More than one year after the National Economic Council directed states to set up Judicial Panels of Inquiry to investigate cases of alleged violations of human rights by the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad and other police units, no fewer than five states have yet to submit their reports to the Federal Government.
Findings by Sunday PUNCH revealed that Oyo, Anambra, Taraba, Bauchi, Taraba and Ogun states are still holding onto their reports, in spite of the fact that most of them were among the first to set up their panels and the position of NEC that the panels should conclude sitting in six months, unless there are genuine reasons for an extension.
Constituting the panels was the government’s response to one of the demands by #EndSARS protesters, composed mainly of youths, who in October 2020, trooped to the streets across many states to demand an end to police brutality, extrajudicial killings, harassment and intimidation of citizens.
Our correspondents gathered that the reason for the delay ranged from funding to bureaucracy.
Out of the 28 states that set the panels, Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Benue, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Gombe, Kaduna, Katsina, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ondo, Osun, Plateau and Rivers states have submitted their reports.
However, no panel was raised in Yobe, Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara states.
…delay FG’s action, compensation for victims
Meanwhile, apart from prolonging the anticipated closure on the matter, the delay by the seven states may be impeding the Federal Government from taking actions on the recommendations of the panels, especially on matters of discipline of errant officers and review of policies and also, as delaying the compensation for victims.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), said on November 18 that the Federal Government could not act on the reports already submitted because it needed to wait for all the states to submit theirs.
Buhari, who spoke when he received the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, at the State House in Abuja, said, “So many state governments are involved, and have given different terms of reference to the probe panels. We at the federal level have to wait for the steps taken by the states and we have to allow the system to work. We can’t impose ideas on them. The Federal Government has to wait for the reaction of the states.”
Blinken had told the President that the US looked forward to the government’s response to the findings of the panels.
The President’s statement came after NEC resolved in its meeting on October 15 that each state, in collaboration with the Federal Government, should establish modalities for the settlement of all monetary compensations awarded by the panels.
Saturday PUNCH reported on September 25 that some states had said they would not be responsible for paying compensation to victims because the police were employees of the Federal Government.
Following the President’s comment on the matter, however, it would seem a lot depends on the five states’ submission of their reports for the matter to be exhaustively addressed and be brought to a close.
For example, in Lagos, the epicentre of the protest, the report of the panel, which generated heated reactions, and had been discredited by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has been submitted to the Federal Government. But the matters to be addressed by the Federal Government as recommended by the Lagos State White Paper Committee may have to wait until other states submit their reports.
Report ready, waiting for govs call for submission – Bauchi, Oyo panels
In Bauchi State, the #EndSARS and police brutality panel has concluded its assignment but has yet to submit the report to the state government. The 17-member Judicial Panel of Inquiry, headed by a retired High Court judge, Habibu Idris, was inaugurated by Governor Bala Mohammed on October 28, 2020.
The secretary of the panel, Sabiu Gumba, told Sunday PUNCH in a telephone interview that the panel’s report had not been submitted because they had not got a date to submit the report from the state governor, Mohammed.
Gumba said, “We have finished our report and it is ready for submission to the governor. We haven’t submitted it because the governor is yet to give us a date. As soon as he gives a date, we will submit it to him.”
In Oyo State, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Seyi Makinde, Taiwo Adisa, said in an interview on Friday that the #EndSARS panel had not submitted its report to the governor.
He said, “The #EndSARS panel has not submitted their report to the governor. I don’t know why they are yet to submit it, but members of the panel are in the position to explain why.”
A member of the panel, who is also the Special Adviser to the Governor on Political Matters, Babs Oduyoye, confirmed to one of our correspondents in October that the panel had yet to submit the report to the governor, noting that the panel was waiting for the governor to fix a date for the submission.
However, calls to his telephone line on Friday to speak more on this rang out and he had yet to reply to the text message sent to his phone as of the time of filing this report.
The Chairman, Oyo State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutality and other Related Matters, Justice Bolajoko Adeniji, who is a former Chief Judge of the state, said during the last sitting of the panel that the panel heard 163 petitions during its 63 sittings spanning over six months.
In Taraba State, one of our correspondents gathered that the panel has yet to submit its report due to lack of funds to produce the final report.
Though the state Commissioner for Information, Danjuma Adamu, and his Justice ministry counterpart, Sam Adda, did not answer their calls to speak on the reason for the delay, a member of the panel, who pleaded anonymity, affirmed that the report had not been presented to the governor due to funding.
The panel was inaugurated by Governor Darius Ishaku on October 23, 2020, and it ended its sitting on May 17, 2021.
The member said, “The panel was poorly funded, having been given an allowance for only a month. The panel members, including the chairman, used their money in funding the sitting of the panel for the remaining five months.
“The report has yet to be submitted due to financial constraints, despite the directive from the Federal Government that all states should submit the document without delay for final deliberations on modalities for implementation of the recommendations regarding compensation to victims.
“We have concluded our work, but there is no money to produce the report in the required format and copies. I am afraid Taraba may not submit the report. The implication is that victims of #EndSARS in Taraba State may not be compensated because our report may not be ready for them to be captured.”
