The National Human Rights Commission's (NHRC) panel's recent award of N147 million in compensation to 27 victims of police brutality is a positive step toward healing and achieving justice for the victims. Additionally, it will contribute to the reduction of police violence and impunity in Nigeria. The panel's ruling, which looked into human rights breaches committed by the former Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other police units, demonstrated that Nigerians would no longer accept cruel and humiliating treatment, notably extrajudicial executions, by security forces.
Mr Anthony Ojukwu, the Commission's Executive Secretary, said clearly, "By paying victims, the NHRC seeks to alter the narrative of impunity." The commission is prepared to give redress for violations of Nigerians' rights. Wherever a breach occurs, a remedy must be instituted. The panel has embarked on a quest to restore human dignity."
We concur with the allegation and praise the panel's 11 members for their impartiality. Hillary Ogbonna, the panel's secretary, said that the tribunal rewarded each of the 'Apo Six' victims N500,000. According to him, compensation was paid to seven victims of extrajudicial executions and five victims of enforced disappearance, torture, and cruel or degrading treatment. Among the others are five victims of wrongful arrests and protracted confinement, three victims of property seizure, and twenty more who faced threats. Additionally, the panel established a N5 million trust fund for a little girl who was apparently hit by errant police gunshots. He stated that the compensation granted ranged from N500,000 to N15 million.
Although the amount of compensation provided is pitiful, we respect the Chairman of the panel, Justice Suleiman Galadima (retd), who said that what the panel has disclosed so far is not a full report and that monetary compensation was included in a number of other recommendations. We hope the final report addresses this point.
Similar compensations were given to victims of police brutality by the Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS-Related Abuses and Other Matters. Seventy victims of police abuse in the state have been granted a total of N410 million. Justice Doris Okuwobi, the panel's chairman, said that the compensation was part of the state government's gift to alleviate victims' anguish caused by abusive police personnel. Some of the victims received compensation of up to N10 million. The panel's report was due on November 15, 2021.
Throughout the years, the police, particularly the now-defunct SARS, have subjected several Nigerians to various forms of torture, intimidation, extortion, and extrajudicial executions. They often stopped young Nigerians on the highway, examined their phones or computers, and extorted money from them under the pretence of seeking "Yahoo lads." Numerous instances of this inhumane treatment exist.
On the occasion, security officers use torture tactics such as hanging, shooting, and fake executions to coerce captives into paying bribes and confessing. In 2019, police officers from the Lagos Police Command's anti-cultism squad murdered one Kolade Johnson in the Lagos neighbourhood of Onipetesi, Mangoro. Residents in the neighbourhood went on the rampage, prompting the state's police chief to fire the suspected murder officer. Later, they turned him over to the Panti Criminal Investigation Department for prosecution.
Nigerian teenagers revolted in protest against uncontrolled police violence in October 2020. Protests dubbed #EndSARS surged over several sections of the nation. While we applaud the NHRC for its first actions, we recognise that financial compensation is not the only factor necessary for justice to triumph. The government should do everything necessary to prevent future instances of police violence. Additionally, all governments that establish judicial panels should make an effort to act on their recommendations.
We believe that with the many police reforms and recent wage increases, the problem of police violence and extortion will be a thing of the past. President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Nigeria Police Bill 2020 into law last year. Section 37 of the Act provides that a suspect should be treated humanely and shall not be subjected to torture or inhumane treatment. This is the very minimum expectation of Nigerians of their police force.