When the Lagos State Government set up a nine-man judicial panel to investigate cases of police brutality and human rights violations, hundreds of victims and their relatives heaved a sigh of relief. Many had been victims of police abuse of power and desperately wanted justice for themselves or their relatives.
At the inuguration of the panel, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the state Governor, said the panel was set up based on Section 5 of Tribunals of Inquiry Law of Lagos State (2015), which gives the panel the powers to procure evidence and summon any person to attend its proceedings to give evidence. He then encouraged victims and their relatives to present their cases.
The panel was led by Doris Okuwobi, a retired judge, with Ebun Adegboruwa, representing the civil society; Taiwo Lakanu, a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police; Patience Udoh, representing the civil society activist; Segun Awosanya, a human rights activist; and Olutoyin Odusanya, Director, Lagos Citizens Mediation Centre, being the members.
By October 29, the panel sitting had started and Sanwo-Olu had approved N200 million as compensation for victims. Between October 2020 and June 2021, the panel received 235 cases of police brutality. About N152 million was awarded and up to 120 cases were concluded.
For Adebayo Abayomi, Hannah Olugbodi and Tolulope Openiyi, the N10million each received as compensation meant justice. Several others were also compensated.
WAITING ON GBAJABIAMILIA’S PROMISE
However, 42 petitioners, whose compensations FIJ understands totals exactly N1,371,150,000, are feeling greatly cheated by the law. They had been to court to obtain injunctions before presenting their petitions to the panel. The petitioners, FIJ gathered, were awarded millions as compensation but they are unable to claim them because Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, has not given the Police the go-ahead to make the payments.
“Some of them have between N10 million and N100 million, and even N200 million in some cases in terms of judgment sums they cannot claim. And they’re living in penury. Some of them can’t feed themselves. Some of them can’t walk again and some lost their loved ones.,” a lawyer to one of the victims told FIJ.
“You know they say justice must be seen to be served and must be served, but they have not seen justice served. How do we say we address issues of police brutality effectively when those who already got judgment have nothing to show for it?”
On May 5, the Judicial Panel on Restitution for Victims of SARS Related Abuses wrote a letter, seen by FIJ, to Olufemi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, seeking his intervention on the matter and reminding him of his promises regarding justice for victims of police brutality.
“You had, following our inauguration on October 19, 2020, personally re-affirmed your commitment on the 20th of October 2020, during plenary before the House of Representatives, by promising that you would be held to account and would not sign off a 2021 budget that did not include adequate provisions to compensate those who had suffered violence and brutality at the hands of the police in Nigeria,” the letter read in part.
“We cannot overstate how glad we are of your stance that court judgments are sacrosanct… and the commitment of the House of Representatives under your leadership towards ensuring that judgment sums against Nigeria Police Force are satisfied, and victims and families of victims of police abuse and brutality can reap the fruit of their judgment.
“It is on the above premise that we propose a meeting within the next fortnight with you or a representative of your good self to discuss how we can liase to ensure the satisfaction of the aforementioned judgments. The mandate of the Panel is scheduled to expire on the 19th of July 2021.
“The earliest advice of your representative’s schedule to enable us agree on a time and date will be greatly appreciated. Kindly note that our sitting days are Tuesdays at 11:00am, Fridays and Saturdays at 10:00 am and the venue is Lagos Court of Arbitration, 1 A Remi Oluwode Street, 2nd Roundabout, Lekki Expressway, Lekki Phase 1 Lagos.
“Nothing underscores the urgency and importance of this proposed meeting like the fact that during the course of our hearing, one of the petitioners with a judgment in his favour sadly passed away. Some petitioners have informed the panel that in spite of their judgments, they live in penury.”
Sanusi Garba Rikiji, the Chief of Staff to the Speaker, responded to the letter, writing: “I am directed to acknowledge your letter on the above subject matter. Regrettably, due to the ongoing Special Security Summit of the House of Representatives and Constitution Review activities, your proposed dates are not feasible. Kindly forward these judgements to us for further legislative action.”
Effectively, despite Gbajabiamila’s previous promises, the House of Reps turned down an opportunity to meet with the panel, and it never suggested another suitable date.
Similarly, FIJ understands that the panel forwarded the judgements to the lower chamber as requested by Gbajabiamila’s aide, but nothing has been heard since then.
GOVERNMENT AS JUDGE IN ITS OWN CASE
Section 84 of the Sheriff and Civil Process Act requires that the consent of the Attorney-General of the Federation or State be obtained when money meant for compensations is in the custody or under the control of a public officer in his official capacity.
This section of the law, on many occasions, makes victims of police brutality struggle after being awarded compensations.
“This section of the law appears to grant the Attorney General some discretion to determine whether certain judgments of the court may be enforced against monies in custody or control of a public officer,” said Chimezie Omuzulike, a lawyer and activist.
A second lawyer who asked not to be named told FIJ: “The objective of the panel, I would think, is to get justice for these people. For this to happen, there has to be an amendment to the Sherrif and Civil Process Act, especially the section that made the government a judge in its own case. That section must be repealed!
“If they don’t repeal it, there will always be a problem in the system every time people want to garnishee security operatives or federal government institutions that wronged them.”
Over 1000 Nigerians have signed an online petition against hindrance to the enforcement of the judgement or garnishee order, a legal term for enforcing a judgment debt to recover money, against the Police.
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