Awka – Judicial Panels of Inquiry set up across the states to look into cases of Police brutality and extrajudicial killings have been urged to focus more on facts before them than instead of dwelling on legal technicalities
The call came on Thursday, from a Civil Society Organisation, CSO-Police Reforms Observatory coordinated by the CLEEN foundation and the Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria (NOPRIN).
The CSO Police Reform Observatory is made up of state coordinators and legal volunteers across the states and FCT monitoring the activities of the judicial panels charged with observing, documenting and reporting daily proceedings at the panels.
On Thursday, 15th October, 2020, the Federal Government of Nigeria through the National Economic Council (NEC) directed the establishment of independent judicial panels of inquiry in the thirty-six 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, with a timelag of six (6) months to deliver on their mandates unless there are reasons for extension of the proposed timeframe.
Speaking with TNC correspondent on Thursday, a co-convener of the Observatory, Ben Olugbuo who is also the Executive Director of CLEEN, revealed that as at the 15th of December, 2021, a total of 2,570 petitions have been received by the various panels.
“A breakdown of these petitions by geo-political zones indicates that the panels of inquiry in the South-South geopolitical zone have received a total of 645 petitions, followed by the South-East with 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 representing the highest number in the North-West geopolitical zone. 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,” he revealed.
According to Olugbuo, most of the petitions border on human rights violations such as extra-judicial 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.
He observed that most panels of inquiry no longer accept petitions from members of the public leaving several potential petitioners in a limbo, describing the development as unacceptable as the aim of the proceedings is to give families of victims and survivors an opportunity to present their cases.
“Among other gaps we identified include the avoidable adjournments based on improper service of summons and processes, absence or unpreparedness of petitioners, respondents or their counsel, reliance on legal technicalities to the disadvantage of the petitioners and absence of legal representation as most petitioners are not well informed about the pro-bono legal services provided by the Nigerian Bar Association across the states.
“We also observed in some states that security actors (police and military personnel) are not honouring the invitation of the panel. There is also 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,” Olugbuo observed.
The CLEEN boss urged the judicial panels of inquiry to focus more on facts and evidence presented before it rather than dwelling on legal technicalities several petitioners do not understand very well.
He also said the Nigerian Bar Association should intensify efforts in sensitizing the public about the free legal representation available to indigent petitioners.
“As a way forward, we propose that uncooperative police and military officers should be subpoenaed to appear before the panel to respond to issues involving them. The panels of inquiry should also allow more citizens to file petitions before them and allow block of sittings weekly to enable them hear and adjudicate on as many cases as possible,” he suggested.
Olugbuo advocated the use of technology in the filing of petitions and receiving of evidence by the panels, to reduce time wasted and the potential impact of Covid-19 pandemic on their proceedings.
He urged the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice to provide clarity on the legal status, powers and the enforcement of the recommendations of the panels by the government, to ensure that the activities at the panels are not efforts in futility.