The Federal Government of Nigeria through the National Economic Council (NEC) on Thursday, 15th October, 2020 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. The terms of reference for the judicial panels of inquiry include; to receive and 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 coordinated by CLEEN Foundation and NOPRIN Foundation is made up of state coordinators and legal volunteers across the states and FCT monitoring the activities of the judicial panels. Their responsibilities include observing, documenting and reporting daily proceedings through CLEEN Mobile, an online data capturing application. The CSO Police Reform Observatory also adopted a triangulation approach by tracking developments across the states from reliable secondary sources of information in preparing its reports. The report captures developments from 15th October to 15th December 2020 and will be issued monthly from January 2021.
3.0. States and Judicial Panels of Inquiry
Findings from our state coordinators and legal volunteers reveal that twenty-nine (29) states and the FCT have constituted judicial panels of inquiry as at 15 December 2020. 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. Among the states that have constituted panels of inquiry, Oyo and Kogi states are yet to have their inaugural sittings.
4.0. Petitions received by the Judicial Panels of Inquiry
A total of 2,570 petitions have been received by the various panels of inquiry across the country as at 15 December 2020. 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. 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.
5.0. Composition of Judicial Panels of Inquiry across the States and Abuja
Reports from our legal volunteers across the 29 states and FCT indicate that 360 persons are members of the judicial panels of inquiry made up of 278 males and 82 females. The South-East geopolitical zone has the highest number of members which is currently 89 panel members. North-West has the lowest with 19 panel members. Anambra state has the highest number of panel members which is 36, while Bayelsa has 6 panel members which is the lowest. While we commend various state governments for engaging qualified professionals as members of the judicial panels, there have been questions on the competence and expertise of some members of the panels regarding the technical nature of the assignment.
6.0. Review of Proceedings at the Judicial Panels of Inquiry
Reports from our state coordinators and legal volunteers across the states indicate that proceedings have been held on a regular basis since inauguration in different parts of the country. The Judicial Panels of Inquiry in Imo, Lagos, Plateau and Nasarawa states hold sittings on a daily basis. Other panels hold their sittings between two to three times weekly. It has been reported that in Plateau, Benue, Abia, Ekiti, Rivers, Lagos states, some security actors have failed to appear before the panels after summons were issued against them. For example, in Edo State, the Commissioner of Police has refused to honour summons from the panel of inquiry to produce a police sergeant wanted by the panel. Similarly, in Taraba State, an officer verbally threatened a petitioner who appeared before the panel to present a case against the Nigeria Police Force. However, in Akwa Ibom state, police officers have appeared before the panel several times without hitches. In addition, it has been observed that funds meant for the panels have not been released in some states thereby hampering their ability to carry out assigned duties.
Some petitions filed before the panels across the states have suffered undue delay as a result of lack of cooperation from the police and other security agencies. Furthermore, some police officers invited by the panels have either retired or transferred out of the states compounding the issue of participation of the officers involved. It has also been observed that some retired or serving security officers who are members of the panels have vested interests in some of the cases before the panels raising issues of independence and credibility of recommendations. It was further observed that most panels of inquiry no longer accept petitions from members of the public leaving several potential petitioners in a limbo. This is not acceptable as the aim of the proceedings is to give families of victims and survivors an opportunity to present their cases.
7.0 Gaps Identified
1. The decision of most panels of inquiry to stop receiving petitions despite huge numbers of potential petitioners who have been shut out of the proceedings.
2. Adjournments based on improper service of summons and processes.
3. Absence or unpreparedness of petitioners, respondents or their counsel.
4. Reliance on legal technicalities to the disadvantage of the petitioners.
5. 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.
6. Security actors (police and military personnel) not honouring the invitation of the panel.
7. Most panels of inquiry are attending to few cases daily.
8. 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.
9. Although the Nigeria Police Force has withdrawn the suit against the Judicial Panels of Inquiry, there are legal issues yet to be addressed regarding the powers of the panels and enforcement of their recommendations and decisions.
1. 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.
2. The Nigerian Bar Association should intensify efforts in sensitizing the public about the free legal representation available to indigent petitioners.
3. Uncooperative police and military officers should be subpoenaed to appear before the panel to respond to issues involving them.
4. The panel of inquiry should allow more citizens to file petitions before them because justice delayed is justice denied.
5. Panels should dedicate block of sittings weekly to enable them hear and adjudicate on as many cases as possible.
6. The panels of inquiry should consider the use of technology in the filing of petitions and receiving of evidence to reduce the potential impact of Covid-19 pandemic on their proceedings.
7. 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.
May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria and heal our land.
Benson Olugbuo, PhD
Executive Director, CLEEN Foundation
Co-Convenor, CSO Police Reform Observatory
National Coordinator, Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN Foundation)
Co-Convenor, CSO Police Reform Observatory