The Lagos State judicial panel on restitution for victims of SARS related abuses and other matters sitting in Lagos on Saturday, directed Prof John Obafunwa of the Department of Pathology and Forensic Medicine, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) to produce the register and autopsy reports conducted by the hospital on 99 corpses between 20th -24th October, 2020.
The panel gave this ruling following arguments and counter arguments by the counsels namely the 2 teams of counsels representing the EndSARS protesters, LCC, Lagos State government, NBA, and the Nigeria Police Force on the propriety of the professor providing these documents in view of the time constraints of the panel and the need to establish the truth on what happened at the Lekki tollgate plaza on the 20th of October, 2020.
Earlier, Prof Obafunwa while being led in evidence in Chief by the judicial panel’s counsel as a result of his honouring the witness summons served on him to appear to give testimony on the corpses of EndSARS protesters brought to LASUTH for autopsy among several other corpses which he testified were brought from different parts of Lagos such as Fagba, Mushin, Ikorodu, Epe, Ikoyi correctional centre among others totalling 99 in number between 20th – 24th October 2020.
In his evidence in Chief, Prof Obafunwa provided the autopsy report and 3 CD’s of three unidentified persons labelled EndSARS protesters brought in from Lekki by the Lagos State Emergency Ambulance Services (LASAMBUS) and deposited at the morgue at General Hospital, Mainland, Yaba before being moved to LASUTH for autopsy by the office of the Chief medical examiner of Lagos State.
In his testimony, Prof Obafunwa made it very clear that the three corpses were labelled EndSARS protester Yaba 005, 041 and 062 respectively because their identity could not be determined.
All the three corpses, according to the forensic pathologist were brought to LASUTH for autopsy already embalmed to prevent them from decomposing further having been recovered decomposed by the agency which recoverd their corpses and deposited them at the General Hospital, Mainland Yaba, between the 21st and 24th of October, 2020.
Following the autopsy conducted on the three bodies, the pathologist identified blunt force trauma as the cause of death as no bullet or pellet was found in any of the bodies.
One of the bodies died as a result of too much loss of blood from injury sustained which was occasioned by the disruption of the blood vessels.
Prof Obafunwa stated clearly that he was not in the panel as a representative of LASUTH but from the office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Lagos State and that he was specifically summoned by the panel to give testimony on autopsy conducted on EndSARS protesters brought in from Lekki, Lagos.
Under cross-examination by Mr. Olumide Fusika (SAN), Prof Obafunwa stated that he was not the one who recovered the corpses from wherever they were brought from for autopsy, but that he was part of the team of pathologists who performed autopsy on corpses brought in between 20th – 24th October, 2020 at the instance of the Chief Coroner of Lagos State.
He said, there is a register for all bodies brought for autopsy and that it was from the register that corpses are identified and labelled.
When asked the total number of corpses on which autopsy was conducted between the period in question, the Prof said he was specifically focused on the focus of the invitation which was specifically about Lekki EndSARS protesters and so, he is only armed with documents relating to that and that anything outside of that specific area, he has to go back and check to confirm, but that he remembered conducing autopsy on about 99 corpses brought from various part of Lagos State.
Consequently, Mr. Fusika applied for the panel to direct Prof Obafunwa to produce the autopsy report of the 96 corpses in addition to the three already tendered and admitted as exhibit.
The Lagos State government counsel Mr. Olukayode Enitan (SAN) objected to this application and argued that the weight of the documents being requested for and the time it will take to peruse the documents in view of the time constraints of the panel would not allow the other counsels to cross examine Prof Obafunwa.
Mr. Rotimi Seriki of LCC aligned himself with the position of the Lagos State government counsel and asked that Mr. Fusika be urged to conclude his cross examination and close his case to allow for other counsels to take their turn with the witness.
The counsel for the police J. I. Ebhosereme implored the panel to stay within the confines of the terms of reference setting it up as canvassed by Mr. Enitan, as doing anything outside of it, would amount to ultra vires.
Mrs. Amanda Asagba of the NBA stated that since the panel is a fact finding one seeking to find out the truth, there was the need for it to grant the application of Mr. Fusika.
Mr. Adeshina Ogunlana later moderated his application and asked the panel to direct the counsels to be allowed to access the Coroner inquest, but this was objected to by Mr. Enitan, who stated that the Coroner inquest was s statutory function of the Chief Coroner and that it was inappropriate for the panel to over reach itself.
Ruling on the application and counter application by the counsels, the panel opined that since it is a fact finding body, it will stop at nothing to get at the truth and thereafter directed Prof Obafunwa to produce the register and autopsy reports of the 99 corpses and adjourned the matter to 19th June, 2021 for further hearing.
Other petitions listed for the day could not be heard due to the long duration of the above testimony.
The panel sitting continues.