Welcome Statement by the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Tony Ojukwu, Esq, at the second Abuja Public Sitting of The Presidential Investigation Panel on the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force for the North-Central Geo-Political Zone Held on 14th – 26 January, 2019 at the Fct High Court, Maitama, Abuja.
I am glad to welcome you all to this second Abuja public sitting of the Presidential Panel on SARS Reform (for the North Central Zone) which was constituted by the National Human Rights Commission as a result of the request of the then Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, GCON to investigate alleged cases of human rights violation against SARS following public outcry, complaints and numerous reports in the electronic, print and social media alleging gross violations of human rights of fellow citizens by men and officers of SARS.
2. Since the constitution of the Presidential Panel, the Panel has held four (4) public sittings where complaints of alleged human rights violations from the public and memoranda on how to Reform SARS were considered. The sittings were conducted in the following geo-political zones of Nigeria:
a. The first public sitting was held in Abuja from 22nd to 25th October, 2018 for the North Central Zone.
b. The second public sitting was held in Lagos from 13th to 17th November, 2018 for South West Zone
c. The third public sitting was held in Owerri, Imo State from 27th November to 1st December, 2018 for both South-East and South-South Zones; and
d. the fourth sitting was held in Gombe from the 5th to 6th of December, 2018 for North-East Zone
3. I am happy to inform Nigerians that since the constitution of the Panel, a total of 103 complaints of alleged human rights violation were received by the Secretariat of the Panel. Out of this number, the panel received 37 complaints from the North-Central Zone, 37 complaints from the South-West, 16 complaints from the South-South, 9 complaints from the South-East, 3 complaints from the North-East and 1 complaint from the North-West.
4. Since commencement of the public sittings, the Panel has concluded hearing on fifty-one (51) of the complaints while fifty-two (52) complaints are still pending. Out of the fifty-two (52) pending cases; twenty-nine (29) are part-heard while twenty-three (23) are fresh complaints. Accordingly, most of the pending complaints are at advanced stages of hearing. This sitting will be considering the fifty-two (52) pending cases made up of fresh complaints and part-heard complaints from Abuja and different parts of the country
5. Ladies and gentlemen, it is interesting to note that the public hearings of the Presidential Panel on alleged cases of human rights violations against SARS has started yielding some remarkable positive results in the way SARS operatives carry out their operations. Apart from serving as an avenue for the sensitization of SARS operatives who appear before the Panel, there are instances where the Panel was informed that after service of the hearing notices on some SARS operatives who were alleged to have violated human rights in the course of carrying out their duties, they reached out to the victims of the alleged human rights violation, owned up to their mistakes and sought ways of resolving the matter amicably before the cases were called up by the Panel. There are also instances where on the spot investigation over complaints that had lingered before the Police were resolved by the Panel leading to the recovery of cars allegedly auctioned by some SARS Officers without due process. There are also cases where properties seized or houses locked up by SARS have been released to the owners, etc.
6. Despite the successes recorded, the Panel has also faced some challenges in the course of carrying out its mandate. Some of the challenges include failure of the Police in some cases, to conduct post-mortem examination on suspects alleged to have died while in Police custody and this evidence could have aided the speedy determination of the complaints before the panel. There were also a number of complaints which could not be heard because the complainants and their witnesses failed to appear before the Panel to prove their allegations against SARS. Some of the reasons given in some of these cases were fear of victimization, intimidation and threats issued to complainants by some SARS operatives. In some of these cases, hearing was frustrated as the complainants were unwilling to appear despite assurances of their safety by the Panel. Some who were satisfied with the assurances of the Panel, appeared before the Panel and their matters were duly heard. Any cases of intimidation of complainants or witnesses will be viewed seriously by the Panel. There have also been several cases where unruly SARS Officers were disciplined by the Panel.
7. May I therefore use this opportunity to commend the complainants and the public for the courage to lodge their complaints and submit memoranda to this Panel despite some reported cases of intimidation. This panel therefore requests the IGP to assist and ensure that all complainants before the panel are not molested in anyway by SARS or Police officers whose cases are before this panel. I want to assure all that this Panel and the Commission will adhere to the principles of fair hearing in discharging its functions and will not stand idle and watch while the fundamental human rights of citizens are trampled upon and violated by law enforcement agencies, entities or individuals.
8. Permit me to end this remark by commending the Government for recognizing the mandate of the Commission and supporting the Commission in setting up this Panel, the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court, Abuja for letting us use the High Court premises as venue of this sitting. I also commend members of the public, our partnering Government agencies, the End SARS Movement, the Cleen Foundation and other Civil Society Organizations whose constant campaign against the activities of SARS kept its issues on the front burner till the setting up of this panel. I must also thank the Panel members, the Secretariat of the Panel, the Police defence team and all those who have sent in complaints and memoranda to assist this Panel in carrying out its functions. May I also thank the Inspector General of Police and his representative at the Panel for the cooperation extended to us so far and I hope that together, we shall continue to fight for the protection and promotion of the human rights of every citizen of Nigeria and ensure that our law enforcement agents act in compliance with local and international Human Rights Standards.
I welcome you all and thank you for coming
Tony Ojukwu, Esq.
Panel Chair and
National Human Rights Commission
14th January, 2019