Benson Olugbuo, PhD and
The various Judicial panels of Inquiry constituted by twenty nine state Governments namely Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Gombe, Imo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Osun, Plateau, Rivers ,Taraba states respectively and the Independent Investigative Panel of Inquiry set up by the National Human Rights Commission, Federal Capital Territory, Abuja commenced sittings from the 15th of October 2020.
The Judicial Panels of Inquiry in most states across the nation embarked on the Christmas and New Year vacation from the 20th of December 2020 and resumed hearings between 5th -10th of January 2021 to consolidate hearings on petitions from families of victims and survivors of police brutality. However, it was observed that the National Human Rights Commission’s Independent Investigative Panel located in the Federal Capital Territory did not resume sitting in January 2021 due to second wave of Covid-19 pandemic.
The CSO Observatory tracked, monitored and documented findings of the Judicial Panels of Inquiry for the month of January 2021 through legal practitioners and state-based partners deployed to observe the judicial proceedings in their various states. The members of CSO Police Reform Observatory submitted reports using an instrument developed to collect data on the total number of cases submitted to the Panels of Inquiry, types of human rights violations associated with each case, number of cases concluded, number of cases ongoing and any other relevant information the volunteer considered necessary to report. The tool is complemented with a brief summary of proceedings at the Judicial Panels across the 29 states including the Federal Capital Territory. The data received from members of the CSO Police Reform Observatory was analyzed and used to generate this report based on the findings across the states.
3.0 Petitions Received by the Judicial Panels of Inquiry
The CSO Observatory members reported that in the month of January 2021, a total of 298 petitions were received by thirteen panels namely: Abia, Akwa-ibom, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Delta, Edo, Gombe, Imo, Ondo, Plateau, Lagos and Taraba States. It was observed that while Lagos state had the highest number of petitions numbering 120, Akwa-ibom had the lowest with just 2 petitions filed. This is minimal when compared to 2,746 petitions it received in December 2020. Cumulatively, a total of 3,044 petitions have been filed across the 29 states and the FCT as at January 31st, 2021. The geographical distribution of the petitions indicate that the South-South leads with 763 petitions, South-East 737 petitions, South-West 713 petitions, North-Central 457 petitions. The North-West follows with 295 petitions and the North-East has 79 petitions.
4.0. Concluded Cases
As at 31st January 2021, 290 cases were concluded across the country which is low compared to December 2020 which reported 349 concluded cases. Cumulatively, as at January 31st, 2021, a total of 639 cases have been concluded out of 3,044 filed petitions. This is poor for panels that have spent 50% of their lifetime (6months). It is imperative to note that justice delayed is justice denied and this is capable of leading to lack of trust and confidence in the work of the panels across the states. For example, In Delta State, it was observed that sitting is only two days in a week while some panels sit only at their convenience. Furthermore, some proceedings commence late on the days of sittings due to late arrival of panel members.
5.0. Sittings of Judicial Panels of Inquiry
Reports from CSO Observatory members shows that out of 29 constituted Panels of Inquiry, 28 states resumed from the Christmas and New Year recess at 31st January 2021. Oyo state had its inaugural sitting on the 26th of January 2021, two months after inauguration by the State Government. However, Judicial Panels of Inquiry in Anambra and FCT failed to resume hearings in January. The FCT decided to postpone sitting to ensure compliance with Covid-19 regulations. In Anambra state, the Panel failed to sit due to inability of the State Government to pay the agreed allowance and stipends to the panel members. Reports from the CSO Observatory indicates that a total of 178 sittings were held as at 31st January 2021 across 28 states. Plateau (17 sittings), Edo (14 sittings), Rivers and Nasarawa states (12 sittings each).
6.0 Compliance o to Federal Government Directives
The CSO Observatory reported no noticeable increase in compliance by State Governments compared to the reports in December 2020. As at January 31st, 2021 Judicial Panel of Inquiry has been constituted in 29 states and FCT. The seven states yet to constitute panels are Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara.
7.1 Non-Compliance by Security Personnel on Summons
Members of the CSO Observatory reported a high rate of non-compliance to panels rulings and evasion of service process by security operatives across most states of the Federation. For instance, in Lagos state, South-West Nigeria, the Military refused to enter appearance at the panel proceedings despite rulings to that effect. Similarly, in Akwa-Ibom State, petitions before the panel have suffered adjournments due to the manner in which police officers evade summons. This made the Legal Unit of the Akwa-Ibom State Police Command seek for more time to enable them to locate their officers thereby delaying petitions.
