By: Abiodun Nejo, James Abraham, Stephen Angbulu, Peter Dada, Justin Tyopuusu, Ada Wodu
Discussions over who picks up the multibillion naira compensation bills of the over 2,500 victims of police brutality in the country have split the 28 governors that established judicial panels of inquiry following the #EndSARS protests last year, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.
Investigations by our correspondents revealed that while some governors believe that states should pay compensation to the victims, some others insisted that the Federal Government should pick the bills because policemen who committed the crimes are federal employees.
As a result, the National Economic Council led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has asked states to submit the final reports of their judicial panels to NEC to enable the Federal Government to determine how the compensation will be paid.
The judicial panels in the states were set up a sequel to the October 2020 protests by youths in different parts of the country over police brutality and harassment. The protesters had among other things demanded the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and justice for all the victims of police brutality, including appropriate compensation for the families of those who lost their lives.
The demands included investigation of allegations of police misconduct and prosecution of indicted persons; compensation for victims of police brutality; release of all arrested protesters; increase in the salaries of police officers as well as psychological evaluation of all disbanded SARS operatives before they could be redeployed.
Several states set up the panel while the National Human Rights Commission also set up its Independent Investigation Panel to probe allegations of human rights violations by the operatives and other police units in Abuja.
Meanwhile, following the vice-presidents’ directive that states should submit their final reports to NEC, some states have halted compensation payment to the victims.
Ekiti State, which is one of the states already paying compensation to the victims, said it was forced to halt the process pending when all states submit their reports to NEC.
The state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Olawale Fapohunda, who is the chairman of the implementation committee of the #EndSARS report, confirmed that some states were not ready to pick up the bill.
Meanwhile, some states including Rivers and Plateau, have insisted that the Federal Government must pick up the bill since the policemen who committed the crimes were federal employees.
Fapounda said, “We have begun implementation. Ekiti State did not wait for the final report (before commencing payment to victims) because we recognise that police and civilians were victims. We had to make immediate payments to those who had immediate needs.
“What we just need now is to pay the final compensation. We have already paid half of the compensation. Again, we had to strengthen our Directorate of Citizens’ Rights to ensure that people have access to them – that one we have done.
“The last stage now is to just pay the final amount and close it. The delay has been because there had been discussions at the federal level about the place of the Federal Government in paying the compensations. That was why they said everybody should wait until all states submit their reports.
“At the moment, only 10 states or thereabouts, including Ekiti State, have submitted reports. In Ekiti State, Governor Kayode Fayemi was very clear from the first day that we would start implementation immediately after the panel submits a preliminary report.
“Some of the states are raising the issue that how can they pay compensation for violations that were caused directly by a federal institution. That issue has not been concluded yet.
“The decision is that when all the states have submitted their reports, then there will be a discussion on a collective approach, a national approach to this issue. The only way to go forward is a national approach, the states will pay compensation to its own citizens.”
The Ekiti AG noted that the proposed reforms would likely be implemented by the Federal Government since the police are not under the control of the states. “That is where we are,” Fapohunda added.
The panel in his state, chaired by Justice Cornelius Akintayo (retd), received and treated 85 petitions while it gave awards in 52 of the cases. Also, 24 of the beneficiaries of the award by the panel had been paid compensations to the tune of over N7m being the first tranche of the implementation of the panel’s report.
The panel also recommended compensation to the tune of N13.8m to 28 other beneficiaries who are yet to be paid by the state government.
One of the beneficiaries, a journalist, Wole Balogun, who approached the panel over brutalization by soldiers, was awarded N100,000 compensation by the panel.
Balogun said, “The compensation was paid almost immediately into my account by the state government. I was also issued a certificate confirming it has been paid.”
Another victim, Anthony Chukwuebuka, who said he had yet to be paid the N2m compensation due to him, appealed to the state government to have compassion so he could go for surgery and be able to lead a meaningful life.
He stated, “In 2012, when I was a corps member, some SARS operatives invaded our house, harassed us and in the process, one of them used his gun to blind my right eye. The panel awarded me N2m compensation. The money has not been paid.”
Plateau won’t pay N152m to victims – Commissioner
But the Plateau State Government says it will not pay the N152.8m compensation recommended by the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, led by Justice Philomena Lot.
The Commissioner for Justice, Almadu Chrisantus, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH in Jos on Thursday, said this while giving reasons for the state’s inability to implement the panel’s report submitted to the governor since June.
Chrisantus explained that it was within the purview of the Federal Government to pay the N152.8m to the victims since the police were employees of the Federal Government.
He added, “The states were directed by the Federal Government to establish these panels and the states have gone ahead to do that. Some have submitted their report while some have yet to do so. In Plateau State, the panel has concluded its assignment and we have forwarded the panel’s report to the Federal Government.
