Panel assures of fairness in spite of Shiite boycott
Justice Muhammadu Lawal-Garba, Chairman, Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Army/Shiite clash in Zaria, has assured that the panel will not compromise its integrity in the discharge of its assignment.
Lawal-Garba gave the assurance in a chat with newsmen shortly after the panel adjourned sitting on Tuesday in Kaduna.
He stressed that the commission would accord all sides in the matter, fair hearing as enshrined in the Constitution of Nigeria.
“The provision is that all the parties shall be given adequate opportunity, which is reasonable in the circumstances of the assignment, for all parties to present their own side of the story.”
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) had withdrawn from appearing before the panel.
Lawal-Garba, however, said that the commission under the law have no power to compel the group to appear before it.
“We cannot compel, we cannot force a party even if you bring him before it to say his own side of the story if he doesn’t want to say so.
“So the idea of fair hearing is not that a party must come, you must wait for a party, that if it doesn’t come, you cannot go on and achieve justice because he decided not to utilise the opportunity granted to him or her for a fair hearing.
“Like I mentioned before, this commission had, unusually got to wait to see that the IMN solve the initial problem they said they had as to why they will not continue to appear before the commission; that is the access to the leader of the IMN who is in official custody.
“Before the Commission facilitated that access, the IMN had no other way of having access to him.
“But in line with the principle of having all the parties get the opportunity of a fair hearing, the commission spent the whole initial time allotted to it to facilitate and ensure that they solve the problem.
“The only problem the lawyer told us was to get access to the IMN leader, and we facilitated the access eventually.
“The IMN lawyers, the lead counsel to the commission, through the effort of the commission met the leader of the IMN, and the counsel to the commission also met him.”
He disclosed that “initially, it was for the counsel to the commission, and the counsel to the IMN to go at the same time to see the leader of the IMN.
“At the appointed day, the counsel to the IMN did not show up for the appointment to see their leader, and they did not send any communication to excuse their absence to see the leader.
“It was at that point that our own counsel who was there on prior consent was allowed to have access to the leader of the IMN had discussion with him,
“He reported during one of our proceedings, that the leader of IMN said he was not even aware of the setting up of the commission, in the first place, and that he was interested, of having the opportunity to come before the commission to state his own side of the story of what happened in Zaria.
“And it was on that basis again that we provided another opportunity for the counsels to the IMN to go and see the leader so that he could tell them his side of the clash for them to know the next step to take in the proceedings.
“Later on the counsels to the IMN accepted the effort of the commission, met with the leader, and issues were discussed there.
“It was reported that the leader of the IMN had met with counsels, and he said that they should not appear before this commission, that they should go to the regular court and enforce his fundamental rights.
“Now, the principle of fair hearing like I said, only requires that the Commission should give adequate opportunity to all the parties that are going to appear.
“In this circumstance we did more than that, and it is a deliberate choice, it is a deliberate option and decision by IMN through its leader to direct the counsel to appear or not to continue to appear.
“The issue of fair hearing will not even arise here because they have been given the opportunity, it is their own decision not to utilise it.”
The chairman said that the panel would not be frustrated in the discharge of its assignment because of the group’s decision not to appear before it.
“Because we are looking for facts, it is not only the IMN that is going to be part of what happened in Zaria on December12- 14, 2015,there are other stakeholders who knew what happened.”
He said that the panel would base its report on the facts presented before it by other stakeholders.
“We will look at the entire facts, look at other items in terms of reference, and then make recommendations to the government as to what actually happened from the facts that are presented before us.
“So the integrity of the assignment is not in the least affected by the absence of the IMN, it doesn’t subtract the integrity of the facts that are going to be presented by people who know about the incident that happened in Zaria.
“Of course it would have been better if the IMN had come to state their own side of the story, but the fact that they are absent, they decided not to utilise the opportunity.
“it does not subtract from the integrity and the principle of fair hearing as far as the Constitution of Nigeria is concerned. So that is as far as that is concerned,” he stressed.
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