In Bayelsa state, police officers who have been petitioned by the public have either retired from the Nigeria Police Force or have been transferred to other State Commands hence delaying the panel sittings. Furthermore, the CSO Observatory reported that military personnel in the state petitioned to the panel refused to appear and did not send legal representations. In Edo State, the Chairperson of the Panel of Inquiry complained of the unwillingness of security agents (police/army) to appear before the panel which has caused undue delay. In addition, in Imo state, the refusal of police officers to appear before the panel is gradually stalling proceedings of the panel.
7.2 Refusal of Complainants to Appear Before the Judicial Panels of Inquiry
The CSO Observatory has noted that in some states, complainants have refused to appear before the panel and pursue their cases to a logical conclusion even with legal representation. For instance, In Benue state,50% of complainants have failed to testify before the Panel of Inquiry. Unfortunately, the complaints are not traceable either by address or their phone contacts. Similarly, in Oyo and Delta states, there is to be apathy by some complainants due to paucity of funds, lack of interest and possible threat from security agents.
7.3 Cases Abandoned and Struck Out
The CSO Observatory observed that at a total of 82 cases were struck out in January 2021 by various State Judicial Panels of Inquiry due to the issues bordering on lack of Jurisdiction, abandonment of cases by complainant and lack of diligent prosecution
7.4 Timeframe to Conclude Hearings
The CSO Observatory reported that the timeframe for most Judicial Panels of Inquiry to conclude cases and proffer recommendations is short due to the volume of cases received. Our observers in Taraba, Rivers and Akwa-Ibom have reported on the challenges of a short time frame for the Judicial Panels in their respective states to conclude hearings and forward recommendations to the State Governments. The Judicial Panel of Inquiry in Akwa-Ibom request for an extension of time to conclude hearings is still under consideration by the State Government.
8.0 Gaps Identified
8.1 The CSO Observatory observed gross display of gender insensitivity through marginalization of women in the constitution of the Judicial Panel members across the 29 states and FCT with the exception of Plateau state that has more female than male members and Lagos state that has equal male and female members. Cross River State has a seven member all male panel. Enugu, Bayelsa and Benue states have only one female member each. This is grossly inadequate. A total of 333 persons were appointed to serve into respective Judicial Panels made up of 262 males and 71 females. This issue of underrepresentation of women in the panels should be revisited by the State Governments to ensure fairness and equity in the appointment of panel members.
8.2 There is a high level of adjournment of cases by the Judicial Panels which may hamper the process and subsequently defeat the interests of justice for the families of victims and survivours of police brutality in Nigeria.
8.3 The Judicial Panels failed to duly scrutinize petitions before they were filed in some states as some of the petitions were beyond the scope and terms of reference bothering on issues relating title to land, demolition e.t.c as against the intended matters of Police brutality. The time and opportunity wasted in hearing these cases would have served as an avenue to justice for a more appropriate victim related issues consistent with the terms and references of the panels of inquiry.
8.4 There is limited timeframe for the Judicial Panels to conclude hearing on cases thereby delaying Justice delivery.
8.5 There is apathy amongst petitioners or complainants in prosecuting their petitions leadi5ng in a high number of abandoned cases.
8.6 Most Judicial Panels of Inquiry rely on legal technicalities and not substance of the cases.
8.7 There is a high level of underfunding of Judicial Panels of Inquiry by several state governments which poses a major challenge in the delivery of justice by the panels.
8.8 There is general poor awareness on the scope of assignment of the Judicial Panels of Inquiry by complainants or petitioners which has led to the increase of petitions which are beyond the jurisdictions of the panel.
9.1 State Government should ensure gender balance in the appointment of panel members across Nigeria.
9.2 Security personnel with petitions levelled against them should be subpoenaed to appear before the panel and adequately respond to issues as it relates to them.
9.3 State Governments should adequately fund the Judicial Panels of inquiry to enable the panels achieve maximal results.
9.4 Government should extend the timeframe set aside for the Judicial Panels to conclude hearing of cases due to the high number of cases received.
9.5 Government needs to carry out mass sensitisations and awareness campaigns on the scope and terms of reference of the Judicial Panels.
9.6 The Nigerian Bar Association should intensify efforts in sensitizing the public about the ongoing free legal representations and make accessibility easier for petitioners by stationing representatives daily at the sitting venue of the panel to attend to pro-bono matters.
9.7 The Judicial Panels of Inquiry need to offer protection mechanisms to complainants and victims of police brutality as most complainants are scared of continuing their cases due to threat by security personnel petitioned before the panels.
9.8 The Victims Support Fund should extend their services to the activities of the panels in relation to the needs and welfare of families of victims and survivors.
May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria and heal our land.
Benson Olugbuo, PhD
Executive Director, CLEEN Foundation
National Coordinator, NOPRIN Foundation