“You know the police are employees of the Federal Government. Since some states have yet to conclude their sittings, I want to assume that the Federal Government is awaiting the conclusion of sittings from those states so that the issues can be collectively handled.
“The aspect of the report that involves the state for implementation, like the issue of unemployment, will be implemented by the state but if it is compensation for the victims, it is the Federal Government and not the state that will pay because the police are employees of the Federal Government. We await action on the part of the Federal Government.”
Reports from states’ll determine NEC’s outcome – VP’s aide
Meanwhile, the Senior Special Assistant to the Vice-President on Media and Publicity, Laolu Akande, told Saturday PUNCH on Friday that the next NEC meeting would be determined by reports from states.
Reacting to media enquiries about the next line of action on panel reports from states, he said, “There will be an update on this at the next NEC meeting. Only the reports from the states will determine these outcomes.”
One year after setting up judicial panels of inquiry, only eight out of 28 states have submitted final reports to the NEC.
At the August 2021 NEC meeting, the Vice-President disclosed that the eight states that had submitted their reports included Abia, Ekiti, Enugu, Gombe, Kwara, Nasarawa, Ondo, and Rivers; while Lagos State has submitted an interim report and will forward a final report in October 2021.
He revealed that the council looks forward to discussing the findings at its next meeting in September as more states are expected to submit theirs.
At the time of filing this report, the NEC has yet to sit in September and on when the next NEC meeting would hold, Akande did not respond.
…as over 2,500 petitioners await payment, demand justice against police brutality
A CSO Police Reform Observatory survey coordinated by CLEEN Foundation and NOPRIN Foundation had in a report found that the judicial panels set up by the states received over 2,500 petitions.
It noted that most of the petitions alleged that human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings, torture, extortion, harassment, sexual and gender-based violence, indiscriminate arrests, illegal detention, illegal arrests and abuse of power by personnel of the police and other security agencies.
The NEC had on October 16, 2020 directed the immediate establishment of state-based judicial panels of inquiry to investigate complaints of police brutality or related extrajudicial killings with a view to delivering justice for all victims of the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squads and other police units.
The judicial panels to be set up in all the states were to include representatives of youths, students, and civil society organisations to be chaired by a respected retired state High Court judge.
Ondo panel awards N755m damages
In Ondo State, the panel recommended about N755m as compensation to the victims and has since submitted its report to the governor, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu.
A member of the panel, who spoke with one of our correspondents, explained that the report was submitted to the governor in April. The member said, “We submitted the report to the governor on April 28, 2021. We recommended the payment of N755,730,897.83 to various petitioners who suffered violations as a result of a breach of their fundamental rights.
“We had 77 petitions in total, 14 criminal and 63 civil matters. Besides, the payment of the over N755m compensation, the panel also recommended the publication of apologies in national dailies, particularly where the reputation of victims had been tarnished.”
A member of the panel, Mr Yemi Fashipe, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, expressed worries over the government’s delay in responding to the report.
He said, “I am worried. I can only speak for myself. The panel was dissolved immediately after we submitted the report. We haven’t talked about it since then.
But another member, Mr Samuel Adetuyi, expressed hope that the government would do justice to the recommendation. “I am not worried,” he said. Government must take a judicial, responsible and responsive decision and this takes time. Besides, the ultimate action is expected to be taken by the Federal Government that directed the states to set up the panel.”
The state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Charles Titiloye, said the government was working on the recommendations of the report and would soon come out with a decision. “With my meeting with the vice president, some reports from the states have arrived at the presidency. He (Osinbajo) has been coordinating it; both the federal and the state governments are at it to see how it would be done in the overall interest of the country.”
Poor funding allegedly delays Taraba, Cross River panels
Poor funding of the Taraba State Committee on #EndSARS has been blamed for the delay in the submission of the report of the committee, checks by Saturday PUNCH has revealed.
One of our correspondents gathered that the panel, inaugurated in November 2020, ended its sitting on May 17, 2021 but has yet to submit the report to the governor on account of lack of funds to produce the final report.
A member of the panel who pleaded anonymity said since their inauguration, the governor only approved their allowance for one month. The member added, “The panel was poorly funded. Five months allowances have yet to be paid. The panel members including the chairman used their money in funding the sitting of the panel for the remaining five months.
“The report has yet to be submitted due to financial constraints, despite the directive from the Federal Government that all the states should submit the report without delay for final deliberations on modalities for implementation of the recommendations regarding compensation to victims. The implication is that victims of the #EndSARS in Taraba will not be compensated because our report may not be able to get to them unless a miracle happens.”
