The Nigerian Army was on Saturday, December 12, 2020, alleged to have rejected witness summons issued for Major General Godwin Umelo and Lieutenant Colonel S.O Bello by the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Enquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS related abuses and the Lekki Toll Gate Incident.
Both men were summoned by the panel to explain their role in the military’s operation at the Lekki Toll Gate during the #EndSARS protests on October 20.
This followed the testimony of the Commander of 81 Division of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier-General Ibrahim Taiwo, debunking claims that soldiers shot #EndSARS protesters with live bullets during the operation.
Bello was the Commanding Officer of the 65 Batallion, which was at the toll gate on the evening of October 20.
Petitioners at the tribunal have alleged that soldiers fired live bullets at peaceful protesters, killing and injuring several, contrary to the army and the Federal Government’s claim that only blanks were fired, in the air to disperse stone-throwers.
At the resumption of the panel’s proceedings on Friday, December 11, 2020, neither Umelo nor Bello was available. The military’s counsel was also absent.
Jonathan Ogunsanya, the panel’s lawyer, stated that it had twice tried to serve the witness summons on the army, but soldiers at the gate rejected service.
Ogunsanya said: “It was on the order of this honourable panel that summons of the witness was issued and served to Major General Godwin Umelo for today’s proceedings and the same was received on the 30th of November 2020 precisely at 6:04 pm.
“The dispatch rider was also there, they refused to accept service.”
He advised the panel to serve the officers through the army’s counsel.
Olukayode Enitan, a counsel holding brief for the Lagos State, aligned himself with Ogunsanya’s submission
Rationalising Umelo’s non-appearance, Enitan said his absence might not be unconnected with the outbreak of COVID-19 in the military high command which reportedly caused the death of a General.
He prayed that the military should be given another opportunity to appear before the panel.
Adesina Ogunlana, One of the #EndSARS protesters’ counsel, agreed that the officers should be re-summoned because the military’s position is subject to civil authority.
Ogunlana said: “I think it is a bit of an affront that summons coming from a panel like this will be refused. The panel should take a very serious view of this.”
In her ruling on the matter, Judge Emeritus Doris Okuwobi ordered that the officers should be served their summons through the military’s counsel.
The panel chair held: “Learned senior counsel for the Lagos State Government has submitted that an adjournment be allowed on the grounds of an outbreak of COVID-19 in the military command.
“There is the application that the Colonel be served through their counsel, Mr. Akinlolu Kehinde, SAN. Mr Adesina Ogunlana aligned himself with Mr. Ogunsanya that service be made through their counsel.
“In the light of those submissions, it is hereby ordered that service on Lt. Col Bello shall be effected through their counsel on record. The first summons shall be issued to Maj General Omelo, on or before the next adjourned date, which is the eighth day of January 2021 then the matter will come up for further hearing.”
Source: The Nation