier General Francis Ogbaje Omata.
“We also spoke to the lead counsel on record for the Nigerian Army, A.T Kehinde SAN, informing the learned silk of the proceedings and he said we should serve the Army directly, which we did,” he said.
Mr Ogunsanya said he served the Nigerian Army and officers involved but none of them appeared before the panel for the Saturday’s proceeding.
The judge, Dorris Okuwobi, also asked whether he attached the petition of victims of Lekki shooting to the Summons sent to the Nigerian Army and the counsel confirmed.
Adeshina Ogunlana, counsel to some victims of Lekki shooting, urged the panel to summon the counsel for the Nigerian Army to give explanations on why his clients have refused to appear before the panel despite several summons.
“It behoves on counsel (Mr Kehinde) to come and explain before this honourable court or give an explanation of the situation of the failure of his clients to responding to the Summons of the panel.”
“If the Military is dodging, the gentleman lawyer must not be allowed to dodge. He should come back before this panel and give (an) explanation.
Another counsel, Olumide Fusika, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who was also present at the sitting said that every petition that mentioned the Nigerian Army should be compiled and served on them and when the petitions come up, they are expected to appear.
“Mr Kehinde already filed (a) witness statement before the panel, maybe three or four. When colonel Taiwo gave his evidence, he then decided that he was not going to call the other persons he filed for. Apparently because he feels this is a court.
“He is entitled to say he doesn’t want to call them, but the tribunal is entitled too, we need this person to come, even though you are not interested, we need them to come to the tribunal.
Mr Fusika said he alligned himself with the position of Mr Ogunlana and a summon should be served on him to give explanations on his client’s absence.
“He didn’t represent individuals, he represents the Nigerian Army and all those three persons the witness statements were filed to say what the Nigerian Army feels. He cannot impose on the tribunal. We still need them.
Olukayode Enitan, the lawyer holding brief for the Lagos state government, also alligned himself with the positions of Messrs Fusika and Adeshina.
‘A clear legal issue’
Mr Ogunsanya said he informed the counsel for the Army of the proceedings and several petitions against the Nigerian Army.
“There is a clear legal issue, A.T Kehinde had clearly said that he is no longer representing the Nigerian Army. Assuming that is correct, every further effort made at securing his presence before this Tribunal will have any legal backing.
“We have served and served his chambers, spoken with him on the phone. I am not saying we are not to further serve the Nigerian Army. Perhaps, my Lord will give alternative orders to serve the Nigerian Army.
Mr Enitan said there is a misunderstanding as there are two strains of proceedings relating to the Nigerian Army, one in which Mr Kehinde appeared in to represent the Nigerian Army.
“That one he appeared in is yet to be concluded. He, as counsel, owes a duty to come before this panel, if for any reason, he is no longer proceeding in that proceeding.
“In respect of that one, Mr Kehinde owes a duty to come before the panel to state his reasons for either not coming or for his clients that he is representing not coming.
After hearing the arguments of the counsels, Mrs Okuwobi, the chairperson of the panel, said the non-appearance of the Nigerian Army is causing a delay for the panel’s proceeding.
She said even though the panel’s the lawyer contacted Mr Kehinde, notifying him of the proceedings, he still failed to appear for the Army.
“The difficulties the panel now experiences is having Mr Kehinde explain to the panel why those summoned by the panel are not attending proceeding, this is creating undue delay in the investigation of the Lekki event of October 20, 2020.
“In that respect, it is hereby ordered that the counsel for the panel shall issue a letter to learned silk, Mr A.T Kehinde, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, to appear before the panel at the next adjourned date to explain why he would not conclude the case of the Nigerian Army.
“I must reiterate and state that this is a fact-finding panel and not a regular court where counsels can decide the choice of witnesses they want to present in their case.
Mrs Okuwobi said it behoves on Mr Kehinde to assist the panel in achieving the task of investigating the Lekki Shooting incident to avoid issues of denial of fair hearing that might arise when the panel’s report is submitted to the government.
“The Nigerian Army has been magnanimous in appearing before the panel, they should be encouraged to fulfill all righteousness by presenting their version of the incident of October 20 to refute the claims now made against them,” she said.
The judge said if the Army does not present its defence, the cases of the petitioners will be uncontested.
The judge adjourned till January 30 for the appearance of the Army and their lawyer.
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