Dispense Justice Not Technicalities To Families of Victim on Extra-Judicial Killings by Security Agents – Cleen Foundation
On the 15th of October, 2020 the National Economic Coumil (NEC) was directed by the Federal Government of the Nigeria to establish independent judicial panels of inquiry in the thirty-six states of the country and the Fedral Capital Territory (FCT) to investigate complaints of police brutality or related extrajudicial killings perpetrated by the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other police units. The investigations included to investigate complaints of police brutality or related extra-judicial killings, evaluate the evidence presented and other surrounding circumstances, draw conclusions as to the validity of the complaints received and recommend compensation and other remedial measures, where appropriate. The panels were given a maximum of six (6) months to deliver on their mandates unless there are reasons for extension of the proposed timeframe. The judicial panels of inquiry in the states were set-up pursuant to the Tribunal of Inquiry Laws applicable in the respective states while that of the FCT was set-up through the National Human Rights Commission Amendment Act 2010.
The CSO Police reform Observatory was coordinated by CLEEN FOUNDATION and NOPRIN Foundation which responsibilities included observing, documenting, and reporting daily proceedings through Cleen Mobile, an online capturing application. The report captures developments from 15th October to 15th December 2020 and will be issued monthly from January 2021. As at 15 December 2020, the findings captured from state coordinators and legal volunteers reveal that twenty-nine (29) states and the FCT have constituted judicial panels of inquiry; these include Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Gombe, Imo, Kaduna, Kastina, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Osun, Plateau, Rivers, Taraba and FCT Abuja. However, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara states in the North-West geopolitical zone are yet to constitute any panel. The same applies to Borno and Yobe states in the North-East geopolitical zone.
Further petitions reports shows that a total of 2,570 petitions were received by the various panels of inquiry across the country, with a breakdown of South-South geopolitical a total of 645 petitions, followed by the South-East with 640 petitions. South-West had 526 petitions while the North-Central and 404 petitions. The North-West and North-East reported 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 had highest number of petitions with 310 petitions in the South-East while Lagos state had 210 petitions in the South-West. Katsina State showed 200 petitions in the North-West, Rivers state had 188 petitions in the South-South while Adamawa state had 73 petitions in the North-East.
The panel identified some gaps as were indicated, that most panels of inquiry had stopped receiving despite huge numbers of potential petitioners who have been shut out of the proceedings; there were Adjournments based on improper service of summons and processes; Reliance on legal technicalities to the disadvantage of the petitioners; Absence or unpreparedness of petitioners, respondents or their counsel; 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; Security actors (police and military personnel) not honouring the invitation of the panel; There is distrust and suspicion among families of victims and survivours 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.
It was however recommended that The Judicial Panels of Inquiry should focus more on facts and evidence presented before it rather than dwelling on legal technicalities several petitioners do not understand very well; The Nigerian Bar Association should intensify efforts in sensitizing the public about the free legal representation available to indigent petitioners; Uncooperative police and military officers should be subpoenaed to appear before the panel to respond to issues involving them; The panel of inquiry should allow more citizens to file petitions before them because justice delayed is justice denied; The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice should provide clarity on the legal status, powers and the enforcement of the recommendations of the panels by the government.