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#EndSARS Panel report opens window into police brutality

The leaked #EndSARS judicial panel report has shed spotlight on the notoriety of the Nigerian army, but not to be ignored is the perverse role played by the Nigerian police who abetted a massacre by shooting at fleeing protesters and picking up bullets to cover up their crime.

The Judicial Panel of inquiry constituted by the Lagos state led by Doris Okuwobi, a retired high court judge in the state, found upon the testimonies of multiple eyewitnesses, that the police officers deployed at the Lekki Toll Gate came more armed than usual.

Consequently, the panel found that the Nigerian Police Force deployed its officers to the Lekki Toll Gate on the night of the 20th October, 2020 and between that night and the morning of the 21st of October, 2020, its officer shot at, assaulted and battered unarmed protesters, which led to injuries and deaths. The police officers also tried to cover up their actions by picking up bullets.

Following the #EndSARS protests that arose out of rampant police brutality, a CSO Police Reform Observatory survey coordinated by CLEEN Foundation and NOPRIN Foundation found that the judicial panels set up by state governments across Nigeria to investigate the excesses of the Nigerian police have received over 2,500 petitions.

Most of the petitions allege human rights violations such as extra-judicial killings, torture, extortion, harassment, sexual and gender-based violence, indiscriminate arrests, illegal detention, illegal arrests and abuse of power by personnel of the Nigerian police and other security agencies.

Within a year, the Lagos state judicial panel had awarded about N410.2 million as compensation to 70 victims of police abuses, brutality, and extrajudicial killings. A total of186 cases of police brutality, extrajudicial killings and abuse of powers were heard and received judgments out of the 252 petitions submitted to the panel. And these were unconnected with the incident of October 20, 2020.

According to the judicial panel report of the Lekki Toll Gate massacre, petitions arising from the killing of protesters led to the award of 237m to 14 petitioners. Many were awarded sums ranging between N10m and N15m for injuries leading to amputation or for being shot in the head, while the family of a deceased petitioner was awarded N25m.

Despite the panel report and incidence of October 20, 2020, Nigerians on social media narrate accounts of how they have been robbed, raped, beaten, stabbed, or their family members killed by policemen, paid with their tax money to protect them.

Read also: DMO to conduct N150bn FG’s bond on Wednesday

Some say the sight of policemen on the road triggers psychological trauma. At least with robbers, you know they will ask for your money, with the Nigerian police, your money and your life are fair game.

The impact of these actions is the loss of faith in the country by its young people who make up over 65 percent of its population, of skilled talent fleeing the country to seek normal life elsewhere, of parents herding their children to saner places, of a country marching inexorably to the brink

The panel report further highlights that the Nigerian police is a lawless institution that couldn’t even be bothered to investigate the incident of 20th October 2020.

The testimonies of the ACP Oludotun Odubona who appeared on behalf of the Commissioner of Police and that of CSP Raji Ganiy that “there was no basis for such investigation and no complaints were lodged with the Nigerian Police Force by victims or families of victims,” was reprehensible.

“This amounts to a dereliction of duty,” the panel member said.

The Nigerian police lacked the intelligence to even secure the crime scene.

“The standard and ideal crime scene investigation protocol in forensics which is to preserve, secure, record, examine and investigate a crime scene as soon as a crime is reported was not employed in this case. The non-preservation of the crime scene occasioning the investigation defiles standard and international best practices,” the report said.

It is unsurprising therefore that the first recommendation of the panel is to retrain, retool and equip the Nigerian police force. The panel recommended that the police should be adequately funded, effectively trained, be provided the appropriate equipment and communication system, improved pay and better working conditions.

But the civil society is calling for more. “President Muhammadu Buhari must fulfill his promise of reforming the police to end the reign of impunity Nigerians have been protesting against for many years,” said Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria.

Ojigho said “Failure to bring to justice those suspected to be responsible for the torture and killings of #EndSARS protesters on 20 October 2020 is yet another indication that Nigerian authorities lack the political will to ensure accountability for these atrocities, and end police brutality.

Many have called for state police as the current central structure where directions come from Abuja is unwieldy. The 2021 budget raised funding the Police Trust Fund to over N74 billion but with rampant corruption in the police hierarchy, very little trickles down.

The Lagos judicial panel members were Doris Okuwobi, chairperson, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa SAN, representing Civil Society, retired deputy inspector general of police, Frederick Taiwo Lakanu, Patience Patrick Udoh representing Civil Society, Segun Awosanya, Human Rights Activist, Oluwatoyin Odusanya, director of citizens’ rights, Ministry of Justice, Lucas Koyejo Esq. representative of the National Human Rights Commission, and Majekodunmi Temitope Oluwaseun, youth representative.

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