t was a hot evening on 16 October 2013 in Kabayi, a neighbourhood in Mararaba, Nasarawa State, which borders the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
Gabriel Akor, then 16-year-old, and his family members sat on the veranda of their house to enjoy the breeze outside before retiring inside at bedtime.
Suddenly, gunshots erupted in the neighbourhood and residents were scampering in different directions.
Mr Akor had barely stood up from his seat when a bullet hit his left thigh. He screamed as he slumped to the ground bleeding.
Neighbours in the community later reported that some police officers fired the shots. The officers led by Akin Lamigboye, an assistant superintendent of police, had arrived at the area in a Hilux pick-up with the inscription of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the FCT Police Command.
According to the accounts of witnesses that Mr Akor’s mother, Sarah Saba, narrated, the melee began after the police officers had an argument with a commercial driver after they stepped out of a pub in the community.
In the heat of the argument, the police officers went berserk shooting and throwing the neighbourhood into commotion.
‘‘We got to know later that the bullet came from some SARS officers that came to the neighbourhood to drink. We were told they had an altercation with a driver who they accused had blocked the road. They were arguing and from there one of them started shooting,” Mr Akor’s 52-year-old mother said, recounting how he was shot.
By the time normalcy was restored, the police officers had disappeared in their pick-up.
anicked family members and neighbours scrambled to save the teenager. They rushed him to the nearby Kabayi City Clinic, which referred him somewhere else.
He was moved to Nyanya General Hospital where he was given first aid after a period of bleeding. He was again referred to Asokoro General Hospital in Abuja.
At Asokoro General Hospital, diagnostic examinations confirmed that Mr Akor was shot. The bullet, the doctors said, pierced through his left thigh, crushing a bone and nerves.
Doctors recommended two surgical operations for him. With the resources the struggling family was able to scrape, they paid for the operations.
After the operations, the doctors said more needed to be done. He would need to be taken abroad for advanced nerve surgery for him to walk well.
But the family could not afford the recommendation. The victim was barely two years old when his father died leaving him and his two elder brothers with his widow, a petty trader, to raise.
Mr Akor spent months in the hospital taking basic treatments for his wounds to heal. But because he could not get the treatment recommended by the doctors, his injured leg grew thinner over the years and walking became difficult for him.
Unable to walk properly and with his family out of pocket, Gabriel dropped out of school.
Now 24, he walks with a limp. He says he experiences twinges of pain daily and frequents the hospital.
“I was in Junior Secondary School 2 when I got shot. I wanted to become a medical doctor, but ever since then, I dropped out of school and can’t do anything on my own. I rely on my mother for all the daily human activities,” he narrated.
His mother, 52, is physically worn out by the emotional and physical stress of tending a grown-up like a toddler over the years.
“We are in pain, anguish and debt that I cannot pay. Eating daily is by the grace of God and help from people around us. Things have been difficult and even I have developed complications in my waist from carrying him all the time,” Ms Saba said.
They would have fared better if the family had been able to redeem a court judgement that awarded Mr Akor N60 million compensation in January 2016.
Akor not alone
aced with the frustrations of enforcing court judgements given in their favour, many victims of police brutality turned to the judicial panels of enquiry set up in the aftermath of the October 2020 #EndSARS protest for help.
Young Nigerians led the #EndSARS protest in different parts of the country against incessant cases of police brutality like the unprovoked shooting of Mr Akor by SARS agents.
It was the culmination of years of pent-up anger against the police unit most notorious for inhuman treatment and reckless violations of the rights of citizens.
The government disbanded SARS in response to the demand of the protesters and promised an extensive police reform that has yet to be seen.
The federal and state governments also set up panels of enquiry, popularly called #EndSARS panels in tribute to the #EndSARS protest that led to their formation, to address the complaints of victims.
As of August 2021, the panels in the 29 states and Abuja had received 2,791 police brutality petitions.
But seven states – Kano, Jigawa, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara in the North-west; and Borno and Yobe in the North-east – did not set up the panels.
In the other 29 states and the FCT, citizens inundated the panels with complaints of extra-judicial killing, unlawful arrest and detention, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture, enforced disappearance, and illegal confiscation of property, among others, against the police.
Mr Akor approached the panel in Abuja, which was set up as the federal government’s version by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), to seek the enforcement of his court judgement.
This was over four years after he obtained the N60 million judgement.
Judgements worth billions
he Abuja #EndSARS panel in Abuja, officially known as the Independent Investigative Panel (IPP) on Human Rights Violations Against SARS and Other Units of the Police, received 295 complaints of police brutality.
Fifty-six, representing more than one-fifth of the cases, were for enforcement of court judgements.
The court judgements touched on diverse forms of rights violations that had left permanent scars in the lives of families of victims.
One of such victims was Tochukwu Uzuokwu who died in the custody of the Bayelsa State police command in Yenagoa on 11 May 2011. His family, on 5 February 2018, obtained a N100 million judgement from the Bayelsa State High Court in Yenagoa against the police for violating his right to life. Four years after, the police have yet to honour the judgement.
