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Police ask court to stop SARS probe, group kicks

By Segun Olaniyi and Kanayo Umeh (Abuja)
04 December 2020   |   4:25 am
Nigeria Police Force, yesterday, approached the Federal High Court in Abuja asking it to stop judicial panels of inquiry probing into alleged police brutality.

IGP orders investigation of suit
Nigeria Police Force, yesterday, approached the Federal High Court in Abuja asking it to stop judicial panels of inquiry probing into alleged police brutality.

The move has been, however, severely criticised by a rights group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

The judicial panels of inquiry were set up in most states of the country by governors to probe allegations of police brutality and human rights abuses of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad and other police tactical units.

The inauguration of the panels was directed by the National Executive Council (NEC), headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, during the heat of the EndSARS movement in October.

The NEC had said the panels would receive and investigate complaints of police brutality or related extra-judicial killings with a view to delivering justice for all victims of the dissolved SARS and other police units.

BUT Police authorities, through their lawyer, Mr. O. M. Atoyebi, argued in the suit that the action of state governors was “unconstitutional, illegal, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.”

It added that the state governments lacked the power to constitute the panels to investigate activities of the police force and its officials in the conduct of their statutory duties.

The police urged the court to restrain the Attorneys-General of the 36 states of the Federation and their various panels of inquiry from going ahead with the probe.

According to the police, state governments’ decision to set up such panels violated the provisions of Section 241(1)(2)(a) and Item 45, Part 1, First Schedule to the Constitution and Section 21 of the Tribunals of Inquiry Act.

The police also argued that by virtue of the provisions of 241(1)(2)(a) and Item 45, Part 1, First Schedule to the Nigerian Constitution, only the Federal Government had exclusive power to “organise, control and administer the Nigeria Police Force”.

The case, formerly scheduled for December 3, has however, been rescheduled for December 18 as the Federal High Court in Abuja did not sit.

The panels are led by retired judges from each state. Its membership include civil society groups, the Human Rights Commission, Citizens Mediation Centre, and two youth representatives.

BUT HURIWA described the move by the police high command as disgraceful and a direct affront to the authority of the President of Nigeria and an unmitigated desecration of the Constitution.

It said: “It is irresponsible, insanely irrational, and senseless for the IGP to deep his hands into the public fund to file a case against the same public – his employers because the Nigerian people are the employers of the police.

“It is an indescribable disgrace that the IGP wants the court of law to stop the victims of police brutality from ventilating their grievances before the properly constituted judicial panel of inquiry.

A statement signed by the National Coordinator of the group, Emmanuel Onwubiko, described the suit as provocative, unconstitutional, illegal, primitive, despicable, saying: “It must be withdrawn forthwith or the IGP must be asked to refund the money used to institute the matter and be fired.”

MEANWHILE, in a late evening reaction, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, directed immediate investigation into the suit, giving an indication that he was not aware of and did not authorise the legal action.

The IGP, who gave the order on the heels of trending reports in the media on Thursday, expressed the disapproval of the Force Management Team on the matter and ordered investigations into the alleged role of the Force Legal Section including its head.

Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba, who disclosed this in a statement late yesterday, said the Force legal officer had been queried and might face sanctions if found guilty of dereliction of duty.

“The IGP reiterates the commitment of the Force to fulfilling all its obligations with regards to the disbandment of the defunct SARS, the ongoing judicial panels and all other police reforms,” he said.