The Abuja panel probing allegations of human rights violations committed by the defunct police unit, SARS, on Tuesday, awarded N289 million to victims. The beneficiaries include a man who lost his limb after he was unjustly shot by a police officer and the family of a young man who was arrested by SARS operatives and who died in detention six years ago. Wednesday’s ceremony marks the second and final batch of compensation by the Abuja panel to victims of widespread rights abuses by the police.
In the aftermath of the #EndSARS protest, many states set up independent panels to probe rights violations by the police unit and other units of the Nigerian police. In Abuja, the Nigerian capital, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was saddled with the responsibility to conduct the probe.
Easterner reported that the setting up of the panels in 29 states and Abuja was spurred by the nationwide #EndSARS anti-police brutality protest led by the young Nigerians in October 2020.
Following the protest, SARS was proscribed, with authorities promising broad police reforms and setting up judicial panels of inquiry across the states to investigate the allegations and award compensation to victims.
Compensation can’t make up for losses
On Wednesday, the Executive Secretary of the NHRC, Tony Ojukwu, said the compensation ceremony was a “symbolic gesture of President Muhammadu Buhari-led government’s commitment to the protection of human rights.”
Mr Ojukwu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), described the condition of victims of police violence as “sad.”
“The amount that will be paid today will not compensate enough for the losses suffered,” he said.
Similarly, the secretary of the panel, Hilary Ogbonna, said the mass abuse of Nigerians’ rights that occurred under the SARS would never happen again. He noted that the best way to fight human rights violations was to prevent them from happening. Chronicling the activities of the panel, which sat for nearly two years, Mr Ogbonna said the panel determined 295 out of the 297 petitions that were submitted. Highlighting categories of the violations, the panel’s scribe said 25 of the complaints bordered on extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance, while 16 were related to illegal arrest and detention and four petitions centred on unlawful confiscation of assets by police officers, among other infractions. In a pre-compensation speech, the Chairperson of NHRC’s Governing Council, Salamatu Suleiman, apologised to the victims of police brutality across the country.
Mrs Suleiman said the commission would continue to “promote and protect the human rights of every Nigerian.”
Giving a breakdown of the amount awarded to victims of the gross rights violations, Mrs Suleiman said N289,384,094 has been approved “as compensation to 74 beneficiaries and victims of human rights violations.”
This brings the total amount awarded to 94 survivors and victims of police violence to N432 million (N431,884,094). The panel had, in December 2021, awarded N146 million to victims of gross rights violations in the first batch of the exercise. The chairperson of the panel, Suleiman Galadima, a retired justice of Nigeria’s Supreme Court, said paucity of funds encumbered its mandate. He, however, lauded the federal government for providing the funds for the victims’ compensation.
Easterner recently revealed how lack of funds crippled the panel’s sitting. The report and others prompted the federal government to release funds to the panel.
Nothing compensates for the suffering – Victims
Tairu Garuba, an amputee, told this reporter at the ceremony that “nothing can compensate” for the loss of his left limb. Accompanied by his nephew, Momoh Gabriel, Mr Garuba hobbled out of the award ceremony hall with his crutches.
“Mr Garuba was hit by SARS operatives’ bullets in July 2020,” Mr Gabriel told Easterner.
He said there was chieftaincy title dispute at their community in Ankpa Local Government Area of Kogi State, north-central Nigeria. The police shot at a crowd during the controversy and Mr Garuba was hit by a bullet. Two years later, Mr Garuba has now received N3 million as compensation for his lost limb.
Another victim, Eric Ezeala, was arrested and murdered by SARS operatives in Imo State, south-east Nigeria.
At the Wednesday ceremony, her cousin, Ifeanyi Ofodu, said “no amount of money will be enough for our breadwinner’s murder.”
He said the deceased was abducted by the police, but the panel’s inquiry brought Mr Ezeala’s death in detention to light.
“For six years we searched for him without clue only for the Abuja #EndSARS panel to determine that he had died in detention,” Mr Ofodu said.