In another case, Adekola Adewale was at home in Benin City, the Edo State capital, when a bullet from a drunken police officer hit his chest on 15 October 2008. The bullet injured his spinal cord and left him with a permanent disability that has thrown him out of jobs and into debt.
On 11 May 2018, Mr Adewale obtained a judgement of the Edo State High Court in Benin City, which awarded him N5 million in damages. The police have yet to honour the verdict after over five years.
Like others, 37-year-old Mathias Eije faced severe torture during 120 days of unlawful detention by the police in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, between January and May 2013. He was arrested for alleged theft, which he vehemently denied.
On 11 November 2013, he obtained a High Court’s judgement ordering the police to pay him N50 million as compensation for violating his rights.
In all, the judgements submitted to the Abuja panel for enforcement were cumulatively worth N1,027,800,000 in compensations awarded to victims or their families in cases of extrajudicial killing.
PREMIUM TIMES’ investigations show the figure is only a fraction of the worth of the monetary judgements the police have yet to obey.
A civil society organisation, the Citizens’ Gavel Foundation for Social Justice, which monitored the #EndSARS panels across the states, reviewed 35 judgements submitted to the #EndSARS panels in only eight states.
The judgements from the eight out of the 29 states with #EndSARS panels were worth N1,405,991,317 (N1.4 billion).
The few judgements the organisation could obtain were from the panels in Benue, Lagos, Kwara, Ondo, Edo, Osun, Kaduna and Oyo states.
Tough battle for justice
he road to the N60 million judgement that Mr Akor obtained was a tough one and typical of the experiences of many petitioners.
The family did the rounds of relevant government institutions, including the Public Complaints Commission and the NHRC to seek justice. His cousin, Jonah Amade, said he got tired of frequenting the offices when it seemed the government agencies could not help.
When all hope seemed lost, the family got a lawyer through the Brekete Family programme of the Human Rights Radio and Television in Abuja.
The lawyer, Moses Ukachukwu, 2015, filed a fundamental human rights suit against the police at the High Court in Apo, Abuja. He sued the police authorities along with Akin Lamigboye, the assistant superintendent of police who led the invading SARS team.
Defending their men, the police argued that they had gone to Kabayi, Mararaba, Nasarawa State, from the FCT police command to arrest an armed robbery gang led by Kelechi Sunday.
They said the suspects, allegedly holed up in their hideout in Mr Akor’s neighbourhood, engaged the police team in a shootout. They said the stray bullet that hit him was from the armed robbers.
They also said they eventually arrested the gang members and arraigned them before a High Court in Abuja.
Mr Akor, through his lawyer, faulted the claims of the police, insisting there was no shootout between them and any criminal gang. He said the police rather unleashed mayhem on the neighbourhood after drinking at a pub.
The judge, Muawiyah Idris, dismissed the defence put forward by the police in a judgement delivered on 11 January 2016.
He said if the police were to protect the life of anybody at the time of the incident, “it is the life of the applicant (Mr Akor) who was hit by a stray bullet, not for them to disappear until the applicant’s family traced the officers that took part in the operation…”
He said the police failed to back their claims, including, arresting and arranging the alleged armed robbers, with documentary evidence.
Mr Idris ruled that the shooting violated Mr Akor’s right and held the police liable. He awarded N60 million as compensation to Mr Akor and N3.5 million for his medical expenses and continuous medical checkup.
ore than six years later, the family’s efforts to enforce the judgement have met a brick wall.
The family’s lawyer instituted garnishee proceedings against the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to enforce the judgement. CBN keeps the Treasury Single Account (TSA) that warehouses the accounts of federal government institutions, including the Nigeria Police Force.
The CBN ignored the court’s order to pay Mr Akor the N63.5 million judgement sum from the police account.
In the case of Mr Ejie, who was awarded N50 million by a court as compensation for the torture and long detention he suffered, the CBN mounted stiff opposition against the garnishee proceedings initiated by his lawyers.
A lawyer, Redzie Jugo, who represented a petitioner at the #EndSARS panel in Abuja, says it is near-impossible to enforce judgements against the police and other security agencies.
“Getting the bank account of the police is also a big problem. It is next to impossible.
“In one of the cases I handled, I tried to talk to individuals within the police force but it was like witchcraft, shrouded in so much secrecy,” he said.
Mr Jugo said he wrote to the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation which replied with an assurance to look into the matter. He said to date “there have been no other replies”.
He confirmed CBN’s eagerness to defend the police and other government bodies in judgement enforcement proceedings.
“CBN is government and government agencies have a way of looking out for each other,” he said.
When contacted weeks ago to clarify the CBN’s perceived antagonism to the enforcement of monetary judgements against government institutions, the bank’s spokesperson, Osita Nwanisobi, promised to get back to this reporter. But he never did even after repeated reminders.
t their inauguration in 2020, the #EndSARS panels of enquiry across 29 states and Abuja raised the hope of police brutality victims about getting justice.
But almost two years down the line, only Lagos State among the 29 states that set up the panels is known to have compensated victims of police brutality.
