AKEEM NAFIU writes that lawyers are demanding that panel of inquiries being set up by state governors to look into cases of police brutality across the country must exhibit political will to act decisively. They said the panels should be able to address the issues raised by the protesters and come up with recommendations that would be beneficial to the country
Lawyers have joined the fray in asking the various panels of inquiries being set up by state governors across the country over cases of police brutality and extra-judicial killings of innocent Nigerians to leave no stone unturned in ensuring that the Augean stables are cleaned.
The lawyers believed the setting up of the panel is an important step in getting the nation out of the present quagmire and achieving the desired reformed and regeneration for the Police Force. In line with the directive of the National Executive Council (NEC), state governments have been inaugurating panel of inquiries to look into cases of police brutality across the country.
The panel of inquiries were set up following the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting chaired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo with all state governors in attendance. The meeting was held on the heels of protests by youths across the country agitating for the scrapping of the Special Anti- Robbery Squad (FSARS) and an end to police brutality.
A statement by an aide to the Vice-President, Laolu Akande, indicated that governors were mandated to set up panel of inquiries to ensure justice for all victims of the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other police units. He disclosed that the panel’s assignment should be concluded within a maximum of six months, unless there were convincing reasons for an extension.
He added that state governors had also been directed to immediately establish a victims’ fund to enable the payment of monetary compensation to deserving victims.
Akande further disclosed that the judicial panel which would be set up in all the states would be chaired by a retired judge and expected to comprise representatives of youths, students and civil society organisations. The statement reads: “The Council specifically resolved that state governors and the FCT minister should take charge of interface and contact with the protesters in their respective domains.
“The Council also directed that state governors should immediately establish a state-based Special Security and Human Rights Committee to be chaired by the governors in their states, to supervise the newly formed police tactical units and all other security agencies located in the state.
“The idea of Special Security and Human Rights Committee in all states of the federation and the FCT is to ensure that police formations and other security agencies in the state consistently protect the human rights of citizens. “Members of the Special Committee would also include representatives of Youths and Civil Society.
The Head of Police tactical units in each of the state would also be a member of the Committee.”
A few days to the NEC’s directives to state governors, a presidential panel comprising the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu and the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Tony Ojukwu, had earlier approved a 5-point demands of the EndSARS protesters. The EndSARS protesters’ 5-point demands are: * Immediate release of all arrested protesters
*Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families *Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of Police misconduct (within 10days)
*In line with police act, psychological evaluation and retaining (to be confirmed by an independent body) of all disbanded SARS officers before they can be redeployed *Increase police salary so that they are adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of citizens.
The presidential panel at a meeting with leaders and representatives of civil society organisations, activists from the entertainment industry and the #EndSARS movement as well as development partners agreed on the legitimacy of the demands and approved them.
The meeting was held after a directive by President Muhammadu Buhari for the dissolution of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). A communique signed by both the IGP, Mohammed Adamu and NHRC’s Executive Secretary, Tony Ojukwu, which was issued at the end of the meeting indicated that the dissolution of SARS would lead to a comprehensive reforms aimed at repositioning the Nigeria Police Force as a modern, responsive and citizens-centred law enforcement organisation. It was further disclosed that the proposed reforms would be anchored under the basis of the White Paper on the Report of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad which was jointly authored by the National Human Rights Commission, the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Nigeria Police Force.
The communique further reads: “Following public protests regarding various forms of human rights violations by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and the consequent disbandment of the unit by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, there arose the need for stakeholder engagement to build trust and restore public confidence in law enforcement.
“The agitations also brought to fore, the need to implement the recommendations of the Presidential Panel on the Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
“The Forum collectively welcomed the dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu; reaffirmed the constitutional rights of Nigerians to peaceful assembly and protest; further affirmed the sanctity of life of every Nigerian and the role of the police in protecting this right; affirms that the five-point demands of the protesters and the ENDSARS movement are genuine concerns and will be addressed by the government.
“The Forum affirms that reform proposals for the Nigerian Police Force will be based on Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and existing legislations such as the Nigeria Police Act, 2020, the Nigeria Police Trust Fund Act, 2019, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, the Anti-Torture Act, 2017, and the National Human Rights Commission Act, 2010 amongst others.
“Following the dissolution of SARS, the Forum calls for the following immediate steps to be taken in restoring public confidence and trust in the Police: An order by the Inspector General of Police to all State Commands to halt the use of force against protesters; Unconditional release of arrested protesters and citizens; Open communication and outreach to citizens to establish trust and confidence and a roadmap for the implementation of the White Paper of the Presidential Panel on the reform of the SARS.
“The Forum welcomed the proposal to set up an Independent Investigation Panel to look into the violations of human rights by the defunct SARS and other segments of the Nigerian Police.
The Forum agrees to the setting up of this Independent Panel by the National Human Rights Commission within the next one week. An open call for Memoranda from members of the public whose rights have been violated by the defunct SARS and other segments of the police will be released by the Commission within one week.
“The Forum recommends the psychological evaluation, training and retraining of disbanded SARS officials prior to re-deployment.
The Forum resolves to set up the following Technical Sub-Committees to design an implementation roadmap and work plan for the implementation of the White Paper: Training, Capacity and Re-orientation; Logistics: Infrastructure, Communications and Technology; Arrest, Detention, and Investigations; Regulations, Oversight and Accountability and Financing and Partnerships”.
