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#EndSARS judicial panels: Different strokes in states as FG pledges to implement reports

By Onyedika Agbedo, News Editor
03 July 2021   |   4:25 am
Eight months ago, the National Economic Council (NEC) resolved that each state and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, should establish a judicial panel of inquiry to investigate cases of police brutality and compensate victims,

[FILE]A demonstrator holds a placard to protest against abuses by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) at the Lekki toll Plaza in Lagos, on October 12, 2020. – Nigerians protested to pressure the government to follow through on disbanding a feared police unit after authorities made the rare concession in the face of widespread anger over abuses.<br />Around 2,000 people blocked one of the main highways in the country’s biggest city Lagos, demanding officials make good on an announcement on October 11, 2020, that the federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) was being scrapped. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

As some of the panels set up in states to investigate cases of police brutality, following last year’s #EndSARS protests, conclude their tasks while others are still working, there are strong indications that the Federal Government is keen on implementing the reports.

Eight months ago, the National Economic Council (NEC) resolved that each state and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, should establish a judicial panel of inquiry to investigate cases of police brutality and compensate victims,

However, the implementation might be hampered by lack of uniformity across the states with respect to when the panels are expected to turn in their reports. Findings by The Guardian showed that while some states set up the panel as agreed and have received reports, the exercise is still ongoing in other states. But in Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara states, the resolution was ignored and no panel was raised.

The NEC, which is headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and has all the 36 state governors and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor as members, had decided that the judicial panels be raised in the wake of the #EndSARS protests which rocked the country from October 8 to 22, 2020.

During the protests, youths took to the streets in different parts of the country to call for disbandment of the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). They also demanded immediate release of all arrested protesters; justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensations for their families; setting up of an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reported police misconduct within a period of 10 days and carrying out of psychological evaluation of all operatives of the disbanded SARS before redeploying them for any policing task. The protesters further demanded that the government should increase the salary of police personnel and ensure that they are adequately compensated for any eventuality that they suffer in the course of protecting life and property of the citizens.

The establishment of judicial panels of inquiry at the state level was conceived as a step towards addressing these demands. Recently, Vice President Osinbajo announced that NEC would convene a special session for deliberation on implementation of the reports of the judicial panels. In a statement by his media aide, Laolu Akande, the Vice President disclosed that the decision to convene the special session was taken at a meeting of the council held on Thursday, June 17.

“The Vice President, at today’s meeting, announced that a special session of NEC will soon be convened to consider all the reports that are ready from the judicial panels set up late last year to address the concerns of the Nigerian people on police brutality allegations and other related issues.

“That meeting would also consider the implementation of the reports, including remedies, redress and compensations,” the statement said.

It was gathered that a few states have the reports of the panels ready, even as data released by a civil society group, Enough is Enough (EiE), in May this year showed that only 29 states and the FCT constituted the panels and investigated reported cases of police brutality.

Lagos Panel Received 230 Petitions, Still Sitting
ON October 19, 2020, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu inaugurated the Judicial Panel of Inquiry and Restitution to investigate cases of brutality and human rights violation committed by SARS operatives in Lagos State, which was the epicentre of the #EndSARS protests.

At the ceremony which took place at the State House, Marina, the governor charged the eight-man panel headed by Justice Doris Okuwobi to evaluate the evidence and draw conclusions on the validity of public complaints on police brutality and extra judicial killings in Lagos with the aim of determining and recommending compensation for victims and their dependants. He also mandated the panel to interrogate SARS officers responsible for the abuse of victims and recommend their prosecution.

Sanwo-Olu said: “Mindful that complaints may be against serving police officers or ones already dismissed, the tribunal has a mandate to carry out the directives of the Federal Government to enable it discharge its duties without fear or favour. We expect the panel to judiciously use its powers to ensure that all necessary parties appear before it to testify; the members of the panel have the mandate to ensure that the rule of law prevails.

