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#EndSARS: Families suffer as corruption, injustice mar Enugu judicial panel (part two)

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In the Second part of the report, ARINZE CHIJIOKE chronicles the experiences of families that lost loved ones to years of police brutality and how corruption has marred activities of the panel of inquiry set up by the Enugu State government to hear cases of brutality and make recommendations. The first part can be read here

Lapses on the part of petitioners

The panel member who demanded anonymity also said that the terms of reference of the panel expected them to be unbiased to both petitioners and respondents. But some petitioners expected them to make decisions in their favour.

“We had pro bono lawyers who were willing to help some of the petitioners who could not afford to get lawyers for themselves’ ‘ he said. “But most of them felt they could handle their cases” “Some of them could not establish information/ evidence about those they said perpetrated acts of brutality on their families’ ‘.

He told The ICIR that he and other panel members met with the government over what he described as the panel secretary’s “incompetence”, demanding that he be removed to enable the panel properly to deliver on its mandate.

“We told the government that we would not achieve much with his activities and requested that he be changed,” he said.

“The government promised to look into the matter but failed to act”.

13-year-old Emmanuel Egbo was labelled a criminal 

Thirteen-year-old Emmanuel Egbo plays football with his friends at a small field in front of his uncle’s house which is not far away from his family house in Attakwu, a community in Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu State. This he does after he is done running errands for his mother and completing his school homework.

Late Emmanuel Egbo
Late Emmanuel Egbo
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It was an established routine. However, this changed on the evening of May 26, 2008.  A group of police officers approached him and one Corporal Habila asked what he was doing. He said he was playing football with his friends. Immediately, he aimed his gun at Emmanuel and fired.

Emmanuel died on the spot and the other police officers who stood and watched as Habila fired the shot, put his (Emmanuel’s) corpse in their pickup van and drove to their station, Divisional Police Station, Agbani.

As soon as Gabriel Ugwu, Emmanuel’s cousin, heard what had happened he and other community members rushed to the police station where, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) identified as ‘Hussein’ confirmed that police officers had brought the corpse of a boy who was shot and killed because he was an armed robber.

This allegation was refuted by one of the community members Chief Ngene, who told the DPO that no arms were discovered in Emmanuel’s possession when he was shot. They asked if there were any incriminating evidence to which the DPO said he had merely believed the story he was told.

Later, the police deposited Emmanuel’s remains at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Ituku Ozalla. His family was not allowed access to his remains because the police had told them that he was an armed robber.

Well dug by Emmanuel Egbo, the deceased
Well dug by Emmanuel Egbo, the deceased

“They said they would grant the request only if the police gave permission,” Gabriel said.

He said they wrote to Mohamed Zarewa, who was the Enugu State Commissioner of Police (CP) at that time, but nothing happened. They later got in touch with Barrister Olu Omotayo of Civil Rights Realisation and Accountability Network (CRRAN) who picked up the case and began writing petitions against the killing of Emmanuel.

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He wrote to Ogbonna Okechukwu Onovo, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Amnesty International, the Police Service Commission (PSC) and even the presidency.

After several efforts, Omotayo got the IGP’s attention and who gave an order to the Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) of Zone 9 in Abia State that Corporal Habila should be brought out of hiding. He had gone into hiding after discovering that Emmanuel’s family was pursuing the case.

Habila was traced to Kafanchan, Kaduna State, arrested and brought back to Enugu where he was charged with murder at the Enugu High Court. But the case did not make much headway due to multiple adjournments.

“That was how they continued to adjourn the case and now we do not know the whereabouts of the officer who killed my cousin”, Gabriel noted.

When he got wind of the panel of inquiry set up in 2020 to investigate allegations of police brutality, Gabriel, through his lawyer, filed another petition and submitted.

Omotayo, the family lawyer, said the panel adopted and treated the petition.  However, months after the panel ended sitting, Emmanuel’s family is still waiting for the government to take necessary action.

Unclear procedure

Omotayo described as unclear the way in which the Enugu state panel of inquiry went about its own process. He said that rather than openly announce the award of damages and other decisions taken to petitioners, the panel only said they would make recommendations to the state government.

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He explained that the panels essentially were not taking decisions after hearing from parties involved in various cases. Rather, they were only adjourning cases sine die- without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing” and informing petitioners that the state government will take the final decision.

“The Lagos state panel of inquiry has awarded compensations to some families of victims of police brutality, although they may not have paid everybody, “he said.

“But in Enugu, the panel only made recommendations to the government who is supposed to take decisions, meaning that their powers were limited”.

He added that although the panel has submitted its recommendations, nobody knows what the outcome will be.

Still waiting for Emmanuel 

After Emmanuel’s father Joseph Egbo, a railway worker, died in 1997 – two years after he was born – and his elder brother Peter Egbo, a year after, his mother was left with the responsibility of caring for him and his four sisters.

“He was very helpful to me in terms of house chores, “she said, tears dropping down her cheeks. “He was strong for someone of his age and size and whenever it was time for planting, Emmanuel always assisted me in the farm”.

