The Coalition of Civil Society Organisations, yesterday, called on the #EndSARS Judicial Panels of Inquiry in Anambra and Akwa Ibom states to subpoena operatives of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, who shunned their invitation to appear and defend themselves against allegations of brutality leveled by affected citizens.
The CSOs expressed worry that the continued non-appearance of accused SARS operatives would cast doubts on the panels’ ability to secure justice for victims of police brutality.
A statement co-signed by the Director of Programme, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, and the Executive Director, Enough is Enough, EiE, Nigeria, Yemi Adamolekun, on behalf of the group, said the silence by the police hierarchy undermined the process of justice for the victims and called the government’s intention for genuine police reform to question.
The group said: “The non-appearance of the Nigeria Police Force and the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squads (SARS) in Anambra and Akwa Ibom States cast doubts on the panels’ ability to secure justice for victims of police brutality.
“We recommend that subpoenas be issued to respondents to ensure their appearance at the Panels of Inquiry.
We also call on the Nigeria Police Force to ensure their officers are present to defend themselves before the panels.
“The Inspector-General of Police (IGP) has a duty to ensure officers comply as part of his commitment to police reform and justice for victims of police brutality.
“The non-compliance with invitations to the Panels should be interpreted as an admission of guilt and the continued silence by the IGP on this issue undermines the process and calls the government’s intent to question.
“While not all states have established Panels and some states are more active than others in sitting and responding to petitions, it is important the Government is seen to be sincere in its commitment to ensuring justice for victims of police brutality and extra-judicial killings through its actions and media engagements.
“Nigerians deserve a process that inspires confidence in the Government’s commitment to justice for victims, thus dismissive statements and actions that seem to suppress the voice of citizens must not occur as they undermine the work of the Judicial Panels.”
The group also noted with concern last week’s indefinite adjournment of the Panel in Anambra State over ‘logistics’ issues, and called on both the Federal and State Government to provide adequate resources to the various Judicial Panels of Inquiry to enable them carry out their assignment without undue interference.
“This will ensure the independence of these Panels and build public trust in the process,” they added.
Petitioner dies before case is heard
The Lagos State Judicial Panel of Enquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS related Abuses and other matters, was told that a petitioner Mr Basil Ejiagwa has died as a result of torture meted to him by the Police.
The revelation was made yesterday just as another petitioners, Okoli Abunike openly confronted a police lawyer; Emmanuel Eze whom he claimed assaulted him some time ago. Counsel to the late Ejiagwa, Olalekan Gazali told the panel that the wife of the deceased who came all the way from Imo state was at the panel last week, but that the case couldn’t go on.
When the petition filed by late Ejiagwa was called for hearing yesterday, his lawyer Olalekan Gazali told the panel, “The petitioner is no more. We lost him last week as a result of the torture meted to him by SARS.
The wife came to this panel with his picture to show the state of his health, but unfortunately the matter did not go on.
“We were to come last Saturday but when we placed a call to the wife, she said she could not come. I want it on record that his wife was here last week.
That is because of findings of panel. The reason she’s not here now is because she’s bereaved and mourning her husband.
“The relative of the deceased is here in representative capacity to state how fractures sustained by Mr Ejiagwa developed into brain tumor and all the hospital bills are here before us stating his severe health challenge, and all his money was spent on his health before his demise.”
Testifying before the panel, the deceased’s cousin Chukwu Vincent said the Police used big iron hammer to damage his two legs and thereafter took him to Ikeja SARS. Earlier a mild drama ensued when a petitioner Abunike, spotted a Police lawyer who assaulted him at the hearing of his case.
The petitioner, who is a litigation clerk, up on getting the permission to speak from panel chair Justice Doris Okuwobi,(Rtd), pointed at the police lead counsel, Mr Joseph Eboseremen, and accused him of assault.
Abunike said: “I am surprised today to see a counsel sitting before this tribunal in my proceedings, Mr J. Eboseremen “Last year he slapped me four times at Panti (State Criminal Investigating and Intelligence Department, (SCIID) when I went to serve him a court process.
He said I should slap him back if I had the balls.” In his response, Eboseremen denied the allegation, claiming that it all started following his refusal to compromise his integrity in a N200million judgment debt recovery case involving a law firm linked with Eboseremen.
“He (Abunike) wants to dent my image….Myself? Slapping you? I don’t sell my integrity for a pot of porridge,” the police officer said. The case was adjourned till December 4, for further hearing.
Bayelsa panel receives 35 petitions
The judicial panel of inquiry set up by Bayelsa State government to investigate police brutality and allegations of human rights abuses in the state has received over thirty-five petitions amidst concern over its delayed take-off due to paucity of funds.
The panel headed by Retired Justice Y.B.Ogola and Barrister Alaowei Opokuma as Secretary, was set up in October to equally set up the special security and human rights committee to supervise and monitor the new tactical unit of the police strategic weapon and tactical squad in the state.
Checks revealed that the delayed sitting is caused by the non-release of fund by the state government and the poor submission from the human rights and civil society groups.
It was learned that the Zonal office of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, is undecided whether to submit about 20 petitions before the panel in the state due to the poor signal on take-off.
Most of the petitions received by the panel are not only against police personnel that served in the Special Anti-Robbery Squad but from other units of the state police command.
According to sources, though the judicial panel has been running without a budget from the state government and at the stage of calling for submission of petitions before commencement of sittings, the issue of a huge slash in the budget proposal to N20m despite its non-release is responsible for the delay.
Contacted on the development, the secretary of the Panel, Barrister Olaowei Opokuma, denied knowledge of the issue of non-release of fund for the take-off of the panel sitting, declaring that nothing is hampering the judicial panel sitting in the state.
According to him, the judicial panel in the state has a schedule of activities and that they are at the stage of receiving petitions in line with the ongoing radio announcement in the state.
He however confirmed that all the petitions received are not only against the police personnel that served with SARS in the state, “but also against some of the personnel that served in other units of the police command.”
It would be recalled that the state governor, Senator Douye Diri, while setting up the judicial panel and security and human rights committee, said it was constituted in response to the yearnings of the youths as articulated in the demands of the EndSARS protesters.