By Ezra Odogu
President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, said the federal government would not take any action to block or anticipate the outcomes of the various panels set up by state governments to investigate last year’s #EndSARS protests.
Rather, Buhari said his government would wait to see the steps the governors would take before considering any action on the outcomes of the inquiries.
The nationwide protests in October last year had resulted in loss of lives and wanton destruction of property.
Buhari, who spoke during a meeting with United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken,in Abuja, said his administration was inclined to allow the system work, and that the state governments would be required to take steps to address the issues raised in the panels’ reports before the federal government would step in.
But the United States government, which has since shown interest in the #EndSARS matter, said it would like to see that both the federal and the Lagos State governments ensured that the report of the panel received due accountability and attention.
However, counsel to the Lagos State government on the #EndSARS panel, Mr. Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN), has rejected the findings of the panel, which were leaked on Monday. Owonikoko also disputed the casualty figures recorded by the panel.
He claimed the leaked document was fraught with discrepancies and should not be in the public domain or be taken as an accurate document, especially, as one of the signatories to the document, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), was absent for the most part of the hearing.
Meanwhile, sources close to Alausa, the seat of the Lagos State government, said the government spent N800 million to fund the #EndSARS inquiry, which lasted 13 months.
Buhari was quoted as saying in a statement by his spokesman, Femi Adesina, that, “So many state governments are involved, and have given different terms of reference to the probe panels.
“We at the federal have to wait for the steps taken by the states, and we have to allow the system to work. We can’t impose ideas on them. The federal government has to wait for the reaction of the states.”
The president told the US Secretary of State that his administration remained committed to freedom of worship, adding, “No one is discriminated against on the basis of his or her faith.”
He expressed his appreciation to the US for the sale of weapons to Nigeria to fight insecurity.
“It’s helping us to stabilise the situation in the North-east, and we’ve made a lot of progress since 2015,” Buhari said.
But Blinken, who spoke at a joint press conference with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, at the State House, Abuja, charged the governments to see to it that the grievances of victims of security agents’ brutality were attended.
Blinken, who had held separate meetings with Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), and Onyeama, during which some agreements were signed, also noted that his country was working with Nigeria to address its security challenges.
“We’re working with Nigeria to address security challenges, including those posed by Boko Haram, ISIS West Africa and other terrorist and extremist groups. In meetings with the President, with the Vice President, with the foreign minister, we discussed the importance of a comprehensive approach that builds effective security forces, addresses the underlying drivers of extremism, and respects Nigerians’ basic human rights.
“The United States is committed to helping Nigeria do that by continuing to invest in our security partnership, and the institutions that strengthen the rule of law, and that hold accountable those, who commit human rights abuses, corruption and other acts that harm the Nigerian people. By tackling these issues, we can help to address some of the problems that have been key drivers of insecurity.
“To that end, let me say that we welcome the conclusion of the investigation by the independent inquiry established by the Lagos State government to look into the events that took place at Lekki Tollgate in Lagos, in October of 2020, and this, of course, was amidst the #EndSARS protest, including the killings and other alleged abuses by the security forces.
“We anticipate and look to the state and the federal government’s response to the findings, and expect those to include steps that ensure accountability and address the grievances of the victims and their families.
“We’re also working closely with Nigeria to help the populations most affected by conflict and violence in the country, particularly in the Northeast, where the United States is providing vital humanitarian aid to approximately 2.2 million internally displaced Nigerians. United States continues to build the capacity, together with Nigeria, of the military, including through the recent delivery of 12 A29 Super Tucano aircrafts, but capacity building goes much deeper than delivering military hardware, something that we talked about as well.
“We’re also providing more human rights and rule of law training, because military and civilian security forces are more effective, when they act in accordance with these values. And because it’s crucial that Nigeria holds accountable members of the military, who commit abuses,” he said.
He went on to charge government to ensure the safety and wellbeing of groups involved in human rights advocacy, such as journalists, rights crusaders and others.
“Journalists, human rights defenders and others, Nigeria’s very vibrant civil society are playing a vital role in shining a spotlight on these and other issues. Their ability to exercise freedom of expression and other basic human rights is crucial to advocating for individuals and communities and strengthening this country’s vibrant democracy as we’ve seen in the successful efforts to promote electoral reform, and lower the age at which Nigerians can run for office.
“I look very much forward to meeting several of these leaders tomorrow (today), including faith leaders, who are defusing communal tensions, and promoting peace. And we look forward to Nigeria, Africa’s largest democracy joining the summit for democracy next month. All participants from government, civil society will make commitments to improve and strengthen democracy in our respective countries and strengthen the partnership among democratic nations.
“The range of issues that we’re working on together is vast, but given the interests we share, and the challenges we have in common, delivering for our people demands that we find ways to deepen our existing ties and partnerships even further. That’s ultimately what this visit and the work that we’re doing every single day, between our governments between our people is,that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
Talking about partnering in various areas, he said besides the 7.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines recently delivered at no cost to Nigeria, more would be delivered before the end of the year, citing other areas of collaboration between the two countries.
“First of all, working together to beat back COVID-19 and to build back better as we address the devastating impact that it’s had on all of us, on our communities, on our economies. The United States has delivered 7.6 million doses of safe, effective vaccines to Nigeria, and we expect to send another significant number of doses by the end of the year.
“Donated with no strings attached. And we’re providing significant aid to save lives right now. From the more than 150 testing labs that we have to set up nationwide to helping tackle food security crisis that was worsened by the pandemic. We have teamed up for a long time to confront epidemics and to improve public health. In that sense, this is not new.
“The United States and others work with Nigeria toward eliminating a wild polio virus, supporting vaccination campaigns, aiding surveillance to detect and isolate cases. That collaboration was key to the country being certified free of the virus in August of 2020. That’s a huge achievement. Reckon assistance is helping to bring treatment to more than one and a half million people in Nigeria living with HIV AIDS, and we’re on track for epidemic control by 2023.
“Our support for primary health care helps provide vital services to more than 60 million Nigerians. These other and efforts have helped create a robust infrastructure for Nigeria’s COVID-19 response and broader efforts to strengthen public health security, which are essential to detect and prevent the next pandemic.
“Second, we’re working with Nigeria to build back better from the pandemic by fostering inclusive sustainable economic growth. That’s the goal of the 2 billion development agreement that Jeffrey and I just signed, and which will make I think, significant investments in improving access to quality education, public health and other services and tools that Nigeria’s rising generations are looking for, and need to thrive here at home and in the global economy. And we’re committed to working with the government as it pursues economic reforms, for example, to create a more stable regulatory environment to attract more foreign investment.
“Third, working together to address the global climate crisis. Foreign Minister and I were both just at COP 26, where President Buhari made significant new commitments to join the global methane pledge and build on the progress that Nigeria has made in solar power.
“This is crucial as more and more Germans feel the impact of the crisis, something the President, I must say, talked about very eloquently, when we were together a short while ago, and displaced people, who have lost connections with their livelihoods as a result of climate change among other disruptions.
“Our work together also demonstrates how tackling this crisis represents an opportunity, our once in a generation opportunity to create good paying jobs and expand renewable energy access.
“The USAID has a five-year $110 million project, the Nigeria power sector programme, and that’s supporting key initiatives like the solar power major, which will bring solar energy to 25 million Nigerians, who are off the electric grid and lack access to power.
“That, in turn, is expected to create as many as 250,000 new jobs in the energy sector, spur local industry, generate 18 and a half million dollars in annual tax revenues. So, it will have practical, meaningful effects,” he explained.