…The Suit Was Scandalous, frivolous… Human Rights Lawyer The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) has applied to withdraw the suit filed against the judicial panels of inquiry set up to probe allegations of brutality and human rights abuses against the force. In a notice of discontinuance filed by Mr. Festus Ibude, a Police counsel, the Force
…The Suit Was Scandalous, frivolous… Human Rights Lawyer
The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) has applied to withdraw the suit filed against the judicial panels of inquiry set up to probe allegations of brutality and human rights abuses against the force.
In a notice of discontinuance filed by Mr. Festus Ibude, a Police counsel, the Force said it wished to withdraw the suit against all the defendants.
In a dramatic turnaround, the Police had approached the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking an order stopping the Judicial Panels of Inquiry set up by the different states to probe allegations of rights abuses and other acts of brutality by the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other Police tactical units.
The National Economic Council (NEC), led by the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, had mandated the states to set up the various panels of inquiry in the aftermath of the recent nationwide #EndSARS protests called to push against Police brutality of the citizenry. The council includes the 36 state Governors. The panels have kick started their sittings in almost all the states.
However, in a suit marked, FHC/ABJ/CS/1492/2020, the Police urged the court to restrain the Attorneys-General of the 36 states of the federation and their various panels of inquiry from going ahead with their investigations.
There are 104 defendants in the suit. It comprises the Attorney-General of the Federation, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) which set up the Independent Investigative Panel sitting in Abuja, the Attorneys-General of the states, and chairmen of the states’ panels.
The Police, through their lawyer, Mr O. M. Atoyebi (SAN), argued that the state governments lacked the power to constitute the panels to investigate activities of the police force and its officials in the conduct of their statutory duties.
They further noted that the state governments’ decision to set up such panels violated the provisions of section 241(1)(2)(a) and Item 45, Part 1, First Schedule to the Constitution and Section 21 of the Tribunals of Inquiry Act.
The plaintiff argued that by virtue of the provisions of 241(1)(2)(a) and Item 45, Part 1, First Schedule to the Nigerian Constitution only the Federal Government had exclusive power to “organise, control and administer the Nigeria Police Force”.
It, therefore, urged the court to, among others, declare that “the establishment of a panel of enquiries by the Governors of the various states of the federation of Nigeria, to inquire into the activities of the Nigeria Police Force in relation to the discharge of her statutory duties is a gross violation of the provisions of Section 241 (1)(2) (a) and Item 45, Part 1, First schedule, 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and Section 21 of the tribunals of inquiry Act, Cap.T21, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004”.
The plaintiff also urged the court to declare that “having regard to the circumstances of this case, the attitude of the Governors of the various states of the Federation of Nigeria, in this case, is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void and of no effect whatsoever”.
The Police is also seeking an order of perpetual injunction restraining the 3rd to 38th defendants (the state Attorneys-General of the 36 states) “from making or conducting any investigations, sittings, and inquiries and/or from making or conducting any further investigations, sittings and inquiries in respect of matters affecting the Nigeria Police Force, and or further setting up any panel of inquiry in any state whatsoever in the country”.
But the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mohammed Adamu, in a statement signed by the Police Public Relations Officer, Mr Frank Mba, however, expressed his disapproval of the suit and ordered an investigation.
Mr. Adamu insisted that the force is committed to fulfilling all its obligations with regard to the disbandment of the defunct SARS, adding that the officer responsible for the suit has been queried and may be sanctioned “if found guilty of dereliction of duty”.
According to DCP Mba, the IGP has directed immediate investigations into the suit.
Even though the suit was not inspired by Adamu’s office, the Police statement indicated that it came from the Legal Department.
Mba said the Force Legal Officer has been queried and may face further sanctions if found guilty of dereliction of duty.
Mba said Adamu has expressed the disapproval of the Force Management Team on the matter and ordered investigations into the alleged role of the Force Legal Section including its head.
“The IGP reiterates the commitment of the Force to fulfilling all its obligations with regards to the disbandment of the defunct SARS, the ongoing Judicial Panels and all other police reforms”, Mba said.
Some are miffed whether the Police could have succeeded in its mission to haltthe work of the Judicial Panels
Human Rights Lawyer, Mr Femi Aborisade, says,.”Although it has been reported that the Inspector General of Police has moved swiftly to administratively query the authorization of the suit seeking perpetual injunctive orders restraining the various panels of inquiry set up by the State Governments and the National Human rights Commission, it is scandalous that any such suits could be contemplated in the first place.”
According to him, “The institution of the suit and the alleged query show that there is a division between two main tendencies within the ruling class– the tendency that seeks to enslave society by criminalizing peaceful protest and the tendency that is responding to the pressure from the larger society for some reform in policing culture. That the suit might not have been instituted with the consent of the IGP also shows disorganization and lack of control within a Force that is based on hierarchical relationship.
“The scandalous nature of the suit has been aptly captured in case law. In A. G. Anambra State v. UBA (2005) 15 NWLR (Pt. 947) 44 and a plethora of other cases, the Courts have established and reiterated that it is antithetical to good government, peace and well being of society for any person to go to court to be shielded from investigation of alleged criminal conduct. The Panels of Inquiry, as the name denotes, is concerned with fact-finding; not trial. So, why should anyone who has nothing to hide seek the protection of the Court from investigation?”
“It is embarrassing that some forces within the ruling class seek to stop the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) from setting up a Commission of Inquiry with regards to allegations of rights abuses in the Federal Capital Territory.
The National Human Rights Commission Act expressly empowers the Commission to “monitor and investigate all alleged cases of human rights violation in Nigeria and make appropriate recommendation to the President for the prosecution and such other actions as it may deem expedient in each circumstance” (Section 5(b), NHRC Act).
“Indeed, section 5(a) of the Act empowers the NHRC “to deal with all matters relating to the promotion and protection of human rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria” and all international human rights instruments,” Aborisade, also a labour activist explains.
He argues that, “It is indeed most disturbing that some forces seek to stop the Panels of Inquiry instituted by some State Governments, contrary to the law established by the apex Court of the land in CHIEF GANI FAWEHINMI & ORS V. GENERAL IBRAHIM BABANGIDA (RTD) & ORS (2003) LPELR-1255(SC). In this particular case, it was held that “…the power to make a law under the 1999 Constitution for the establishment of a Tribunal of Inquiry is now a Residual Power which only the States can promulgate. The National Assembly can only pass such law in regard to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja,” per MOHAMMED, JSC (P.62, paras. A-C).”
Expatiating further, Aborisade posits that, “ In the same case, the apex Court held further that “…by the provisions of Section 4 subsection (7) of the 1999 Constitution, the House of Assembly of a State has the power to make laws for the peace, order and good Government of the State with respect to matters not included in the Exclusive Legislative List.
“Since the establishment of Tribunals of inquiry is not a subject under the Exclusive Legislative List, it seems to me that a State House of Assembly has the power to enact the Tribunals of Inquiry Act, Cap. 447 and therefore the Act qualifies as an “existing law” under Section 315 subsection (1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution and is valid as a State Law,” per UWAIS, JSC (P.51, paras. D-F).
“In conclusion, it is my humble opinion, based on the law as established by the apex court and the imperativeness of the requirements of wellbeing of society that the establishment of the various panels of inquiry to conduct investigation into rights abuses is in the best interest of the society. The law does not permit a person to be shielded from investigation of alleged criminal conduct,” he concluded.