The source said the panel heard 28 petitions out of the 34 petitions received, with 47 victims of brutality due for compensation.
The source added that 11 victims who died were awarded N20m each, eight victims who are permanently incapacitated have been awarded N15m each, while four victims of torture were awarded N10m each. “Another victim of torture was awarded N8m, while the rest of the victims of torture, detention, arrest and extortion were awarded various sums of money ranging from N3m to N7m.”
Cross River report will be out soon – Chairman
Also in Cross Rivers State, there are allegations of funding delaying the panel’s work and reports. The chairman of the panel in the state, Justice Michael Edem (retd.), who neither denied nor confirmed this, said the report of the panel would be out soon.
He added, “You will know more about the #EndSARS panel’s report when it comes out. I will not be able to comment on it.”
On the allegation that the panel ended due to lack of funding, he said, “Allegation is an allegation, so I will not say more on an allegation.”
Delta govt’s position underway – Okowa
The Delta State Government has said it is currently studying the recommendations of the #EndSARS panel in the state.
The Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa in an interview with Saturday PUNCH on Thursday in Asaba said, “The report has been submitted and there are committees that are looking into the recommendations critically before the government takes a position on it. In no distant time, the government will come out with its position on the recommendations.”
The governor had said the state government will do its best to support the families of victims. Speaking recently when he received the report, he also urged the police to see the civil populace as partners in intelligence gathering rather than antagonists.
“I want to reassure you that the recommendations made will be looked into very urgently by the state executive council and that justice will be done to the best that we can as human beings,” he added.
Earlier, the chairman of the panel, Justice Celestina Ogisi (retd.), said in total, the panel received 86 petitions and 49 were heard on merit while 37 were struck out for various reasons.
In Akwa Ibom State, the chairman of the panel Justice Ifiok Ukana, said the panel received 80 petitions, adding that their report had been submitted.
He added, “The panel has submitted its report. We received a total of 80 petitions and struck out four, which means we made recommendations on 76 petitions.”
Speaking on when the report would be implemented, the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Uko Udom, said the report had been forwarded to the vice-president, as directed.
In Enugu State, there is some uncertainty as the panel has stopped sitting but has yet to hear some petitions before it. Saturday PUNCH reliably gathered that the panel received a total of 147 memoranda but as of August when it stopped sitting, most of the petitions had not been called for hearing.
A member of the panel, Osmond Ugwu, confirmed that the panel had stopped sitting and that many petitions had yet to be heard.
Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi had set up two panels after the protests. The two panels were set up at the same time namely ‘Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutality and Other Related Extrajudicial Killings’ and Administrative Panel of Inquiry on Police brutality on #EndSARS.
Ugwu added that while the #EndSARS panel had submitted its report around March, the judicial panel had yet to conclude its assignment.”
When asked why the panel stopped sitting, Ugwu said, “I would rather say clearly that I do not know, even though I am a member. The chairman and secretary were the people that unilaterally suspended the sitting and meeting of the panel contrary to the decision of members on August 10, 2021.
When asked what was next in their agenda, Ugwu said many petitions had not been mentioned and that there was work to be done. He added, “Most importantly, we have not done any investigation or findings. We only received petitions and some petitioners just adopted their petitions. Adoption of petitions does not in any way entail findings.”
When contacted on the telephone to clarify the uncertainty, the Commissioner for Information, Mr Chidi Aroh, said there was a logistics problem with the panel.
He added, “Enugu State set up two panels: the #EndSARS panel and the Panel that has to deal with the compensation of those that suffered grievous harm and such things. For those who suffered grievous harm.The panel has turned in their report, the government is done with that, there is a white paper on it. But the #EndSARS panel had some logistics problems that occurred with the sit-at-home issue and the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Aroh, while expressing optimism that the panel would conclude its work in no distant time, said, “As soon as the state government gets their report, the state will act immediately. It is a priority for us as a state.”
Katsina white paper on panel’s report out soon – Findings
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Katsina State white paper on the implementation of the recommendations of the judicial panel in the state should be ready any moment from now.
Members of the commission, led by its chairman, Justice Abdullahi Bawale, had last February, submitted its report to Governor Aminu Masari. The governor had promised that he would immediately set up a committee to prepare a white paper on the commission’s recommendation.
He added, “Highlights of the report and recommendations have indicated that the commission has conducted a thorough investigation and made far-reaching recommendations for consideration.”
Bawale had revealed that the commission received 100 petitions, out of which 25 were struck out due to the non-appearance of the petitioners.
Reliable sources at the state’s Ministry of Justice said the committee on the white paper had concluded its assignment. “What we are waiting for is the release of the white paper on the commission’s report and that will be out anytime from now,” one of the sources, who pleaded anonymity, said.