“I thank the chairman and members of the judicial panel for responding to the call of duty at this crucial time. I am convinced that you all recognise the importance of the assignment, which I believe will open a new chapter in police-citizen relationship .”

Justice Okuwobi, who spoke on behalf of the panel members at the event, pledged that they would “be thorough, objective and transparent in line with the terms of reference and enabling legal instruments.”

Investigation by The Guardian showed that the panel received 230 petitions and was still sitting as at last Thursday. Also, no date has been fixed to draw the curtains on the exercise even though the panel was initially given six months to conclude its work.

So far, the panel has awarded over N100 million as damages to victims of police brutality in the state who were able to prove their cases. These include N10 million to the family of the late Kolade Johnson, who was shot during a raid by police officers at Onipetesi area of Lagos while watching an English premiership match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United on March 31, 2019; N10 million to the family of the late Rasheed Olanrewaju who was killed by a stray bullet from a shot fired by police officers attached to Area C in Surulere during the #EndSARS protests in October 2020; N1 million to Adebayo Yinka who was arrested, detained and tortured by police officers for allegedly defrauding a woman, despite investigations showing that he did not have any contact with the complainant; N7.5 million to Ndukwe Ekekwe who was paralysed as a result of police brutality and N10 million to Tolulope Openiyi, a widow whose husband was shot on the chest by the police while on his way back from an official outing at the University of Lagos in August 2007.

Others cases include N5 million to Blessing Esanbor who was shot by a police officer on February 10, 2012 during an argument; N750,000 to Felicia Opara, who was assaulted by some police officers after she was arrested for using her phone to record the #EndSARS protest; N500,000 to Tella Adesanya who spent three days in a police cell after the security officers seized her car and arrested her while driving along LASU/Iba road in June 2018, after some persons accused him of hitting someone along Igando junction, and N7.5 million to Marc Chidiebere Nwadi, a petitioner who spent six years in the prison without trial.

More verdicts are expected as the panel continues to sit. However, one thing that is clear is that given the volume of petitions it has to address, the final report of the panel may not be ready any time soon.

We Have Been Working Since Courts Resumed, Says Enugu Panel
From Lawrence Njoku, Enugu

IN Enugu State, the eight-man Judicial Panel of Inquiry on police brutality and related cases has not concluded its assignment.

Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi inaugurated the panel, headed by Justice Kingsley Ude (rtd) on October 21, last year. The panel was empowered to receive and investigate complaints of police brutality or related extra judicial killings in the state and was given six months to conclude its work, which elapsed on April 21, this year.

The state government has granted a four-month tenure extension to the panel to enable it conclude its work, and this would end on August 21. The extension was granted following series of petitions and complaints from members of the public that are yet to be attended to by the panel.

It is, however, still a subject of conjecture if the new deadline would be enough for the panel owing to the two months strike by judicial workers in the country that ended two weeks ago.

A member of the panel, Comrade Osmond Ugwu, told The Guardian that they received about 145 petitions, out of which 45 had either been adopted conclusively or referred to the administrative panel of inquiry arising from the EndSARS protest.

He said: “The panel was inaugurated on October 21, 2020, and we were supposed to conclude on April 21, 2021, because it was a six-month assignment. But around April 6, the judiciary workers in the whole federation embarked on strike, which ended about two weeks ago, and after that, we had to start all over again.

“Before the strike, the panel in Enugu had sat and concluded that going by the enormous work we have, we would need an extension of time beyond April 21, 2021. So, we met with the Attorney General of the state and discussed with him and he advised us to write to the governor to demand an extension of time. The governor granted the request and extended the tenure from April 21 to August 21. The implication is that we have been giving extra four months, in addition to the initial six months, making it 10 months.

“At the moment, the court has resumed, we have reconvened and started sitting. We have been working since the court resumed. By virtue of the extension, we will continue to work till August 2021. So, when we get to August, we will be able to know whether we will ask for another extension because from the extra four months approved, the judiciary workers spent two months and two days on strike. So, out of the four months extension, we only have two months to do what we would have done in four months.”

