Again, NHRC boss speaks on suspended sitting of Abuja #EndSARS panel

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), again, on Tuesday, explained why its Independent Investigation Panel set up to probe allegations of human rights violations perpetrated by the operatives of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other police units, has not been sitting.

The panel, which holds its proceedings in Abuja, stopped sitting about three months ago, with the NHRC’s Executive of the NHRC, Tony Ojukwu, assuring later in June that the panel would soon resume.

Speaking in an interview with journalists again on Tuesday in Abuja, Mr Ojukwu said the panel was busy handling some administrative issues.

He said the panel had a larger volume of work than the panels conducting inquiries on the similar matters of police brutality in different states of the country.

Mr Ojukwu spoke during the public presentation of a book titled, ‘The Dialectic of Rights: Nigeria’s Engagement with the Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights Council’, in Abuja.

He explained that with almost 300 complaints filed at the Abuja #EndSARS panel, “huge resources, capacity, collaborations and sum of money,” are required to adequately compensate petitioners for the infringement of their rights.

Mr Ojukwu did not say if all the petitions that need to be heard by the panel at public sittings had been concluded.

He also did not say if the panel was going to resume sitting soon as he said last month.

‘Panel not idle’

Meanwhile, the NHRC boss dispelled rumours that the panel was idle, adding that the non-sitting of the panel since March was being used to “streamline things”.

“Why we are not sitting is not as if the panel is idle; we are doing administrative things, analysing things.

“Most of the complaints are judgements of courts against the police. We don’t have to sit over them again. All these things have to be compiled and analysed,” Mr Ojukwu explained.

He also reiterated the need for the availability of money to compensate victims of police cruelty.

“When you have the idea, you must now make arrangement for money, which government has to get,” Mr Ojukwu said.

#EndSARS panels

Conceived in the wake of the #EndSARS protest against the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and the cases of police brutality in the country in October last year, the panel was inaugurated on October 21, 2020 to address the grievances of Nigerians whose rights were violated by the police over the years.

The panel, officially known as the ‘Independent Investigative Panel (IIP) to probe allegations of human rights violations against the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other units of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF)’, is headed by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Suleiman Galadima.

Similar panels were also set up in most of the states of the federation. Some of them have submitted their reports to the governors in their states for implementation.

Book presentation

At the unveiling of the book, Nigeria’s minister of foreign affairs, Godffrey Onyeama, explained that the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a human rights promotion and protection system of the United Nations General Assembly that assesses the commitment of member states to their international human rights obligations.

Mr Onyeama, who was represented by Bolaji Akinremi, a staff member of the foreign affairs ministry, said Nigeria pledged to promote and protect human rights at home and support the NHRC in its mandate.

Commenting on the importance of the book, the minister said it would spur Nigeria to work harder for better realisation of the human rights of Nigerians.

On his part, Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, said the Federal Government had cooperated with the UN human rights protection mechanism.

Mr Malami, who was represented by Abiodun Aikhomo, enumerated a number of human rights instruments such as the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (2015), the Anti-Torture Act (2017) and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015), to give effect to Nigeria’s commitment UPR.

However, a former UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Joy Ezeilo, said Nigerians’ human rights are well-documented in both national and international legal frameworks, but lacking in implementation.

According to Ms Ezeilo who is a professor of law at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, noted that “Nigerians are not enjoying the human rights,” adding, “We are still battling with basic human rights.”

In his welcome remarks, the NHRC boss, Mr Okukwu, said the book was the first of its kind in Nigeria.

Mr Ojukwu itemised three areas of the UPR, noting that the most crucial stage is the implementation of the goals of the mechanism – improvement of the human rights situation on ground.

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