The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has assured Nigerians that law enforcement agents indicted by the Independent Investigation Panel on Human Rights Violations by the defunct SARS and other units of the Nigerian Police Force will be made to account for their brutality against the citizens.
The Executive Secretary of the Commission, Chief Tony Ojukwu (SAN) who stated this in Abuja at the 2022 Session of Public Interest and Development Law (SPIDEL) conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) noted that the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and Commissioners of Police in the states have a crucial role to play in ensuring that any policeman who violates the rights of citizens in one way or another is quickly brought to justice.
Speaking further at the event, the Chief Human Rights Officer in Nigeria said that while the SARS panel in Abuja is working with the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the IGP in addressing the 297 petitions against some police officers, the Commissioners of Police and Attorneys General of the states should synergize to tackle similar complaints in the various states.
Some of these atrocities were committed by police officers in various states and complaints in this regard could be prosecuted at state high courts, the Executive Secretary added.
According to Ojukwu, all hope is not lost as the complaints brought by citizens against some operatives of SARS and other specialized units of the Police could also be brought before the state high courts, thereby ensuring that errant policemen are held accountable in accordance with the law.
In all of these, the Executive Secretary noted that the role of the NBA cannot be over-emphasized because the lawyers are the ones who either prosecute or defend these cases. "We seek more of your cooperation to serve in our bid to protect human rights and serve justice to all parties at all times" Ojukwu urged.
The NHRC Boss said that the Commission is intending to work with SPIDEL in collating states' SARS panels' reports since the Commission is mandated by the National Economic Council chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to discharge the aforesaid responsibility before submitting all SARS panels' reports to the federal government for necessary actions.
The Commission following the directives of the Vice President swung into action in 2018 and set up the then SARS panel which received a total of 113 petitions and handled them in line with the mandate of the Commission.
Stressing the need to promptly act on reports of the Commission to the relevant institutions of government such as the Office of the AGF and the Nigeria Police Service Commission etc. the Senior Advocate of Nigeria recalled that the earlier SARS panel he chaired in 2018 had submitted a report to the federal government and recommended disciplinary actions against errant officers, including prosecution and even disbandment of SARS.
He however regretted that no action was taken on that report until the nationwide END SARS protest erupted in 2020 before the government disbanded SARS even though it is yet to prosecute or punish any defaulting police officer as was earlier recommended by the NHRC panel.
Earlier in his goodwill message at the occasion, the Chairman of the SARS panel (at the federal government level), Justice Suleiman Galadima (Rtd) lauded the Executive Secretary of the NHRC for his superlative performance in taking extraordinary actions towards the promotion, protection, and enforcement of the rights of citizens.
According to the former Supreme Court justice, he has been monitoring the performance and achievements of the Executive Secretary for a long time before he was appointed to chair the SARS panel, saying that it has been a bumper harvest of achievements in the field of human rights in the country. In the same vein, he commended the NBA for holding a successful SPIDEL conference, saying "you deserve my praise".
On the SARS panel, the erudite jurist said that the panel received and heard many petitions even as he stated that it has not submitted the final report which according to him will be submitted any moment from now.
The retired Supreme Court Justice declared that the setting up of the SARS panel has demonstrated that the federal government is desirous of using the legal instruments to protect the rights of citizens irrespective of their language, creed, sex, and geographical locations.
In his address as the chairman of the session featuring the process, enforcement of panel's decisions/rulings, challenges, achievements and lessons learnt, Professor Adedeji Adekunle (SAN) said that the panel has been grappling with a myriad of petitions and that a lot has been achieved so far in addressing the concerns.
In his remarks, the Secretary of the SARS panel, Mr. Hilary Ogbonna said that the inability of the government to act on the report of the 2018 SARS panel dampened the spirit of citizens to further submit complaints before the 2020 panel believing that nothing will come out of it.
The renowned legal practitioner observed that not until the NHRC panel started paying compensations to some victims of SARS brutality that citizens now rekindle their belief in the constitutional responsibility of the government to protect their lives and properties.
According to Hilary who is also the Human Rights Adviser to the Executive Secretary, of the 297 petitions received by the panel 50 centered on extra-judicial killings, decisions were made on 75 cases, 12 withdrawn, 56 judgment debt, complaints from 14 states, and as at December 2021 victims were given monetary compensation worth N147 million.
He also disclosed that the second round of monetary compensation will soon be given to victims, particularly in the 56 cases of judgment debts as verifications of the judgment debts in the 14 affected states ended recently.
In their remarks at the occasion, a retired Chief Judge of Benue state, Justice Adam Onum, and Justice Philomena Lot of Plateau state who chaired the SARS panels in their states respectively lamented their challenges in summoning affected policemen to answer the petitions against them.
The duo also said that there is an urgent need for the state governments to give urgent attention to the reports of the panels so as to reassure the citizens that the government truly cares about their rights and well-being.
One of the victims of SARS brutality, Chukwuemeka Amadi told the participants how the Police allegedly failed in their duties to diligently investigate and prosecute the case of his stolen car.
According to the victim, the Police did not charge the accomplice, (the buyer of the stolen vehicle) but only charged the person who stole the car and in the end, he did not get justice.