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ENDSARS: Falana-led group launches panel to investigate rights abuses by police, others

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MORE respite has come the way of persons who have suffered rights violations in Nigeria from law enforcement agents, as a group led by foremost human rights lawyer and activist, Femi Falana (SAN) has unveiled an investigative panel into such abuses.

The group, Alliance for Survival of COVID-19 and Beyond, (ASCAB) in a statement said though the formation of the panel was on the backdrop of recent #EndSARS protest across the country, the panel would welcome petitions on all forms of abuse from security operatives, regardless of when the infringements occurred, in as much as such violations can be substantiated.

ASCAB claimed it is Nigeria’s leading coalition, comprising 80 civil society groups, including but not limited to the nation’s leading labour movements.

Nigeria witnessed unprecedented nationwide protest against police brutality in October 2020.

The protest, among other demands, sought the scrapping of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the nation’s police – a unit that was notorious for the crimes it was meant to prevent.

Citizens in the diaspora, renowned personalities from different parts of the world and top artists citizens physically joined the protest in embassies outside Nigeria and cities witin the country, while other eminent persons across the globe showed solidarity on social media, using the hashtag EndSARS.

The protest was later hijacked by hoodlums who resorted to arson, looting and wanton killings.

The Federal Government abolished the unit but soon came up with the Special Weapon and Tactic (SWAT).

One of the decisions taken by government, in response to the rage, was to set up judicial panel to investigative the infractions and award penalties for erring officers and compensation for victims.

About 30 states have set up the panel, including Katsina, Kogi, Bayelsa, Delta, Ekiti, Plateau, Bauchi, Anambra, Enugu, Nasarawa, Adamawa, Taraba, Edo and Ondo states. The panels have been since been sitting.

ASCAB’s said persons who have already filed petitions before the state-backed tribunals can further approach its “Citizen Tribunal” since outcomes and investigations of petitions might defer in form or content.

In the statement tagged “Call for complaints of Human Rights Violations by Police, Military and Other Law Enforcement Agencies in Nigeria,” ASCAB said the Citizen Tribunal would enrich investigations into the age-long abuses suffered by Nigerians in the hands of the nation’s security outfits.

The Citizen’s Tribunal parades an array of seasoned labour, civil society and a retinue of experts from the international community, the group boasted. It is headed by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, (SAN), Mr Chino Obiagwu.

“The Panel is to receive complaints from the general public of violations, before, during and after the #EndSARS protests across Nigeria. To this end, the panel hereby calls on the general public, especially families of those who lost their lives or who suffer one form of human rights violation or another” ASCAB said in the statement signed by the panel’s chairman.

The panel said: “All interested victims regardless of whether they have approached the official commissions of inquiry set up by the state governments or not can submit memos to the Citizens Tribunal. To this end, all victims that have submitted a petition to the official commissions of inquiry should indicate if they have, and specify which of the commissions they submitted their petitions to. This will enable us follow up and track petitions at the official commissions.”

Every complaint is expected to contain the names of the victim(s), date, time and place of violations, type of violation suffered, name of the perpetrator (if known), name of agency of the perpetrator and any action already taken in the matter.

The Citizen Panel is open to all Nigerians including the media, Mr Falana said. He noted that the panel would employ best global practices to unravel the misery encountered by victims of the disbanded SARS.

He said ASCAB would employ litigation where necessary to enforce justice which may include compensation for victims.

“ASCAB also wants victims to submit contact details of the petitioner, including name, residential and office address, functional numbers including whatsapp number (if available) and email address.

“According to the complaints can be submitted in writing or by SMS, WhatsApp message, email or by telephone call to the address and telephone numbers through [email protected], [email protected], 09153684686 (Whatsapp), 09025243545, 08098944313, 09134868681

“Obiagwu said the panel would hold public sittings at various locations across Nigeria to hear oral testimonies of complainants, and demand accountability from the concerned law enforcement agency.

“Where it is not possible to have physical meetings with any victim and his or her family, the panel will arrange virtual meeting,” the statement reads.

Nigeria has been rife with rights abuses, as soldiers, police and officers of paramilitary agencies have been variously accused of assaults, arbitrary arrest, detention, rape, killing, extortion among other heinous crimes against people in the country.

In November, a short video circulated on the social media showing a soldier whipping a woman over alleged indecent dressing.

The state government promptly issued a statement notifying the public of the officer’s arrest by the authorities.

After the EndSARS protest, a number of rights abuses have been recorded against the Nigerian police.

On Wednesday December 16, angry youths burnt down Igboukwu police station in Aguata local government area of Anambra state, following the shooting and killing of a motorcycle rider by a police officer in the area.

Revelations emerging from judicial panels sitting in various states in the country over the EndSARS protest and previous abuses have been making headlines since they were inaugurated.

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