In what was tagged to be a non-partisan solidarity demonstration against excessive abuse of authority, Nigeria youths in October 2020 championed a nationwide protest demanding the dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) over its extra-judicial brutalities against the youth.
Although the protest started in 2016 when Nigerian activists, youths and celebrities signed a petition to the National Assembly – backed up with a hashtag EndSARS on social media– to protest against the abuses perpetrated by the unit, the demand for a dissolution became more pronounced in October 2020.
This came after a viral video SARS police officer shooting a young Nigerian in front of Wetland Hotel, Ughelli, Delta State trended on the Internet.
The campaign which started as a peaceful protest in Lagos State on October 8 drastically expanded to over 20 states within a few days of its commencement. Despite the intervention of the federal government, state governors, and political actors, they unwillingly left the streets– a move which gained international recognition and support.
On Sunday, 11 October 2020, the protesters made a list of five demands to be met by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
The demands, signed by ‘A Nigerian Youth’ requested for; a dissolution of the unit, the immediate release of all arrested during the protests as well as justice and compensation for all who died through police brutality in Nigeria, an independent body be set up within 10 days to investigate and prosecute all reports of police misconduct, psychological evaluation and retraining of SARS operatives before they are deployed to any other police unit and an adequate increase in the salaries for officers of the Nigerian police.
As a response to the demand, the Inspector-General of the Nigeria Police banned the FSARS, Special Tactical Squad (STS), Intelligence Response Team (IRT), Anti-Cultism Squad and other tactical units from mounting roadblocks, checkpoints, stop-and-search and other routine and patrols – but this did not send youth away from the street until the alleged killing of protesters on the night of October 20 at the Lekki Toll gate, Lagos.
There were also reports that at least 50 other people were injured. However, the Lagos State government later reported that the shooting resulted in up to 25 injured, and only 2 dead.
Setting Up Judicial Panel Across States
As the protest clampdown, states began to set up a judicial panel of inquiry to investigate the allegations against the unit. Panels were set up in all states and the FCT with the exception of Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara which States have consistently refused to constitute Judicial Panels of Inquiry.
According to data collected and reported in the Yiaga Africa Weekly Update, between October 26 and February 28, 2021, the following number of petitions were submitted: Abia: 87; Akwa Ibom: 159; Anambra: 310; Bauchi: 21; Bayelsa: 41; Benue: 51; Cross River: 75; Delta: 85; Ebonyi: 55; Ekiti: 85; Enugu: 136; FCT: 285; Gombe: 15; Imo: 144; Kaduna: 59; Lagos: 230; Nasarawa: 47; Ogun: 105; Ondo: 75; Osun: 34; Oyo: 78; Plateau: 63; and Taraba: 31. Adamawa, Edo, Niger, Katsina, Kwara and Rivers States have concluded their Panels with 14, 168, 18, 61, 24 and 188 petitions, respectively.
Panel Begins To Submit Report
Twentyten Daily gathered that of the 29 states that have inaugurated a judicial panel, seven states have submitted their reports – conclusive documents on petitions and judgments passed.
In Niger, Governor Abubakar Bello inaugurated a 14-man #EndSARS panel led by Ishaku Usman, a retired judge, on October 23, 2020.
After concluding a hearing on the 17 petitions it received, the panel submitted its report to the government on February 24, 2021.
According to Usman, 53 witnesses appeared before the panel, while 50 exhibits, including three teeth of a young lady, three death certificates, 33 empty teargas canisters and four bullet shells, were tendered.
Nasarawa State Judicial Commission of Inquiry received 16 petitions. The eight-member panel was headed by Badamasi Maina, a retired judge, who submitted its report to Governor Abdullahi Sule on April 29.
It awarded N480 million as compensation for victims of police brutality and recommended improved welfare conditions for men of the police force.
The judicial panel, set up by Governor Simon Lalong in October, submitted its final report in mid-June, recommending the award of N152 million as compensation to victims of police excesses.
The chairman, Philomena Lot, said N152 million was recommended as compensation for the families of petitioners, adding that a careful implementation of the panel’s recommendations, especially payment of damages to victims, is crucial in dousing tensions.
In Kwara State, the #EndSARS panel was led by Tunde Garba, a retired judge, who received 25 petitions of rights violations by police officers.
After a series of public hearings, the panel submitted its report to Governor Abdulrahaman Abdulrazaq on February 25 who said if the government adopts the recommendations of the panel, it will help to support victims of identified cases of police brutality and improve the living conditions of serving and retired police officers.
The panel’s report was based on various petitions received, bordering on alleged police brutality, unlawful arrests, extortion, violation of fundamental human rights, and impunity, the retired judge said.
The Chairman of the committee, Justice Cornelius Akintayo (rtd) revealed that the panel received a total of 85 petitions.
Out of the 85 petitions, 50 of the cases involved various allegations ranging from loss of lives to physical injury, trauma and loss of property.
Akintayo commended the state government for the prompt payment of the first tranche of compensation to 24 beneficiaries to the tune of over seven million naira before the panel concluded its assignment and hoped that the remaining recommendations to 28 beneficiaries to the tune of 13.8 million naira would be addressed and paid soon.
The 9-member Administrative Panel of Inquiry was constituted by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, on October 28, 2020.
Submitting the report, the Panel’s Chairman, Justice Fredrick Obieze (Rtd.), commended Gov. Ugwuanyi for his magnanimity in constituting the body, disclosing that the governor was among the few governors in the country who deemed it important to set up an administrative panel of such magnitude, immediately after the nation-wide #EndSARS protests
The Ogun State Judicial Panel said it handled 58 petitions within the six months duration of its sitting.
The Panel Chairman, Justice Solomon Olugbemi who made this known in Abeokuta while speaking with journalists at the end of the six months sitting period of the panel, said, “the panel received a total of 106 petitions, out of which 58 were treated and the remaining 48 were either withdrawn, rejected or abandoned wholly or half-way by the petitioners.