The Abuja #EndSARS panel probing allegations of human rights violations perpetrated by the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other units of the Nigerian police, on Thursday, awarded N146 million to victims of gross rights violations.
The Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Tony Ojukwu, at the ceremony where the awards were announced on Thursday, said the monies were a symbolic gesture in assuaging the feelings of victims of the infringements.”
At the emotionally charged ceremony, the deceased victims’ families and survivors of rights abuses received dummy cheques as a mark of the awards.
The actual cheques are to be issued to them later.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported that the NHRC, which set up the federal government’s panel of enquiry on police brutality in Abuja, said in March this year that 44 of the petitions submitted were about enforcement of judgments awarding damages against the police for rights violations.
The commission added that 20 of the petitions considered in just one day had a total of N575.8 million in judgment debts against the police.
The compensations in the judgments, according to the commission, were awarded in cases bordering on extrajudicial killing, unlawful arrest and detention, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture, alleged enforced disappearance, confiscation of property, among others.
Victims’ relatives weep
A Port Harcourt-based petitioner, Victoria Agori, could not hold back tears during the ceremony, when her family was awarded N15 million compensation for the murder of her son, Daniel, by SARS operatives.
In a brief interview with our correspondent shortly after the event, on Thursday, the heartbroken mother appealed to the Inspector-General of Police to order the release of her son’s remains for burial.
Daniel Agori was killed by defunct SARS personnel in May 2019, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
“We also seek the order of the panel for the immediate release of the corpse of Daniel Agori for proper burial.
“We further pray for the order of the panel for compensation of one billion naira,” Mrs Agori who was accompanied by her husband, Princewill Agori, had urged the panel.
Similarly, the family of Angela Igwetu, a corps member, who was killed by a police officer in Abuja, received N10 million compensation.
Twenty-three-year-old Ms Igwetu was shot by a police officer identified as Benedict Peters around Ceddi Plaza, in the central area of Abuja, on July 4, 2018, the day she was meant to conclude her national service.
Her sister, Chinenye Igwetu, who petitioned the #EndSARS panel in Abuja, said she was shot while returning home from where she had gone to celebrate her successful completion of the scheme with her colleagues.
Representing her family for the award programme on Thursday, Chinenye said “There is no amount of money that can bring closure to Angela’s tragic killing,” as her eyes welled in tears.
She called for the swift prosecution of the alleged killer cop, Mr Peters.
“I want justice for my sister. I want my family to be compensated, even though no amount of money can bring my sister back,” Chinenye had told the panel.
Another survivor who received compensations was Kingsley Kalu who got N5 million for the loss of a limb to the shooting by the police in Akwa Ibom State.
Also, Festus Idehen’s family received N15 million compensation for the killing of their son by the police.
In all, 20 victims’ families and survivors were compensated for various forms of police brutality and outright killings by armed operatives.
‘There can’t be impunity in Nigeria forever’
While presenting the symbolic dummy cheques on Thursday, Mr Ojukwu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said there must be an end to gross human rights violations in the country.
“There cannot be impunity in this country forever. We are holding this ceremony to underline the fact that there must be accountability for human rights violations, and if there is a violation, there must be a remedy,” he said.
The NHRC boss attributed the various conflicts plaguing Nigeria to “issues of human rights violations and injustice that have not been settled over the years.”
“Today marks one of the days where we have begun the journey to restore the dignity of man; to underline the universal declaration of human rights, which says we are all born in dignity and in rights,” Mr Ojukwu said in an impassioned tone.
He restated the commission’s willingness to “bring succour to Nigerians; to provide remedy where their rights have been violated and in that way, we can contribute to reducing conflict in the society.”
Panel cash-strapped, adjourns indefinitely
The Secretary to the panel, Hilary Ogbonna, enumerated several challenges that militated against the panel’s mandate.
He said funding remained a huge challenge to the effective working of the panel, a revelation that confirms PREMIUM TIMES’ earlier reported this year about how inadequate funding crippled the panel’s proceedings for several months.
“Funding to support the panel’s logistics and operations; to support the work of panel members and secretariat staff as well as payment of compensation to victims in concluded petitions,” remains a challenge.
He itemised operational challenges with the police in terms of lack of records and serial disobedience to the panel’s orders, which frustrated its work.
“What happens to the remaining 143 petitions?” Mr Ogbonna wondered about the fate of the pending complaints that must be adjudicated upon by the panel.
As a result, the panel adjourned indefinitely as “NHRC will continue to seek funds to administer the panel and to compensate victims.
“There will be no more sitting until funding comes,” the panel secretary said.
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