Governor Ifeanyi Okowa on Monday, announced that the state government would establish a Special Victims’ Support Fund for the payment of monetary compensation to deserving victims of police brutality or related extra-judicial killings in the state.
The governor made the announcement in Asaba while inaugurating an eight-member Judicial Panel of Enquiry on police brutality and other human rights abuses in the state.
He said that the constitution of the panel was in line with the directive of the National Economic Council (NEC) headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, and charged the body to bring justice to victims.
Okowa said that it was unfortunate that those empowered to protect the lives of Nigerians were killing and brutalising them, and urged the panel to unearth all human rights abuses by the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of Nigeria Police Force and deliver justice to the victims and succour to grieving families.
He also charged the panel to evolve ways that culprits of police brutalization and killing of Nigerians would be dealt with, and expressed optimism that the enquiry would bring about total reformation and transformation of the Police Force for the good of the country.
“Today, we earnestly commence the process of bringing about restitution and healing for countless number of Nigerians, particularly the youth, who have been victims of police brutality, extortion, unlawful detention, and/or extra-judicial killings.
“In the more than one week that the EndSARS protests began, the news media – conventional and online – have been inundated with tales of woes that innocent Nigerians have experienced in the hands of the now-dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police Force.
“Some of the stories we have heard are heart-rending and it is unfathomable how these gruesome acts could have gone on unnoticed for years.
“Interestingly, the EndSARS protests were triggered by an event in Ughelli, Delta State. It is a tragedy that so many young lives have been brutalised and allegedly wasted at the hands of those who were supposed to protect and serve the people.
“I join my voice to that of the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, in apologizing for the failure of leadership to detect and address these anomalies early enough.
“Rising from its meeting last week, the National Executive Council, chaired by the Vice-President, directed the immediate establishment of State-based Judicial Panels of Enquiry across the country to receive and investigate complaints of police brutality or related extra-judicial killings. Today’s inauguration follows that directive,” he said.
The governor listed the terms of reference for the enquiry as “to receive and investigate complaints of police brutality or related extra-judicial killings committed within Delta State with a view to ascertaining their validity or otherwise, and to recommend compensation or other remedies appropriate for each case.’’
He announced that the panel had an initial period of three months to carry out the assignment and submit its report, saying “I wish to remind members of the Panel that we are in a national emergency and, therefore, this assignment should be handled with the urgency that it requires.
“You are to hit the ground running given the unease and tension in the country. We need to calm frayed nerves and the only way we can do it is to take appropriate and immediate action.
“I, therefore, urge you to go the extra mile and be willing to make whatever sacrifices this job demands of you for the sake of the country and our beloved Delta State.”
Okowa appealed to the protesters to end the action, appealing that “having made their voices loud and clear and having also made some very useful recommendations, it was in the best interest of the nation for them to give the leadership of the nation some time to process all the requests made.
“Many of our people live on a daily income basis and this continued protest will not do our economy any good.
“As leaders of both national and sub-national governments, we have heard their demands and we will do everything possible to ensure that the demands are met.
“I thank them for the five-point recommendation and we are committed to ensuring that they are implemented.
“Never again will our people have to go through this type of abuse in the hands of those who are supposed to protect them.”
He announced that the state government would establish a Special Security and Human Rights Committee to be headed by him and would have representatives of the youths and civil society.
According to the governor, in line with the decisions of the NEC, the Delta State Government will shortly establish a Special Security and Human Rights Committee to be headed by my humble self.
“This committee, which will also include representatives of the youth and civil society, will directly oversee all tactical units of the Nigeria Police Force in the state to ensure that the fundamental human rights of citizens are respected and protected,’’ he explained.
The Panel of Enquiry has Justice Celestina Ogisi (retd) and AIG David Igbodo (retd), Mr Harrison Gwannishu, Comrade Godwin Oyovweadjebore, Mr Freedom Atsepoyi, Ambassador Eris Jewo–Ibi and Alpheus Ngwu as members while Mr Omamuzo Erebe will serve as Secretary.
In her remarks, Justice Ogisi thanked the Governor for finding members of the panel worthy to serve, and said that the inauguration of the panel was a right step in ensuring that fundamental rights of citizens were respected.
Ogisi assured that the panel would be fair and just to all that would come before it for justice.
She said that the maxim “Police is your friend” appeared to have been long forgotten, and pointed out that it was sad and that “we must return to the era where law enforcement officers carried out their duties within the confines of the law’’.
According to her, a society without respect for the rights of its citizens is a society that is on its way to disaster.