Grace said she did not have to go to the market to buy firewood because Emmanuel went to the farm every Saturday to get firewood for her. He also dug a well in the compound for her.

It’s over 12 years since the fatal incident and the family is yet to get his corpse.

“If the police had given me his corpse, I would have forgotten a bit about it [Emmanuel’s death],” Grace said. “But since they have not given it to me, I remember him all the time”.

Demand for a review panel

Pressed by the need to ensure that families get justice, Osmond Ugwu, who represented the civil society on the panel did a report to the governor in December 2021, recommending that the panel report be declared invalid and their work probed.

Grace Egbo. mother of the deceased
Grace Egbo. mother of the deceased

“This is because the original panel was filled with injustices and failed to deliver on its mandate, “he said. “It did not follow its terms of reference and as such, compensation is not feasible because there was no investigation”.

The University Nnaemeka did not attended

Twenty-one years old, Nnaemeka Ugwuoke would have completed his university education in 2021 after he got admission into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to study Political Science in 2017.

He was excited after he saw his name on the institution’s website. His family was too. But the excitement was short-lived when a group of local security men, in the company of officers of the Anti-Kidnapping Unit of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) knocked on his parents house in Nsukka, a town in Enugu State. The lived close to a hospital.

It was around 3.00 a.m. on January 12, 2017, just three days to his matriculation as a freshman at the university. His mother had paid his acceptance fees a week earlier.

The security men who worked at the hospital demanded to know the whereabouts of Nnaemeka. Out of fear, one of his sisters, identified as Nkechi, told them the whereabouts of Nnaemeka.

Nnaemeka Ugwuoke's whereabouts is still unknown
Nnaemeka Ugwuoke’s whereabouts is still unknown

Afterwards, Uzoamaka, another of Nnaemeka’s sisters joined the local security men and the anti-kidnapping officers in their Hilux and took them to Nru Nsukka, where he was.

As soon as they got there, the men arrested Nnaemeka. He demanded explanations as to why he was being arrested and they accused him of being an armed robber and a cultist.

“They took Nnaemeka to their headquarters in Enugu,” Uzoamaka recalled. “I later discovered that the unit had arrested two other boys”.

She said that Nnaemeka had bought a phone and sold it to one of the boys who then sold the phone to the second boy. The phone, which was stolen, had been traced by the unit and found in the hands of the second boy, who brought the unit to the first boy. The first boy in turn gave the unit the address where Nnaemeka’s family lived.

Months after their arrest, the police released the two boys, but no one saw or heard from Nnaemeka, not even his family.

“The police unit denied that Nnaemeka is in their custody” Uzoamaka said, “We also engaged the services of a lawyer after the arrest, but the police threatened the man and he abandoned the case”.

She said her family had pleaded that Nnaemeka be taken to court so the law can decide his fate, whatever the issue is. But the police Unit refused.

“What we cannot explain is why the other two boys were released and my brother held back,” a distressed Uzoamaka said. “We have spent a lot of money trying to get him out”.

In November 2020, after the panel on police brutality was set up, Uzoamaka’s family hoped to get justice. They got a lawyer who wrote and submitted a petition to the panel. But after their case was heard, Uzoamaka said she and her family were asked by the secretary of the panel to pay so that their petition can be served to the respondents.

“We paid N5,000 more than four times to the secretary who said he wanted to use it to serve our petition to the respondents,” she said, confirming the allegations of extortion.

The panel has since ended sitting but Uzoamaka cannot say what decision was taken over her brother’s disappearance.

Nnaemeka’s disappearance takes it toll on his family 

Since his disappearance, Nnameka’s father, 65-old Benjamin Ugwuoke has been distraught/ His mental health has dipped. Now, he cannot talk. He cannot walk. He does understand why his son will suddenly be missing with no traces of him anywhere.

The uncertainty surrounding Nnaemeka’s case also affected his grandmother’s health because she loved him dearly. She died in December 2020 after she could not make sense of his sudden disappearance. He always took his friends to her farm.

Nnaemeka’s mother is asking for her son,  “They should bring my son back for me, that is all I want the government to do.

Panel secretary fails to accept or deny allegations

When The ICIR reached out to Onochie Ogwu, Secretary of the panel on the allegations against him and the chairman, he could not accept or deny them. He said it was not obligatory to grant an interview.

“Try to know when someone does not want to grant you an interview and try not to continue to pester him or coerce him into it subtly,” he said. “It is not obligatory that I must grant you an interview, especially when you have gotten what you want elsewhere. “Don’t drag me into that”.

When The ICIR reached out to Steve Oruruo, Special Adviser on Information to Enugu state Governor, he said that the government was still observing the report submitted by the panel to find out whether there is need for any recompense.

“If after observing the report and it warrants that the government provide compensation, that will be done,” he said.

Beyond the compensation of families of victims of police brutality, Femi Falana (SAN) in a live interview on Channels on Thursday, November 18, 2021  suggested the establishment of a permanent standing human rights commission in line with the spirit of federalism to curb harassment and illegal detention by security forces across the country.

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