The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has said its Independent Investigation Panel set up to probe allegations of human rights violations perpetrated by the operatives of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other police units will continue public sittings in Abuja soon.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the panel stopped sitting on March 24.
Answering questions from journalists in Abuja on Thursday, Tony Ojukwu, the Executive Secretary of the commission, stated that the panel would soon resume sitting.
But he gave no particular date.
“We have the panel going on in 36 locations, Abuja is just one location, we are collating results now from some states where sitting has ended.
“Abuja is not only burdened with physical public hearing, we are also coordinating what is happening in states.
“It is part of the programme that there would be this break and very soon we would also get through with that and continue with the public sitting,” Mr Ojukwu said.
‘120 petitions alive’
Speaking in the same vein, the secretary to the panel, Hillary Ogbonna, who had earlier spoke with PREMIUM TIMES on the matter, said the panel received 120 petitions “that are alive”.
“Alive means petitions are being heard, they are in different stages, some are at the stages of presentation and some are being defended.
“Then we have an additional 50 petitions that are yet to be heard.
“The whole point of resuming very soon is that while we were on break, we looked at fast-tracking mechanisms through which we can ensure that these cases are not delayed anymore either from the petitioners or the police,” Mr Ogbonna said.
He said the panel would be coming out with new rules of procedures that would enable them to fast-track hearing.
‘100 petitions on damages awarded by courts’
He added that about 100 petitions are about cases that have been determined by courts of law.
“Damages and compensation have been awarded, ranging from N10 million to N100 million, but the affected petitioners have not enjoyed the fruit of the judgment which is the money.
“The police have not paid them, so they are now petitioning us in order to get their money. For cases already determined, the panel cannot sit de novo (start afresh) on them.
“This is because these are judgements of competent jurisdiction, so the panel has instructed the secretariat to verify the judgements from the courts that have finished with such cases,” he said.
Mr Ogbonna said ”the panel could not merely act on the photocopies of the judgements submitted by the petitioners without confirmation”.
He said the confirmations had been hampered by the judiciary workers’ strike that crippled court activities for over two months.
“The strike affected decisions in many ways.
“Now that the courts are back, I have no doubt in my mind that we will clear all our administrative bottlenecks,” Mr Ogbonna said.
Courts’ chief registrars contacted
Mr Ogbonna earlier told our reporter in a telephone interview that, “We have written to all the Chief Registrars of courts.”
He said the courts’ registrars were unable to reply because the courts were on strike.
“We are trying to ascertain the validity of the judgements before we write a report proposing that the federal government should pay them,” he added.
Conceived in the wake of the #EndSARS protest against the notorious SARS and the rising police brutality cases in the country, the panel was inaugurated on October 21, 2020 to address the grievances of Nigerians whose rights were violated by the police.
The National Executive Council (NEC) chaired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo with the state governors as members, passed a resolution for the setting up of the judicial panels of inquiry in all the 36 states, and Abuja.
The resolution also stipulated that “victim funds” be set aside to compensate deserving victims.
The NHRC’s panel, which sits in Abuja, was designed to be the national platform with exclusive mandate to receive and hear complaints of police brutality that occurred in any part of the country.
The panel, officially the ‘Independent Investigative Panel (IIP) to probe allegations of human rights violations against the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other units of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF)’, is headed by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Suleiman Galadima.
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