A non-profit group, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), in Akwa Ibom state on Thursday raised the alarm over the possible suppression of the EndSARS panel recommendations that was submitted to the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, by the panel’s members.
EndSARS panel, the judicial panel of Inquiry was constituted to investigate incidences of police brutality and infractions of the rights of Nigerians in Akwa Ibom State.
The six-member committee, which was headed by a retired high court judge, Ifiok Ukana, submitted its report to Governor Emmanuel on July 23 after dispensing 143 petitions, 28 of which bordered on extrajudicial killings.
The panel was inaugurated on October 14, 2020 as a post-EndSARS protest response by the government.
But the CLO said that the manner in which the panel shrouded its recommendations in secrecy without making it public leaves room for suppression citing the case of Reigners Bible Church in 2017.
Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) is a non-profit group that investigates human rights abuses through litigation, publications and communication with the government on behalf of people whose rights have been abused.
The group in a statement jointly signed by its chairman, Franklin Isong and secretary, Christopher Ekpo, accused the current administration in the state of suppressing the recommendations and white paper of the 2017 Reigners Bible Church commission of Inquiry.
“The Civil Liberties Organisations (CLO), Akwa Ibom State Branch has faulted the EndSARS panel of investigation constituted by the Akwa Ibom State Government to investigate incidences of police brutality and infractions of the rights of Nigerians in Akwa Ibom State for submitting its reports to the State Governor, Mr Emmanuel without making public its recommendations.
“CLO stated that it is worried given the unsavoury manner in which the current state administration suppressed the recommendations and white paper of the 2017 Reigners Bible Church panel of Inquiry.”
Reigners Bible Church, Uyo, (then located few meters away from Akwa Ibom State Government House), which was under construction, caved in during a ceremony to consecrate the founder of the church, Akan Weeks, as a bishop.
At least 27 people died with more than 37 injured during the collapse of the church building which occurred in December 10, 2016.
The State Governor, Mr Emmanuel, who was a special guest of honour at the ceremony, narrowly escaped unhurt.
This newspaper reported in December 2017 that a year after the fatal church collapse, the state government was yet to release a report from the commission of inquiry.
The commission, which was headed by a retired judge, Umoekoyo Esang, had submitted its report in July 2017.
The state government, however, released a white paper of the tragic incident in 2018, where it rejected the indictment of the church founder, Mr Weeks, by the commission of inquiry it set up to investigate the incident.
The commission had in her report said that the pastor’s “undue interference” in the construction led to the collapse of the church building, PREMIUM TIMES also reported this in 2018.
‘Publishing recommendations without compensation could be explosive’
Meanwhile, the chairman of Akwa Ibom EndSARS panel, Mr Ukana, on Thursday told PREMIUM TIMES that publishing the recommendations of the panel without paying compensations to the affected persons could be “explosive.”
Mr Ukana, told this newspaper in an interview that his panel was not mandated to pay compensation and that the basic procedure guiding such a panel is to submit her reports “to the person that sets up the panel.”
“The first thing to understand is the procedure upon the completion of the work of a panel. When a panel completes its work, it submits their report to the person that set up the panel.
“If you make public the recommendations of the panel now that the monetary awards are yet to be sanctioned by those who will pay the compensation, it could be explosive”, Mr ukana said.
Mr Ukana explained that the panel rose from the decision of the National Economic Council (NEC) and that the panel report will be forwarded to the Office of the Vice President whose responsibility is to pay compensation.
He further said that his committee made two copies of the report, one for the state government and the other for onward transmission to the Office of the Vice President. He also said the committee made a breakdown of the type of complaints they received and the approach they adopt in handling them.
‘Lagos, Ekiti states are peculiar cases’
Mr Ukana said that Lagos and Ekiti panels were mandated to pay compensations unlike those in other states.
According to Mr Ukana, Lagos and Ekiti States panels made their recommendations public because they also paid the compensation from the ‘seed money’ that was allocated for such purpose once recommendations are made.
“In Ekiti and Lagos states where payments were made as decisions were taken, there was a second panel liaising with the EndSARS panel and a seed money was paid into a particular account. Once the recommendations were made, both panels sat and resolved issues of payment before it was made.”
Similarly, a member of the panel, Harry Udoh who corroborated the position of the chairman told our reporter that “Lagos was peculiar”.
“They have been announcing recommendations and written out cheques to those people based on the funding they got ab initio but we (Akwa Ibom EndSARS panel) didn’t get such funding. Ours was different from Lagos.”
Mr Udoh represented the Civil Society Organisation in the panel.
On the suppression of the panel ‘s report as alleged by CLO citing the case of Reigners Bible Church in 2017, Mr Ukana told our reporter that he was very disappointed with lawyers who raised the issue when his committee began sitting and questioned if any lawyer has activated the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act in that regard.
“I told them that I was highly disappointed that they were raising it. Has there been any application by a lawyer or civil rights organisation asking for a copy of that report or extract of recommendations made available through the court? None!,” he said.
“If after one or two months nobody hears about this report, the FOI Act can be activated”, he said.
When contacted, the State Commissioner for Justice, Uko Udom declined comments but his Information counterpart told PREMIUM TIMES that the EndSARS panel was a resolution of the NECand that the State Government is only transmitting the report to NEC.
“There is nothing like suppression. The EndSARS panel was the resolution of the National Economic Council. The State Government is merely transmitting the report to them (NEC). They (CLO) should wait. There is nothing to preempt.”
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