31st October – 7th November 2020
In line with the demands of the youth to set up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reports of police misconduct, Judicial Panels of Inquiry have been set up in 29 states. The panels are expected to ensure justice for victims of the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other police units. Our findings reveal that 28 states have so far inaugurated panels of inquiry. Data from 27 states indicated that only 21% (53) of the 252-panel members are women. While youth representation is at 18.2% (46-panel members).
The Judicial Panels of Inquiry have begun sittings and collection of petitions/memoranda in at least 16 States. These states include – Akwa Ibom State, Anambra State, Bauchi State, Benue State, Ebonyi State, Edo State, Enugu State, Kaduna State, Katsina State, Kwara State, Lagos State, Niger State, Ondo State, Ogun State, Osun State and Plateau State, Taraba State with many inaugural sittings in the last week. Reports from the Yiaga Africa citizens observer deployed to the Lagos State Judicial panel of Inquiry reveals that: the panel sat for a total of 6 days and a total of 10 reports/presentations were submitted (5 oral and 5 written), mostly against the defunct SARS unit. Out of the 10 petitioners, 4 young persons and women, respectively. Also presented before the Panel, was the report of the current threats and attacks to members of the #EndSARS movement by security officers.
Reports from the observation from Ogun state reveal that the sitting on November 5, 2020, received a total of 11 reports/presentations (8 oral and 3 written). Of the 11 petitioners; 6 were young people and 1 was a woman. For both Lagos and Ogun states; 60% of the petitioners were victims of police brutality while 20% were family members of victims and the other 20% were government representatives. In addition, the evidences tendered include; picture and footage of a supposed SARS official beating the victim, photos of a man brutally beaten by cops of the SARS operations, damaged phone, loan card, and photos of a damaged car by gun bullets.
On Saturday, 7th November, 2020 the sitting of the Lagos State Panel of Judicial Inquiry probing the alleged shooting of #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki toll gate were unable to receive submissions and petitions due to the absence of the two youth members of the panel, Oluwarinu Oduala, and Temitope Majekodunmi. Oduala, who is one of the leading voices of the #EndSARS Movement, and has been an active member of the Panel was not present at the day’s sitting in protest against the unjust freezing of her bank account by the Central Bank of Nigeria. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) recently obtained a court order freezing the accounts of 20 #EndSARS promoters till January 2021. One of those affected was Oduala. Retired Justice DorsOkuwobi, the Chairperson of the Panel had no other option but to suspend Saturday’s sitting as the Panel could not form a quorum in the absence of the two youths representatives while noting that the Panel was confronted with a situation which prevented Oduala from attending the day’s sitting. She also noted that she was not certain if the two youths’ representatives will eventually pull out from the Panel.
Yiaga Africa and Enough is Enough (EIE) Nigeria hereby notes and recommend the following measures be adopted to ensure the Panels deliver on their responsibility adequately without fear of reprisal:
- Targeted Attacks and Harassment of Members of the Panel and #EndSARS Movement: We note with concern the recent attacks and clampdowns on some members of the Panels representing youths. This action has grave implications towards building citizens’ confidence in the Panels and in the ability of the Panels to ensure justice for victims of police brutality. In the interest of justice, we hereby call on the Government acting through the Central Bank of Nigeria to refrain from implementing this tactical intimidation of freezing the bank accounts of lawful citizens, who exercised their constitutionally guaranteed rights and some of whom are performing national duty in seeking justice for victims of police brutality. We recommend the immediate unfreezing of the accounts and a cessation of the attacks and harassment of youth representatives on the Panels to enable them carry out their assignments.
- Lack of Cooperation to Ensure Panel’s Access to Information by Some Security Agencies: We also note with deep concern the lack of cooperation from security agencies especially the military, in granting access to the venue of the inquiry to independent and/or citizens observers and poor/lack of information provided to the panel to enable panel members adequately discharge their responsibility. Media Reports indicate that investigative visits by the Panel have been met with stiff resistance and opposition from security agencies (Nigerian military). We however, call on the security agencies to work with the panels in providing requisite information requested for and to welcome this process as a critical reform process to improve the work of the security agencies. We also call on the Panels to ensure transparency, fairness and participation as they sit and to conduct their responsibility without fear of intimidation by security agencies.
- Short Timelines for Reporting and Submission of Petitions/Memoranda: From our findings, we note that the Panels of Inquiry in some states have issued short timelines for the submission of memoranda. We, therefore, call on the panel to extend the deadlines for submission of memoranda, considering sufficient time the Panels have to work – in order to ensure all victims of police brutality submit their memoranda/petitions to the Panels.
- The Need to Deploy Technology to Promote Transparency and Participation: There is a need to explore all available mediums to facilitate citizens access to the Panels of Inquiry and their proceedings. As a result, we call on all the Panels of Inquiry to embrace the use of technology: social media or traditional media channels to allow members of the public to follow live sittings of the panels and submit petitions and memoranda. We commend the Panels in Lagos, Kwara and the National Human Rights Commission Panel in FCT for deploying technology to promote participation via public-facing channels and call on other state Panels to do the same. This will further promote transparency and build confidence in the process.
- Provide Disaggregated Data and Profile of Members of the Panel: To ensure representation and quality decision, it is important the panels provide disaggregated data and the profile of members of the panel in the respective states.