The National Human Rights Commissions (NHRC) explained on Monday that the judicial panels of inquiry investigating cases of police brutality are not sitting in some states partly because of paucity of funds.
The federal and state governments, through the National Executive Council (NEC) chaired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, had agreed to set up the panels in the wake of the October 2020 #EndSARS protests against acts of rights violations and police brutality across the country.
But the Executive Secretary, NHRC, Tony Ojukwu, informed PREMIUM TIMES in an interview in Maiduguri, Borno State, on Monday that lack of adequate budgetary provision for the unexpected protests and their fallouts including establishment of the panels have been a major challenge in many states.
Mr Ojukwu said the non-sitting of some of the state panels was not deliberate, adding that the financial challenges have not in any way permanently stopped the ongoing work of the judicial panel.
The panel set up by the NHRC last sat in March for reasons which PREMIUM TIMES understands to include lack of funds.
Although Mr Ojukwu did not give a breakdown, this newspaper understands that there are some states where the panels have either not been set up or have suspended sittings for yet-to-be ascertained reasons.
“Every human effort, no matter how well-intended, face challenges, and the EndSARS Panel is not exceptional,” Mr Ojukwu said in response to PREMIUM TIMES’ enquiry, on Monday.
‘There is political will’
He said what Nigerians should focus on is that “there is a clear political will in having the panel in place so that mistakes of the past that led us to the #EndSARS protest would not be repeated.”
“You will agree with me that before now, some police officers, especially those in the SARS unit will tell you that :I will kill or deal with you and nothing will happen: ; but nobody can say that today because something is happening.
“That is the change of narrative we want people to acknowledge.”
He said when bringing about a change, such as ensuring security personnel respect human right, “it is normal to encounter challenges.”
‘Structures will be in place’
He said aside from the #EndSARS panels, there is also going to be structures on the ground “so that if other complaints of violations arise they can be dealt with immediately.”
He noted that such structures are necessary because it was the backlog of unaddressed complaints that led to the scale of the protest against the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) last year.
Setting up Security and Human Rights Committee
Mr Ojukwu spoke to PREMIUM TIMES during a consultative meeting his commission hosted in Maiduguri to herald a research project to review the security accountability mechanisms within the context of counter-insurgency operations in Northeast Nigeria.
He said part of the sustainable measures of ensuring the protection of citizens’ rights is the establishment of “security and human rights committee.”
He said the idea the committee will remain even “after the EndSARS panel has passed, damages established, all the claims settled, compensation given, and all that, to assuage those who have complaints so far.”
He added that the Security and Human Right standing committee headed by a governor in every state comprises the NHRC, civil society groups, and all the security agencies as members.
“The standing committee’s job is to take up any reported cases of violation. And the chairmen of such committees are the governors of the states, and the head of the security agencies are also involved,” he said.
“Any security officer reported of violating rights would be dealt with immediately, and there will be no more accumulation of cases.
“At the federal level, we are also making this panel a permanent feature, so that there will be a time when there will be no many unattended cases of violation. So, in the cause of doing that there is going to be some financial challenges, which is natural.
He said Nigerians should be patient because the clear message is that it is no longer going to be business as usual.”
“We don’t want a situation where law enforcement officer will deal with a person and say nothing will happen. All we are saying is that the job we are doing now is important. And the security agents must understand that it is fellow Nigerians they are dealing with, and they must respect their rights.
“And of the primary purpose of government is the protection of human lives and property, and law enforcement agents are central to the task of protection of human lives. But because of our background in the military, most of the enforcement agents think that they are against human rights; no. Their job is, primarily, to protect human rights.
“They need to be conscious about that role they are playing because law enforcement is about the protection of human rights!”