The reports submitted by the panels to their respective state governors are hidden from the public, making it difficult to press for implementation.
READ ALSO: Abuja #EndSARS panel awards another N289 million compensation to victims of police brutality
In Abuja, where the federal government’s version of the panel set up by the NHRC sat, lack of funding crippled proceedings for months.
On 23 December 2021, based on the available funds, the NHRC awarded a cumulative N146 million to 20 of the complainants hand-picked from among cases concluded by the panel.
Again, on 14 September, the NHRC awarded another batch of 74 beneficiaries a cumulative N289 million as compensation.
It brought the total amount of monetary compensation to N432 million (N431,884,094) and the number of beneficiaries to 94.
However, at the presentation of the panel’s report to the NHRC on 27 September, the secretary of the #EndSARS panel, Hilary Ogbonna, said the number of beneficiaries had risen to 100 with a total of about N439 million paid to them.
This means that out of the 295 petitioners that approached the panel for redress, 195 returned home without compensation. However, some of the 195 petitions, Mr Ogbonna explained, withdrew their petitions along the line. He said some did not turn up for hearing, some of the petitions were struck out for various reasons, and some were referred to NHRC for further investigations.
Mr Akor and all of the 55 others seeking enforcement of their judgements against the police were part of the uncompensated petitioners.
The experience is the same for the class of petitioners across the states, according to the excerpts of a report by Citizens’ Gavel Foundation for Social Justice shared with PREMIUM TIMES.
The report said “such cases were either struck out or outrightly rejected”, primarily because “enforcing court judgments doesn’t fall within the panel’s terms of reference.”
On its part, however, the Abuja #EndSARS panel took steps to review and confirm the judgements submitted to it for enforcement.
On two occasions, the panel reviewed court judgements that summed up to N575.8 million and N452 million in values, at its executive sessions held on 18 March 2021 and 10 March 2022, respectively.
Mr Ogbonna said the panel confirmed the judgements given across 24 states. The panel could not confirm only about four of the 56 judgements, according to Mr Ogbonna. The judgements confirmed, he said, came down to N870 million.
Indicating that Mr Akor may have reached another dead end, Mr Ogbonna said the panel or the NHRC would not pay them.
“We cannot pay them. One, because they are not our judgements. Two, the sums of judgements are incredibly high. We are talking about N870 million.
“It is their right to receive it, but hopefully, in future, that arrangement will be worked out by the commission which will implement this report,” he said.
Licking their wounds
mid dwindling hopes of reaping the fruits of their judgements, victims and their families continue to lick their wounds.
Mr Akor believes his court judgement is being flouted because he is an ordinary Nigerian.
“If I am able to get proper treatment, I plan to return to school to continue my education and become a medical doctor,” he added.
Amid accumulating debts and soaring rent, his family had to relocate to a decrepit one-room apartment in the same Kabayi community.
In their new abode where the family of four lived until when Mr Akor’s two elder brothers left to be on their own some years ago, there is no water or electricity supply. Their toilet and bathroom are about 50 metres away from their room.
Their mother, Ms Saba, too hangs her hope of better living on the N60 million judgement.
“I am crying to God to help me and to also touch the hearts of the police so they pay. They are humans too and must have sympathy and conscience of how he must be doing. What if it was their own son?”
Mr Eije, too, reminisces the “rosy” life he had before his unjust incarceration and torture by the police for 120 days in 2013.
His life has taken a downward turn since the incident. Added to his frustrations is his inability to enforce a judgement that could have brought succour.
“Life has not been as easy or rosy as it used to be. On the economic side, the cost of litigation, I have been in and out of the courts (Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt) since 2013.”
r Akor’s case and others present a gamut of constitutional violations by the police.
The violation of human rights contained in sections 33 to 46 in Chapter Four of the Nigerian constitution is just the starting point.
After violating the victims’ rights, the police go further to breach other constitutional provisions that compel all authorities to obey and enforce court decisions.
On different occasions, the panel, led by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Suleiman Galadima, lamented over the uncooperative attitude of the police and expressed disappointment at them. It resorted to issuing threats and warrants of arrest it could not enforce.
The absentee officers frustrated the resolution of many cases, especially those that depended on police records to trace detained suspects who got missing or died in custody.
Aware of the culture of disobedience to court decisions by Nigerian authorities, the immediate-past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, warned in 2019: “Let me assure everyone present here that the consequences of disobeying lawful court orders will be too grave to bear.”
As a solution, Mr Jugo, the lawyer who is also struggling to enforce a client’s judgement, suggested that the National Assembly should put a law in place to stipulate a timeframe for judgement debts to be paid.
He said as it is currently, there is no law in place that says, “once judgment has been gotten, the creditor must receive the awarded compensation within a given time.”
“Unless that law is made, government agencies will continue to disobey the judgements of the court,” he said.
But he added that “to be able to get the government to that stage, it must be put under intense pressure.”
Before the solution comes, Mr Jugo said, for now, “when you get judgement, it is in your hand, but it is not in your hand because of the challenges attached to it.”
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