CSOs accuse security agencies of frustrating panels
A total of 2,570 petitions have been received by the various panels of inquiry investigating the extra-ju dicial killings by security agents across the country. A report released by the CSO Police Reform Observatory coordinated by CLEEN Foundation and NOPRIN Foundation indicates that the panels of inquiry in the South- South geopolitical zone have received a total of 645 petitions, while those in the South-East have 640 petitions.
States in the South-West have received 526 petitions, while the North-Central received 404 petitions. The North-West and North-East have received 243 and 112 petitions respectively. In the FCT, the panel has received 250 petitions.
Anambra State received the highest number of petitions with 310 petitions in the South-East while Lagos State received 210 petitions in the South-West. Katsina State received 200 petitions in the North-West; Rivers State received 188 petitions in the South-South while Adamawa State received 73 petitions in the North-East.
Most of the petitions border on human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings, torture, extortion, harassment, sexual and gender-based violence, indiscriminate arrests, illegal detention, illegal arrests and abuse of power by personnel of the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies. According to the report, a total of 360 persons are members of the judicial panels of inquiry sitting in the 29 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Out of this number, 278 are males and 82 are females.
The South-East geopolitical zone has the highest number of members, which is currently 89 panel members. North-West has the lowest with 19 panel members. Anambra State has the highest number of panel members which is 36, while Bayelsa has six panel members which is the lowest.
T he report observed that despite reassurances by the various state governments on the genuineness of the exercise, there was still an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion among families of victims and survivors of extra-judicial killings and police brutality regarding the extent to which the panels of inquiry can dispense justice and the possibility of government acting on the recommendations.
It also observed that though the Nigeria Police Force has withdrawn the suit against the Judicial Panels of Inquiry, there are legal issues yet to be addressed regarding the powers of the panels and enforcement of their recommendations and decisions.
Similarly, the report indicates that some petitions filed before the panels across the states have suffered undue delay as a result of lack of cooperation from the police and other security agencies.
“It has been reported that in Plateau, Benue, Abia, Ekiti, Rivers, Lagos states, some security actors have failed to appear before the panels after summons were issued against them. For example, in Edo State, the Commissioner of Police has refused to honour summons from the panel of inquiry to produce a police sergeant wanted by the panel. Similarly, in Taraba State, an officer verbally threatened a petitioner who appeared before the panel to present a case against the Nigeria Police Force.
“However, in Akwa Ibom State, police officers have appeared before the panel several times without hitches. In addition, it has been observed that funds meant for the panels have not been released in some states, thereby hampering their ability to carry out assigned duties. “Furthermore, some police officers invited by the panels have either retired or have been transferred out of the states, compounding the issue of participation of the officers involved. It has also been observed that some retired or serving security officers who are members of the panels have vested interests in some of the cases before the panels, raising issues of independence and credibility of recommendations.
“It was further observed that most panels of inquiry no longer accept petitions from members of the public, leaving several potential petitioners in a limbo. This is not acceptable as the aim of the proceedings is to give families of victims and survivors an opportunity to present their cases,” said the report.
The report condemned the negative attitude of the security agencies towards the panels and demanded that uncooperative police and military officers should be subpoenaed to appear before the panel to respond to issues involving them. The panels of inquiry, the report said, should allow more citizens to file petitions before them because justice delayed is justice denied.
The report also urged panels to dedicate block of sittings weekly to enable them hear and adjudicate on as many cases as possible. “The panels of inquiry should consider the use of technology in the filing of petitions and receiving of evidence to reduce the potential impact of COVID-19 pandemic on their proceedings. The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice should provide clarity on the legal status, powers and the enforcement of the recommendations of the panels by the government,” the report said.
The Federal Government, through the National Economic Council (NEC) had, on Thursday, 15th October, 2020 directed the establishment of independent judicial panels of inquiry in the 36 states of the country and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The panels were mandated to investigate complaints of police brutality or related extrajudicial killings perpetrated by the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other police units.