By Chimezie Godfrey
The CSO Police Reform Observatory has called on the Judicial Panels of Inquiry on Extra-Judiciary killings by Security Agents to dispense justice and not technicalities to families of victims and survivors.
This was disclosed in a statement signed by the Executive Director, CLEEN Foundation and the Co -Convener, CSO Police Reform Observatory, Dr. Benson Olugbuo and the National Coordinator, Network on Police Reform in Nigeria ( NOPRIN Foundation) Emmanuel Ikule and made available to Newsdiaryonline.
The CSO decried the fact that the panels of Inquiry set up in the 36 states of the federation including the FCT are failing in the dispensation of justice to families of victims and survivors of extra-judicial killings.
The group noted that funds meant for the panels have not been released in some states thereby hampering their ability to carry out assigned duties.
According their findings, 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.
They further observed that 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.
The CSO also observed that most panels of inquiry no longer accept petitions from members of the public leaving several potential petitioners in a limbo, adding that this is not acceptable as the aim of the proceedings is to give families of victims and survivors an opportunity to present their cases.
The group stressed that other gaps identified include that 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, adjournments based on improper service of summons and processes, and absence or unpreparedness of petitioners, respondents or their counsel.
Others include reliance on legal technicalities to the disadvantage of the petitioners, and 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, among others.
In the light of the foregoing, the CSO urged the judicial panels to focus on justice delivery rather than on technicalities aimed at derailing the course of justice.
They stated,”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.
“Panels should dedicate block of sittings weekly to enable them hear and adjudicate on as many cases as possible.
“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.”
The CSO also urged the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice to provide clarity on the legal status, powers and the enforcement of the recommendations of the panels by the government.
Recall that 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.
Findings from the state coordinators and legal volunteers revealed 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.
It was also revealed that a total of 2,570 petitions have been received by the various panels of inquiry across the country as at 15 December 2020.