Ugwu said that the panel had neither written a report nor given judgment on any of the 145 petitions it received.
“When we conclude with the process of hearing and adoptions, we will now sit down and look at them based on the facts and evidence before us and come up with reports and recommendations on each. We have not given any judgment on any case because the method we adopted is that we have to take all the cases first and start looking at them one after the other. It is different from the way the Lagos State government is doing its own. They give judgment as they go.

“The mandate given to us is to receive petitions and investigate the issues with those accused; after the processes have been completed, we will sit down and do our reports. Every petition comes with a demand, which is called relief. When we are done, we will look at the reliefs, the ones that are valid we will uphold them but the ones that are not, we will advise on them,” Ugwu noted.

Paucity Of Fund Stops Taraba Panel
From Writing Report
By Charles Akpeji, Jalingo

THE Christopher Awubra-led panel of inquiry on police brutality in Taraba State has awarded a total of N509 million to 42 victims of police brutality.
 
The panel awarded N20 million each to those who died through police brutality, N15 million each to those who suffered permanent incapacitation in the hands of the police while those who were unlawfully arrested, tortured, detained or extorted were awarded between N3 and N8 million each, depending on the gravity of the brutality.

However, the panel has not been able to tidy up its report due to paucity of fund. As such, none of the victims has gotten the compensation at the time of filing this report.

Findings by The Guardian showed that right from when the panel was inaugurated in October last year, the authorities have not funded it properly, thereby hampering its work. The situation has been so dire that as at last Wednesday, the members had not received their allowances in the last five months.

Some of the members who spoke on how far they have gone with the assignment, on the condition of anonymity, described the situation as unfortunate.

One of them expressed regret over the “ill attitude of the relevant authorities towards the panel”, adding that even after they went ahead to carry out their assignment by using their personal monies to fund the proceedings, they have been waiting for the government to release funds to them to tidy up the report and submit.

“I don’t understand why the government has refused to pay us our five months allowance. The same problem of fund is also making it impossible for us to put our reports together for submission. We have finished compiling the report but no money for papers, ink, printing and binding.

“Despite government’s failure to pay us our five months allowance, we still went ahead to complete our assignment. But it is so disheartening that as I am talking with you now, our dreams and hopes of submitting our report is being frustrated by the government as it has continued to deny us funds,” he lamented.

The development has kept many residents whose petitions were treated by the panel in suspense, with some of them saying they were looking on to God to get compensated as recommended by the panel.

“We have been praying fervently that God touches the heart of our governor to attend to the panel members so that at the end of the day our sufferings in the hands of the police would not just go like that.

“We are very much aware that we can only get compensation if the report of the panel gets to the appropriate authority,” one of the petitioners said.

He urged the governor to release funds to the panel, noting that doing so “will make us believe that our hopes and expectations are not lost.”

Abia Panel Treats 86 Petitions,
To Submit Report Soon
From Gordi Udeajah, Umuahia

THE Abia State #EndSARS Judicial Panel of Inquiry has completed public sitting and is poised to submit its report to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu.

The 21-member panel is headed by Justice Sunday Imo (rtd) while the Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Uzoamaka Uche Ikonne, is the secretary.

While inaugurating the panel on October 23, 2020, Ikpeazu charged them to look into issues emanating from the #EndSARS protests in the state such as the claims being sought by aggrieved persons and the extent of damage to properties in the state, among others. They were given 12 weeks to complete the assignment and make recommendations to the state government.

The panel commenced sitting on November 10, 2020. It later asked for extension of time and was granted additional three weeks by the state government.

The secretary to the panel, Mrs. Ikonne, told The Guardian that members sat every Tuesday and Wednesday throughout the duration of the assignment and attended to 86 petitions filed before them.