According to the source, the panel heard 28 petitions out of the 34 received, with 47 victims of brutality slated for compensation.
The source added that while the families of 11 victims who died were awarded N20m each, eight victims who were permanently incapacitated were awarded N15m each.
The source also disclosed that four victims of torture were awarded N10m each.
“Another victim of torture was awarded N8m, while the rest of the victims of torture, detention, arrest and extortion were awarded various sums of money ranging from N3m to N7m,” the source explained.
In Ogun State, the government has kept mum over the report submitted by the judicial panel five months after. The panel was inaugurated on October 17.
A top source in the government however told our correspondent that the government had not submitted the report to the Federal Government.
The source said, “The panel report has been received by the governor, but as far as I know, it has not been submitted to the Federal Government.”
The panel, which submitted its report on June 10 to Governor Dapo Abiodun, awarded N218m to 42 victims and families of persons brutalised by the police and other security personnel in the state.
The chairman of the panel, Justice Solomon Olugbemi, had said the panel received a total of 106 petitions, out of which 58 were treated and the remaining 48 were either withdrawn, rejected or abandoned wholly or half-way by the petitioners.
Five months after, the state government kept mum over the next action on the report.
A human rights lawyer, Festus Ogun, had asked Abiodun to release the report of the panel on police brutality in the state.
The lawyer in a Freedom of Information request on November 19 said the report would be beneficial to the public.
Attempts to get reactions from the state government failed as the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Waheed Odusile, did not answer calls put across to him or respond to the text message sent to his mobile line.
In Anambra State, where Governor Willie Obiano inaugurated the 11-member panel on October 16, it was gathered that the state has also not submitted its report to the Federal Government.
The state Commissioner for Information, Don Adinuba, confirmed this to one of our correspondents.
In Cross River State, Governor Ben Ayade inaugurated the seven-member judicial panel on October 22, with retired Justice Michael Edem as the chairman.
There were indications that the report had been submitted to the state government but it could not be ascertained as of press time if the state government has submitted it to the Federal Government.
FG, states not sincere, say PANDEF, SAN, others
The spokesperson for the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, Ken Robinson, said the way some states treated the matter was a reflection of their insensitivity.
He said, “Government at all levels is insensitive to the feelings and yearnings of Nigerians. People were dissatisfied with how the police were treating young people and they took to the streets to say, ‘Look! Nigeria cannot continue like this.” But we saw what happened to those protesters.”
Also, a legal practitioner, Festus Ogun, said the Federal Government was not sincere in its directive to states to constitute panels of inquiries.
He said, “The Federal Government was not sincere with the directive that #EndSARS panels should be constituted. The government only put the torchlight on states like Lagos, Ogun, Oyo and a few others where the agitations were high. It only ensured that the states constituted the panels to douse the tension that was on at that time.
“Aside from the fact that some states didn’t set up the panel, some states started their panels sat and stopped along the line without concluding. Nobody is talking about this because the Federal Government is not sincere about putting an end to police brutality and extrajudicial killings.”
For an Abuja-based lawyer, Kayode Ajulo, it is surprising that for over one year since the protests, some states had still not set up panels to hear this matter. He advised that the governors of those states should be contacted to enquire on why they had not complied with government directives.
Ajulo said, “It is surprising to note that this number of states have not done anything. One needs to contact the governors of such states to ask them what the problem is. We must continue to advocate and push to ensure that these states comply so we all can live how normal human beings should live.
“The states, by the constitution, have sovereign powers to take care of their affairs within their jurisdiction. This is backed by law, down to the discipline of the army or police. It is part of the states’ duty to ensure the safety of lives and properties under their care. It is expected that all states must have set up panels to hear these cases of rights abuses as directed. There is no state that does not have cases of human rights abuse. We must continue to defend human rights as long as we breathe and live.”
An Abuja-based legal practitioner, Hussaini Hussaini, also stated that those who had yet to constitute a panel were reluctant to do so because they felt nothing would be done as they were not under any obligation by the constitution to do so.
Hussaini said, “When something is not backed by the constitution, it is very hard to enforce it. The government has a standard practice of not giving any credence to what the law does not mandate them to do. Setting up committees of enquiries is not something the government is under any obligation to do.
“However, they do it for administrative convenience or to douse tension. That is why most states said they had set up the panels to hear these case of human rights abuses and police brutality. They ought to have done this by now. Failure to do that does not stop people whose rights have been violated by SARS. They can go to court and seek redress and elicit action.”
Also reacting, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Yusuf Ali, said the Federal Government could not give orders to states to constitute panels of inquiries as it was not constitutional.
He, however, encouraged the states that have yet to do so to be strategic enough to avoid issues that might crop up in the future.
He added, “The Federal Government cannot give order to the states. This is a federal system of government. It would be a military mentality to say the Federal Government can give orders to the states. I think there is a symptomatic problem with our security system, and until we get to the root of it, we would just be going round in circles.
“As for states that have not done anything, they are encouraged to do so. They can only be encouraged to do so. It is in the strategic interest of all of us for them to do so because we don’t know what may be coming up in the future if they don’t.”