Determined to continue pushing for justice for several victims of police brutality especially the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), members of the Action Group on Free Civic Space (AGFCS) embarked on high-level multi-stakeholder engagements with public and private institutions where they demanded enhanced implementation of the findings and recommendations in its latest research report, #ENDSARS: POLICE BRUTALITY, PROTESTS AND SHRINKING CIVIC SPACE IN NIGERIA. AGFCS’s three member-delegation to the Federal Capital Territory between May 5 – 7, 2021 comprises the Rule of Law and Accountability Center (RULAAC), World Impact Development Foundation (WIDEF) and Spaces for Change (S4C).
The representatives of the AGFCS led by RULAAC’s Okechukwu Nwanguma, WIDEF’s Kingsley Godwin and SPACES FOR CHANGE’s Zikora Ibeh met with the leadership and governing councils of key federal agencies like the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Police Service Commission (PSC), Federal Ministry of Information, National Assembly’s House of Representative’s Committee on Monitoring & Implementation of Legislative Agenda and civil society organisations such as Global Rights and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC).
At the NHRC, Mr. Tony Ojukwu, the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission together with Ms. Cordelia Aguarie, the Asst. Director Civil and Political Rights; Ms. Ivy Acka of the Corporate Affairs & External Linkages Directorate and; Mr. Patrick Uche of the NHRC Monitoring Team, received the AGFCS delegation at the Commission. Ms. Zikora Ibeh presented the research findings, raising many topical concerns ranging from the patterns of police violence in South-East Nigeria, the triggers of the #EndSARS protests, the continuing crackdown on #EndSARS protesters and the dewdrops of good practice shifting the dynamics of civic space in the country. Some of the documented tactics the disbanded SARS operatives used to perpetrate egregious human rights abuses include killing detainees for fun, starvation and extortion of detainees, kidnap and prolonged detention of victims, extra-judicial killings and illegal trade of detainees’ dead bodies to University Teaching Hospitals in Enugu and Anambra States. Not only that, the #ENDSARS demonstrations against police violence were met with excessive force from police operatives and other sponsored attacks on protesters. In light of these trends, the report recommended the strengthening of institutional capacities and mechanisms of oversight like the NHRC and Police Service Commission to improve accountability in the police force. Other recommendations proffered strategies for bolstering police-civilian relationships anchored on democratic tenets and human rights values.
The Executive Secretary welcomed the report as one of its kind and the first-ever one-stop-shop documentation of the #ENDSARS protests submitted to the Commission. He noted that the activities of the defunct SARS impacted negatively on the country’s human rights landscape, and the time has come to end decades of zero accountability for these injustices. The NHRC expressed strong commitments to establish permanent oversight mechanisms that will effectively review illegitimate behaviors of erring members of the Nigeria Police force.
In the wake of widespread protests against police brutality in October 2020, the Commission pushed for the establishment of judicial panels across states to address both past and present complaints from victims of police brutality in the country. In addition, the Commission also advocated for the creation of a ‘human right and security committee’ in every state to serve as a lasting mechanism that adjudicates cases of human rights violations on a rolling basis. The Committee is made up of a chairman (the state governor), police, military, NHRC commissioners and civil society actors who act as the secretariat of the committee and submit cases of violations for the Committee’s review. Mr. Ojukwu also urged civil society actors to increase their collaboration with the Commission to ensure that the newly set up rights-violation response mechanisms maintain functionality and live up to international human rights obligations.
Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi of the Supreme Court and Honourable Commissioner representing the Judiciary in the Commission received the AGFCS delegation on behalf of the Chairman of the Police Service Commission, Musiliu Smith. She remarked that the report was well-thought through and pregnant with pertinent information and allegations that must be reviewed to entrench accountability in the police force and cultivate the right policing attitudes that respect the rights and freedoms of citizens even while responding to difficult security challenges. Barrister Rommy Mom, Honourable Commissioner representing non-governmental human rights organisations in the Commission appealed that the AGFCS’s advocacy should also flag issues that hinder the PSC and NPF from fulfilling their policing obligations such as poor welfare conditions, underfunding amongst others. Noting that the Police Service Commission is a ‘’people’s commission’’ which delights in engaging with members of the public to advance the cause of police accountability, he reiterated the need for increased collaboration between the civil society and the Commission.
Other members of the Police Service Commission present at the meeting include Emmanuel Ibe, Director, Department of Police Investigation; Tijani Mohammed, Director, Department of Police Discipline; Ponfa Wuyep, Deputy Director, Permanent Secretary’s Office; Anuli Okolo, Deputy Director, Commission Council Secretariat and; Ikechukwu Ani, Head, Press and Public Relations.
Federal lawmakers’ reactions to the AGFCS’s research findings underscored the need for stakeholders to make a case for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Council to address the historical abuses of police brutality and heal the open wounds of victims. Honorable Henry Nwawuba representing Mbaitoli/Ikeduru Constituency (who also doubles as the Chair of the Committee on Monitoring and Implementation of the Legislative Agenda of the 9th House) and the Special Adviser to the Speaker, Research, Public Policy and Strategy, Dubem Okadigbo Moghalu, Esq. informed the delegation about the measures the House of Representatives recently introduced in response to the #EndSARS protests and other security challenges across various states of the federation. They include a 500Million Naira Compensation Fund set aside in the 2021 budget for all victims of police brutality, the Speaker’s 40-man committee to find solutions to Nigeria’s diverse security threats and the revision of the House’s Legislative Agenda to cultivate far-reaching reforms on the security architecture of the country such as the Police Reform Bill.
Responding to Hon. Henry Nwawuba’s request for constitutional reform proposals, RULAAC’s Okechukwu Nwanguma pressed for a review of the procedure for the appointment and removal of the Inspector General of the Police. Impunity exists because the Constitution provides sole authority to the President to appoint or remove the Inspector General of Police. The appointments are purely based on subjective political considerations, and loyalty to their political patrons rather than to members of the public.
The delegation also met with civil society organisations working on democracy and human rights such as Global Rights and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre. The meetings explored how civil society actors can harness the power of collaboration and creative partnerships to safeguard the civic space and organise interventions that respond to the numerous insecurity and economic challenges facing the country.