Some senior lawyers have in the meantime been talking about their expectations from the various panel of inquiries set up by state governors to look into cases of police brutality in the country. The lawyers while baring their minds on the issue at the weekend called for a thorough investigation of all cases by the judicial panel of inquiries.
Beyond the issue of panel of inquiries, the lawyers also urged constituted authorities at all level of government to take other decisive actions at arresting the anarchy in the country and restore peace. Speaking on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dr. Biodun Layonu, sought a thorough and fair job from the various panels. He said: “I expect the panel of inquiries to do a thorough job and be fair.”
Another member of the Inner Bar, Mr. Seyi Sowemimo, was however, skeptical about the setting up of the panel of inquiries, saying it was unnecessary as the requests of the EndSARS protesters were clear enough. “The requests are clear enough and do not require the elaborate process of enquiry to address them.
Enquiry panel have not proved effective in addressing similar problems in the past. It will therefore appear to be diversionary tactics.This is a Federal Government problem and should be tackled by the Federal Government,” he said.
To Mr. Yemi Candide-Johnson (SAN), what is needed is a special prosecutor and well-funded investigators to receive complaints, analyse and investigate and then make a prosecution decision which cannot be stopped by any politician.
He said: “In Nigeria, blue riband committees are set up to deflect or to buy time. There is a graveyard for their reports and they will gather dust unless there is strong political will to act upon their findings.
“It is not obvious that there is any will for change here and I think that these committees will spend money and then never be heard of again. What is needed is a special prosecutor and well-funded investigators to receive complaints, analyse and investigate and then make a prosecution decision which cannot be stopped by any politician. The judges should be ready to act swiftly and decisively.
They are not ready for this.” Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu expressed satisfaction with the inauguration of the panel by state governors saying it was an option available to constituted authorities pursuant to the Tribunal of Inquiries Act in the event of major crisis such as this.
“Fair enough, it remains one of the measures available to constituted authorities pursuant to the Tribunal of Inquiries Act in the event of major crisis such as this. It is also one of the legitimate demands of the #EndSARS protesters.
“However, the situation has degenerated beyond panel of Inquiry. The government of the day must move quickly and swiftly ahead of investigating panel with 6 months deadline and mandate to arrest the anarchy in the land, restore peace and take drastic and far reaching decisions including returning power to the people,” Ugwummadu said.
To Mr. Ige Asemudara, the panel of inquiries must look into the immediate and remote causes of the protests, the actual persons behind it, the reasons for it degenerating into a chaotic situation, the dirty roles played by any government agency, security or military body, the casualties from the Lekki incident of October 20, 2020 as well as rehabilitation and compensation.
He said: “I expect that the Federal Government should take that initiative and not states. The demands were not on the states. SARS is a federal government body forming part of the police institution.
Having said that, the panel of enquiry set up in different states should look at the immediate and remote causes of the protests, the actual persons behind it, the reasons for its degenerating into a chaotic situation, the dirty roles played by any government agency, security or military body, the casualties from the Lekki incident of October 20, 2020 and their rehabilitation and compensation.
“The panel should look at how the demands are mandatorily met by government and investigate and find out the persons who were involved in the burning down of public and private properties and those involved in looting. We must be able to separate the genuine protesters from the criminals without bias.
“The panel must make recommendations for the discipline of the SARS officials and military officials found wanting and that is why I insist that it should be the federal government that should set up the relevant panel.
The Federal government of Nigeria led by General Muhammadu Buhari has been largely irresponsible and irresponsive.” Dr. Fassy Yusuf also urged the panel to be thorough in their assignments and come up with proper recommendations. He said: “The demands by the #EndSARS protesters should be quite easy to attend to if the various panels have the political will. If patriotically handled, the present situation can be a blessing in disguise.
“Our nation is in search of reformation and regeneration. The panel should be able to address the issues raised by the protesters and come up with recommendations that would be beneficial to the country. We need to cleanse the Augean stables and sanitise the environment.
“Our law enforcement and military officials must respect the fundamental rights of the citizens. Harassment, extortion, maiming, and other inhuman treatments must stop. Moreover, we need good governance and transformational leadership in the country”, he said.
Mr. Kabir Akingbolu wants state governments to ensure full implementation of all recommendations of the panel of inquiries. He said: “My expectations are not different from that of every Nigerian. Let it not be a toothless bulldog. We have seen many panel of enquiry of different colours over the years but all their recommendations are just dead pieces of paper. So, I expect that the government will ensure the implementation of all their recommendations”.
Speaking in the same vein, Mr. Wale Ogunade, also demanded thoroughness in the panel’s assignment. “I want the panel to be thorough in their assignments; thorough in the sense that I want them to visit those who are victims of police brutality and also ensure that all those who have one complaint or the other be given opportunities to speak on their experience.
“The most important thing is that they should not be stationary in one place. They should go round the various parts of their state of assignment. They should also have a media team that will ensure effective coverage of what they are doing.
“They must also ensure that the police officers accused of perpetrating the alleged crimes are on ground to defend themselves.
They must also have documentary and pictorial evidence of their encounters, so that once and for all, the nation will be healed. “I also expect the National Human Rights Commission to collaborate will all the state governments and ensure that the purpose of setting up these panels is achieved by ensuring that victims of police brutality across the country get justice.”