On Wednesday, the Abuja panel probing allegations of human rights violations committed by the defunct police unit, SARS, awarded N289 million to victims. Wednesday’s ceremony marks the second and final batch of compensation by the Abuja panel to victims of rights abuses by the police.
According to the Panel, the compensations were awarded in cases bordering on extrajudicial killing; unlawful arrest and detention; cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; torture; enforced disappearance; confiscation of property among others.
In the aftermath of the #EndSARS protest in October 2020, the federal government directed states to set up independent panels to probe rights violations by the SARS unit and other units of the Nigerian police. In Abuja, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) set up an 11-man probe panel which was inaugurated on 21 October 2020.
Speaking during the ceremony, the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission(NHRC) Tony Ojukwu (SAN), said that the compensation ceremony was a symbolic gesture of President Muhammadu Buhari-led government’s commitment to the protection of human rights and a sign that the government has acknowledged its mistakes and is ready to assuage the feelings of victims.
Also speaking at the ceremony, the secretary of the panel, Mr. Hilary Ogbonna said that the panel sat for nearly two years and determined 295 out of the 297 petitions that were submitted. He said 25 of the complaints bordered on extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance, while 16 were related to illegal arrest and detention and four petitions centered on unlawful confiscation of assets by police officers, among other infractions.
Giving a breakdown of the amount awarded to victims of the gross rights violations, Mrs. Suleiman said N289,384,094 has been approved “as compensation to 74 beneficiaries and victims of human rights violations.”
This brings the total amount awarded to 94 survivors and victims of police violence to N432 million (N431,884,094).
The panel had, in December 2021, awarded N146 million to victims of gross rights violations in the first batch of the exercise.
Some victims who spoke to the media expressed relief at the compensation. Ifeanyi Ofodu, whose cousin, Eric Ezeala, was arrested and murdered by SARS operatives in Imo State, south-east Nigeria told newsmen that “no amount of money will be enough for our breadwinner’s murder.” “For six years we searched for him without clue only for the Abuja #EndSARS panel to determine that he had died in detention,” He said.
Following the Federal government directive, in October 2020, twenty eight states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) set up Judicial Panels/Commissions of Inquiry (Panels) to investigate allegations of violations of human rights levelled against members of the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies, especially members of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The 28 States that set up these Panels were Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Gombe, Imo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, and Taraba.
Out of the 28 States, 12 States and FCT (Abia, Ekiti, Enugu, Gombe, Kwara, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Plateau, Lagos, and Rivers) have submitted their final reports to Federal Executive Council (FEC)
While some state panels including Lagos, Imo, Delta, Edo, Ekiti and FCT have announced the payment of compensation, the federal government is yet to fulfill any of the other promises it made. In some states, victims have also complained that they are yet to receive payment despite government public announcements. Again the government is yet to prosecute any of the indicted police officers including James Nwafor the notorious former head of SARS, Awkuzu in Anambra state who was accused by several victims of torture and extra-judicial killings.
Many media and human rights groups also believe that police abuses including torture and extra-judicial execution of criminal suspects are still widespread across Nigeria.