She disclosed that some of the petitions were struck out for improper filing and failure of the petitioners and their witnesses to appear before the panel and give evidence despite repeated invitations.

Ikonne appreciated the governor for supporting the panel with logistics while carrying out its assignment. She also commended lawyers who rendered pro bono services to some petitioners.

Imo Panel Submits Report, Recommends N770.9m As Compensation
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri

IN Imo State, the judicial panel headed by Justice Florence Duruoha-Igwe (rtd) sat between November 3, 2021 and May 4, 2021.
The chairman recently submitted the report of the panel to Governor Hope Uzodimma, recommending that N770, 985, 800 million should be paid to victims of police brutality in the state as compensation.

The secretary to the panel, Isaac Oguzie, told The Guardian that the panel received a total of 145 petitions and nine memoranda. He explained that 45 of the petitions were related to death while nine petitions had to do with permanent disability. 

According to him, 14 petitions were struck out for want of jurisdiction; three were struck out for being subjudice while 18 others were struck out for various reasons.
Oguzie explained that eight petitions were dismissed, two recommended for apology while 102 were successfully heard.

He disclosed that the panel recommended that individual policemen are to pay compensation to their victims or families to the tune of N38,185,800 million, while the state government should compensate the victims with N731,800,000.

At the time of filing this report, those whose petitions were successful were still waiting to get their compensation as recommended by the panel.

Ekiti Panel Receives 85 Petitions, Awards N20.8m To 50 Petitioners
From Ayodele Afolabi, Ado Ekiti

THE Ekiti State Judicial Panel of Inquiry into Human Rights Violation by Police Officers received a total 85 petitions between November 2, 2020 and December 4, 2020.

Out of these petitions, the panel recommended that 50 of the petitioners who suffered various forms of abuse ranging from loss of life to physical injury, trauma and loss of property, be compensated.

The panel struck out 24 cases that it considered inadmissible for lack of jurisdiction or lack of diligent prosecution.
Governor Kayode Fayemi had inaugurated the 10-man panel on October 19, 2020, to receive petitions from victims of #EndSARS protests and violation of human rights by police officers and make recommendations to the state government.

The government paid the first tranche of compensation to 24 beneficiaries to the tune of over N7 million before the panel concluded its assignment in May 2021. The government has pledged that the remaining compensation amounting to N13.8 million for 28 beneficiaries would be paid soon.

While receiving the panel’s report recently, the governor constituted a seven-man implementation committee headed by the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Olawale Fapohunda, to oversee the implementation of the report. The committee was given four weeks to submit its report.

 
A source close to the panel confided in The Guardian that the balance of N13. 8 million for the 28 beneficiaries has not been paid due to paucity of funds.

Chairman of the panel, Justice Cornelius Akintayo, said that the report was an opportunity for the government to further strengthen its intervention in the promotion and protection of human rights in the state.

He added that the report would enable the government to re-assess current measures in place to prevent all forms of extra-judicial conducts by law enforcement agencies and examine whether remedial measures currently in place within government structures are adequate, effective and efficient.

Ondo Panel Recommends N755m Compensation, Seeks Review Of Sheriffs, Civil Process Act 2004
From Oluwaseun Akingboye, Akure

ONDO State Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu set up a judicial panel of inquiry to investigate allegations of police brutality and other related matters in the state.

Although the panel submitted its report to the state government two months ago, the victims, who were able to prove their cases, are yet to receive their various compensations recommended by the panel.

The governor had precisely on October 20, 2020, inaugurated the eight-member panel. The membership included, Justice Salisu Adesola Sidiq (rtd) as chairman; Mr. Lanre Amuda, secretary; Mrs. Banke Oloba and Ifeanyi Odili, representing Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). Others were Mr. Samuel Adetuyi, a retired Commissioner of Police; Mr. Oluyemi Fasipe, youth representative; Mr. Leo Ologun, representative of the office of the state Attorney General, and Sunday Oyewole, representing the National Human Rights Commission.                              

