The Nigerian Army on Saturday reportedly 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.
The panel had summoned both men to explain their role in the military’s operation at the Lekki Toll Gate during the #EndSARS protests on October 20.
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As against the army and the Federal Government’s claim that only blank bullets were fired in the air to disperse stone-throwers, petitioners at the tribunal insisted that soldiers fired live bullets at peaceful protesters, killing and injuring several.
But the Commander of 81 Division of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier-General Ibrahim Taiwo, had debunked the claim.
One of the invitees, Bello, was the Commanding Officer of the 65 Batallion, which was at the toll gate on the evening of October 20.
Both Umelo and Bello as well as the military’s counsel were absent, as the panel’s proceedings resumed on Friday.
According the panel’s lawyer, Mr. Jonathan Ogunsanya, the panel 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.
Enitan and one of the #EndSARS protesters’ counsel, Adesina Ogunlana. agreed that the military should be re-summoned, rationalising that Umelo’s absence might not be unconnected with the outbreak of COVID-19 in the military high command which reportedly caused the death of a General.
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.”