By Chukwudi Nweje
Human rights activist, Femi Falana, yesterday, faulted the White Paper issued by the Lagos State Government on the report of the judicial panel on EndSARS.
He said the tribunals of inquiry law of Lagos State does not recognise publication of a White Paper after a properly inaugurated judicial panel submits a report.
He made the remarks at the opening of Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) South West town hall meeting with the theme, ‘Assessing Media Performance in Consolidating Nigeria’s Democracy: Citizens Verdict and Outlining an Agenda for the Future.”
At the town hall meeting, the first in the series of meetings the NGE plans to hold in the six geopolitical zones, organised with the support of the United States government through its embassy in Nigeria, Falana accused the state government of trying to shy away from its responsibility by saying it would refer certain aspects of the panel recommendations to the Federal Government.
He said: “There is nowhere in tribunals of inquiry law of Lagos State that they mentioned the need to set up a White Paper committee. The law is very clear that once a properly inaugurated judicial panel finishes sitting, they will submit their report to the governor.
“By virtue of section 15 (1), once a panel of inquiry that is properly constituted has concluded it shall submit its findings and recommendations to the governor.
“The tribunals of inquiry law of Lagos State states that the recommendations of the panel shall be equated to the judgment of a High Court. However anybody dissatisfied with the findings of the panel shall go to the Court of Appeal not to the governor.”
He said those who advised the governor to set up a White Paper Committee set out to embarrass him and urged the NGE to partner human rights lawyers to challenge the White Paper.
He warned those that try to frustrate the committee report would be made to face the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“If editors cooperate with us we will get to the roots of the EndSARS Judicial Panel report. Murder, attempted murder and wilful damage are all state offences and therefore cannot be prosecuted by the Federal Government. If the Federal Government wants to prosecute anybody for murder, it must first get the fiat of the state government. So, if anyone tried to frustrate the prosecution of any of those indicted in Nigeria, we will take those who cover them to the International Criminal Court (ICC).”
In his opening remarks, NGE President, Mustapha Isah, said Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution, which says, “the press, radio, television, and other agencies of the media should, at all times, be free to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people,” gives the media the enormous responsibility to hold the government accountable to the people.
He said it is only when media practitioners perform their role that good governance can take root.
He said: “Freedom of the media allows for the creation of a public space in which a wide range of debates and expression of variety of viewpoints can take place. A free and critical press is essential for the growth and development of any democracy. The media, as a watchdog of society, owes it as a duty to monitor governance and hold public office holders accountable to the people who elected them.”
On the ongoing debate on which zone of the country should produce the president, said such is the agenda of the politicians, which the media should not indulge in.
He said the media should rather interrogate how well the political office holders have performed.
He said, “What is currently dominating headlines in the media on the 2023 general election is zoning or power rotation. This is the agenda of the politicians. As the politicians talk about zoning, the media should remind them we are more interested in the issues of development, education, insecurity, youth unemployment and poverty ravaging the nation.”
The Sun Publishing Limited Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief, Onuoha Ukeh, regretted that the media is most often blamed whenever things go wrong, with nobody, taking into account the difficult terrain practitioners operate in or what they go through to keep the nation informed, but conveniently distance themselves from journalists when they run into trouble in the line of their duties.
He, however, noted that regardless of the difficulties, the media would continue discharge its duties as well as set agenda for the development of democracy in Nigeria.