President Muhamadu Buhari has directed the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to work with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to produce modalities for the implementation of recommendations of the commission’s panel among which is the establishment of state and local government police.
The Presidential Panel on Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) Reform headed by Tony Ojukwu, which was constituted as a result of public outcry and various media reports on allegations of human rights violations perpetrated by officers and men of the squad, submitted its report to the President on Monday at the presidential villa, Abuja.
Buhari has directed that the implementation of the report be effected within three months.
The panel also recommended 37 Police officers for dismissal from the force, 24 for prosecution while it directed the IGP to unravel the identity of 22 officers involved in the violation of the human rights of innocent citizens.
It also directed the police to pay compensation for various sums in 45 complaints and tender public apologies in five complaints, noting that the police must obey court orders in five matters.
The panel also directed the police to immediately arrest and prosecute two retired senior Police officers found to have violated the rights of citizens (one for extra-judicial killing and the other for an illegal takeover of the property of a suspect).
The Panel disclosed that it recovered two vehicles illegally auctioned by SARS officers and returned them to their owners
Other significant recommendations made by the panel after considering 113 cases of human rights complaints from around the country and 22 memoranda on how to improve the police force, are significant improvement in the funding, kitting and facilities of the Nigeria Police Force, strengthening Information and Communication Technology of the Force; Establishment of State and local government Police; Institutionalizing a Special Investigation Panel to annually hear and determine complaints on alleged human rights violations against operations of the Nigeria Police Force;
and strengthening the Police Rapid Response Complaints Unit of the Nigeria Police and other internal complaints mechanisms of the Force to make them more responsive.
The panel similarly recommended the renaming the SARS to Anti-Robbery Section (ARS) which was its original name and to make the section operate under the intelligence arm of the Police from the divisional, area command, state command, zonal command up to the Force Headquarters level.
The panel maintained that this will also remove the stigma presently associated with the name SARS.
While receiving the report, the President affirmed that reforming and repositioning the Nigeria Police Force to be more effective and efficient in safeguarding lives and properties, apprehending offenders and generally improving the internal security of the nation in line with extant laws and international best practices has been one of the major policies of his administration.
He recalled that to reposition the Nigeria Police Force to effectively carry out its statutory responsibilities, he had
taken major steps by increasing the workforce of the Nigeria Police as well as improving the welfare of Police officers, “because they put their lives on the front line on a daily basis so that the rest of us may freely go about our business in safety. “
Buhari added: “However, in carrying out their statutory responsibilities, the Police must at all times act within the ambit of the law and must not violate the fundamental human rights of Nigerians whom they have sworn to protect.
“Where the rights of Nigerians are violated by Police Officers while discharging their functions, the Government has a responsibility to address the instances of violation in line with its human rights obligations and ensure that such Police Officers are held accountable for their actions.
“It is in recognition of our obligations under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and International Human Rights Laws, that this Administration decided to set up this Presidential Panel and directed the National Human Rights Commission to constitute its membership in order to investigate the various public outcries and media reports alleging human rights violations against citizens by officers of SARS.
“The panel was empowered to make appropriate recommendations not just for holding Police Officers found wanting accountable, but also, on ways SARS and by extension, the Nigeria Police could be generally reformed.
“The decision directing the National Human Rights Commission to constitute the membership of the Panel and to take the lead in investigating the said allegations of human rights violation, was borne out of the mandate of the National Human Rights Commission which include the promotion, protection and enforcement of human rights in Nigeria as enshrined under sections 5 and 6 of the NHRC Act, 1995 (as amended).
“It is also in recognition of the fact that the decisions, determinations and recommendations of the Commission are binding and enforceable as provided under section 22 of the NHRC Act, 1995 (as amended).
“I am very happy with the work of the Panel and thank the Panel members for working hard towards the realization of the Presidential Directive.
“I believe that the Report of the Panel and recommendations contained therein would go a long way in redressing the grievances of the complainants, ensure accountability on the part of the Police Officers in discharging their responsibilities and facilitate the various Police reforms being introduced by this administration.
“I want to assure you and all Nigerians that this Administration will continue to fulfil its obligations of promoting and protecting human rights of Nigerians, and will give the National Human Rights Commission all the support required to ensure full implementation of the recommendations contained in its Report.
“In addition, we will strengthen the operations of the Commission to enhance its effectiveness and capability to resolve cases of human rights violations.
“This administration is conscious of the role the Commission plays in ensuring security and stability in the nation through the resolution of complaints of human rights violations, which if neglected, could result into major security challenges.
“As you are aware, I have recently approved the reconstitution of the Governing Council of the Commission. The names of the Council members will be submitted to the National Assembly for confirmation before the inauguration of the Council in line with NHRC Act, 1995 (as amended).”
While thanking the Panel he directed that “since the recommendations of the Commission that constituted the Panel are enforceable as decisions of the Court, that the Inspector General of Police and the Solicitor General of the Federation/Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice meet with the Commission to work out the modalities for the implementation of the Report within 3 months from today.”
With Ojukwu, who is also the Executive Secretary of NHRC as chairman, members the panels are Tijani Mohammed, David I. Shagba,
Hashimu Argungu, Professor Etanibi Alemika. Chino Obiagwu, Ms Iyabode Ogunseye and Abdulrahman Ayinde Yakubu who is the Secretary of the Panel.