The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the #EndSARS panel probing cases of police brutality in Abuja, on Wednesday, lamented the abandonment of the panel’s sittings by the police.
This came barely a day after the panel resumed from a 10-week break.
The panel was set up in October 2020 in the aftermath of the anti-police brutality #EndSARS protests that rocked many Nigerian cities.
Similar panels set up in at least 28 states have since concluded their hearings and submitted their reports, although most state governments have not implemented their recommendations.
The panel resumed on Tuesday with the assurance to conclude the hearing of pending petitions within six weeks.
But the police legal team has sparingly attended proceedings since the panel resumed on Tuesday.
Only one police lawyer attends hearing
Expressing the panel’s frustrations at the near-absence of police lawyers on Wednesday, Garba Tentegi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who acted as the panel chairman, said “the police are abandoning us; there is only one counsel here”.
Mr Tentegi, a representative of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on the panel, stood in for the panel chairman, Suleiman Galadima, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, who was absent from Wednesday’s hearing.
Kennett Egbochua was the only lawyer from the police legal team who attended the hearing, the first time the police have had legal representation at the panel since Tuesday.
Due to the unavailability of other members of the police legal team, the panel had to pause proceedings for Mr Egbochua to use the restroom on Wednesday.
Mr Egbochua explained that the lead counsel for the police legal team, James Idachaba, was on assignment in Niger State and could not appear before the panel. He gave similar excuses for the absence of the other members of the team.
Another NBA representative on the panel, John Aikpokpo-Martins, also expressed displeasure over the absence of accused police officers summoned to appear over the allegations levelled against them in various petitions.
He said the police legal team should have contacted all of the respondents, including the accused police officers, ahead of scheduled hearing of the respective cases.
“If the police refuse to come forward and defend the claims levelled against them, the panel will depend only on the information presented to it (by petitioners) and make necessary recommendations,” Mr Aikpokpo-Martins added.
NHRC threatens to invoke its power
The NHRC, the body overseeing the panel, also expressed dissatisfaction over the unavailability of the police lawyers. It threatened to invoke its powers under the NHRC Act to address the problem.
The commission in a press release posted on its social media said, “if the police fail to take the necessary steps to discharge their responsibilities before the panel, the commission will invoke its powers under the NHRC (Amendment) Act 2010.”
But the statement did not state any specific measure the commission intended to take.
Sharing the panel’s grievances, the commission said the abandonment of proceedings “is evident in the near absence of the police lawyers despite being sent proper information and hearing notices.”
It called on the hierarchy of the police institution to take necessary actions and not frustrate the efforts of the panel in its fight for the rights and dignity of Nigerians.
Police continue to hamper the panel’s probe
The panel has since inception expressed its frustration on the uncooperative attitude of the police.
Premium Times had reported how the panel complained about the “gross negligence” and “inadequate commitment” of the police regarding the panel’s hearings.
The panel had been forced to adjourn many cases on many occasions due to the absence of police officers who were meant to appear to testify.
The chairman of the panel, Mr Galadima, expressed such frustration at the proceedings of November 3, 2021.
“We are not happy with the way things are going. This panel will not continue to condone the lack of diligence of the respondents,” he said.
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