The panel was saddled with the responsibility of evaluating evidence and drawing conclusion on validity of complains; recommending compensation and other remedial measures; carrying out any other assignment that may be deemed necessary pursuant to this purpose. The panel was given six months to conclude its assignment and submit its report.

On April 28, 2021, the panel submitted its report to the governor, wherein it recommended N755,730,897.83 as compensation to successful petitioners.

Justice Sidiq said that the panel received 77 petitions. He added that the panel heard 14 criminal and 63 civil matters in the petitions. According to him, properties were vandalised in four local council areas, namely Akure South, Ondo West, Odigbo and Okitipupa.

Aside the N755 million compensations to the victims, the panel recommended the publication of apologies in national dailies, particularly where the reputation of victims had been tarnished.

After receiving the report of the panel, the governor, who gave the assurance that his administration would offer apologies where necessary, immediately dissolved the panel.

Speaking on the panel, one of the members representing CSOs, Odili, who is also the National General Secretary of Campaign for Democracy (CD), lauded the state government for providing the necessary funds.

Odili said: “I can say that we have done everything we needed to do because for almost six months of exhaustive and intensive public hearing and report writing, we have submitted our report to the appropriate quarter.

“After the inauguration of the panel, we restricted our activities and operations to the extant laws governing panels/commissions in Ondo State and the federal laws. We received 77 petitions from the public, private persons and bodies; about two were withdrawn, four were struck out for lack of diligent prosecution. To be sincere with you, all the petitions were fairly heard. 

“I want you to know that the petitions came under two parts: criminal and civil matters. Most painful ones bordered on human rights violations by the police since 2003, which were not resolved until the setting up of the panel. 

“On vandalised properties, after various visits to luqos inquo (scene of events), it was observed that four local governments were affected during the #EndSARS protest, Okitipupa, Ondo West, Akure South and Odigbo.

“There were cases that we found tough because they had been decided by courts of competent jurisdiction but were brought before us for refusal to pay the judgment creditors.

“We were very careful in determining them because we considered the panel’s limitation in line with Supreme Court judgment on the powers of panels of inquiry to entertain res judicata cases, that is cases that have been determined by appellate courts. 

“Having observed the rough ride to access justice, we were constrained to suggest that Section 84 of the Sheriffs and Civil Process Act 2004 be reviewed in earnest in favour of the judgment creditors.”         

We’ll Soon Submit Our Report To Oyetola, Panel Assures Osun residents
By Timothy Agbor, Osogbo

OSUN State Governor Gboyega Oyetola inaugurated the Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutality, Human Rights Violations and Related Extra Judiciary Killings on October 23, 2020. Justice Akin Oladimeji (rtd) is the head of the 12-man panel.

The panel, which was given six months to hear all the petitions brought before it and submit its report, held its inaugural sitting on Thursday, November 12, 2020 at the Council of Obas Chambers, Finance Building, State Secretariat, Abere, Osogbo. It, however, concluded its assignment in about four months having ended sittings on March 27, 2021.

Its chairman, Justice Oladimeji, had revealed that it entertained 34 petitions.

“Out of the 34 petitions, 11 of them were struck out due to incompetence or lack of diligent prosecution. In the other 23 cases, parties gave evidence in them and counsel represented the parties too. Their lawyers made final submissions and we have concluded all the cases.

“We will invite the petitioners after we have presented our recommendations to the government who is solely responsible for the payment of the compensations to give them their compensations.

“As we all know, the recommendations must be in line with the financial capacity of the government. We shall do everything possible to ensure that whoever had been injured gets remedy, and that no petitioner shall go unjustified,” Oladimeji assured Osun residents.

In an interview with The Guardian, a member of the panel, Ismail Abdul Aziz disclosed that the report of the panel was ready and would soon be presented to the governor.