Welcome statement by the Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Tony Ojukwu, Esq, at the public sitting of the Presidential Investigation Panel on the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force for the North-Central Geo-Political Zone held on 22nd – 25th October 2018, at the FCT High court premises Abuja, FCT
I am glad to welcome us all to the public sitting of this Presidential Panel on SARS Reforms which was constituted to hear, investigate and determine complaints of alleged human rights violation against SARS and make recommendation on how to reform SARS and other members of the Nigerian Police Force.
2. As you all may be aware, there has been persistent public outcry, complaints and numerous reports in the electronic, print and social media alleging gross violations of human rights of fellow citizens by men and officers of SARS. Some of the complaints and reports border on issues of alleged abuse of power, arbitrary/unlawful arrest and detention, enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, prolonged detention without trial, extortion, brutality, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment as well as involvement of SARS in assignments totally unconnected with their primary duties etc. there are cases for example where SARS is used to settle husband and wife scores, land disputes, contracts, landlord and tenant disputes and recovery of debt. The list has no end.
3 Fellow Nigerians, in response to the public outcry, the then Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, GCON, requested the National Human Rights Commission to constitute this Panel for purposes of hearing and investigating the complaints against SARS and to make recommendations to Government on how SARS can be reformed etc. The Panel draws its membership from key strata of the society including Government agencies (such the National Human Rights Commission, Police Service Commission, Public Complaints Commission), Civil Society Organizations, professional bodies like the NBA and from the academia.
4. The specific Terms of Reference of the Panel are as follows:
i. To investigate the veracity of allegations of human rights abuses and abuse of power made against SARS within the last two (2) years;
ii. To independently review and render advice on any value added by SARS from a public safety and security perspective; and
iii. To make recommendations to Government on:
a. The steps that may be taken to reform or restructure SARS;
b. Measures to be taken in respect of operatives of SARS, if any, found in violation of human rights of citizens;
c. Remedial steps that may enhance the professional conduct of SARS operatives and other members of the Nigeria Police; and
d. Any other recommendations that may be considered appropriate
5. Ladies and Gentlemen, it is important to note that before the request of the Presidency for the constitution of this Panel, the National Human Rights Commission in line with its statutory responsibility of investigating and determining cases of alleged human rights violations, had conducted public hearings into some allegations of human rights violations against officials of SARS. The said Public hearings were conducted in Abuja, Enugu, Owerri and Port Harcourt in collaboration with Cleen Foundation and other Civil Society Organizations and development partners. The Report and proceedings of those public hearings shall be used as working documents for this Panel.
6. The essence of this Public sitting is to increase access of Nigerians to the services of the Commission and to seek for accountability where there is evidence to indicate that any officer of officials of SARS have been involved in acts amounting to human rights violation in the course of carrying out their law enforcement duties. The public sitting is also to provide opportunities for fair hearing to both complainants and alleged violators and to mainstream human rights norms and tenets into the operations and administration of SARS in line with global best practices and internationally accepted human rights standards. The public inquiry will furthermore provide stakeholders opportunity to contribute ideas on how best to run SARS and the Nigeria Police Force
7. The Panel is aware that the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) has issued out a number of reforms to be carried out by the Nigerian Police in compliance with the Presidential Directives to overhaul SARS. While commending the IGP for the reforms, the Panel expects that the IGP will still find the recommendations of this panel useful when the panel submits its recommendations to the Government.
8. May I use this opportunity to commend the complainants and the public for the courage to lodge their complaints and submit memoranda to this Panel despite some reported cases of intimidation. This panel therefore requests the IGP to assist and ensure that all complainants before the panel are not molested in anyway by SARS or Police officers whose cases are before this panel. I want to assure all that this Panel and the Commission will adhere to the principles of fair hearing in discharging its functions and will not stand idle and watch while the fundamental human rights of citizens are trampled upon and violated by law enforcement agencies, entities or individuals.
9. Permit me to end this remark by commending the Government for recognizing the mandate of the Commission and supporting the Commission in setting up this Panel, the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court for letting us use the High Court premises as venue of this sitting. I also commend members of the public, our partnering Government agencies, the End SARS Movement, the Cleen Foundation and other Civil Society Organizations whose constant campaign against the activities of SARS kept its issues on the front burner till the setting up of this panel. I must also thank all those who have sent in complaints and memoranda to assist this Panel in carrying out its functions. May I also thank the Inspector General of Police for the cooperation extended to the Panel so far and I hope that together, we shall continue to fight for the protection and promotion of the human rights of every citizen of Nigeria and ensure that our law enforcement agents act in compliance with local and international Human Rights Standards.
I welcome you all and thank you for coming
Tony Ojukwu, Esq.
National Human Rights Commission
22nd October, 2018