By CHIDO NWAKANMA
AFTER the high drama of the one-year anniversary of the dramatic or traumatic #ENDSARS, good accounting demands that we take stock. What are the gains and losses of the anniversary? What can we do better as citizens and government? Delta State provides a good template. As Nigeria marked one year of the #ENDSARS fiasco, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa scored a plus for the Delta State Government with the inauguration of a Committee for the Protection of Human Rights.
Governor Okowa heads the committee as recommended by the Judicial Panel of Enquiry that investigated complaints of police brutality and extra-judicial killings in the state. The committee would ensure implementation of the panel’s reports, assuage the hurt of victims, and design a new template for Police-Citizen Relations in Delta State.
Okowa spoke at the event on October 20. “This state and many other states commissioned panels of enquiry to look into the issues of police brutality and extra-judicial killings. The panel itself had finished its sitting and the report was sent to my office and eventually a white paper was prepared from the report and decisions were taken just recently at the State Executive Council meeting.
“We are very mindful of the fact that we cannot pay for lives lost but we have agreed at the council on the need to show some respect and to also find means of assuaging the nerves of those who have lost loved ones and for those who had to go to hospitals following action from police brutality.
These decisions have been taken and we look forward that at the end of this month the monies which Exco has approved should be paid to the various families that were affected,” he said.
Okowa spoke candidly. #ENDSARS, he noted, “truly shook the foundation of this nation”. He thanked the Divine for His intervention, adding, “we saw a lot of our youths come out in anger against so many issues as it concerned the nation but particularly against Police brutality. There was a lot of destruction of property as the movements of various civil society groups and youths got hijacked by unscrupulous citizens of this nation.
“We believe that the youths who set out at the beginning for the protest meant well for this nation because they were there to draw the attention of the leadership of this nation both at the national and at the sub-national levels to the ills in the society. They said they were demonstrating against oppressive tendencies of security agencies, which were impinging on their freedom.”
Members of the Delta State Protection of Human Rights Committee include the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Isaiah Bozimo; Commissioner for Youths Development, Comrade Ifeanyi Egwunyenga; Solicitor-General/ Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Mr. Omamuzo Erebe and the Commissioner of Police in the state. Others are representatives: Youths, Mr. Harrison Gwamnishu; civil society organisations, Comrade Israel Joe; Nigeria Bar Association, Dr. Jonathan Ekpenisi; National Human Rights Commission, Mr Alpheus Ngwu; and Permanent Secretary, Directorate of Political and Security Matters, Mr. Theophilus Aguonye, who will serve
The governor said: “Beyond the issues of compensation, it has become necessary to advise the commissioner of police and inspector general of police to carry out further investigations to ensure further punishment on indicted officers. We have also appointed two of our young ones to liaise with the government and the police on a day-to-day basis and to report cases to my office of any infringement on the rights of citizens. But this does not also mean that citizens would take laws into their hands and to do things which they ought not to do. The constitution of our country recognises the need for us to have our rights protected but sometimes what we think is our right may also infringe on the rights of others. We expect every citizen of this state to be very mindful of this that we all need to protect our rights, but we also need to ensure that we do not infringe on the rights of others.”
He maintained balance in reminding citizens of their obligations and the Police of their duties. “I pray that the lessons learnt will help us to ensure that we have a better nation and that the lessons learnt will also help us to plan our security architecture in such a manner that will become more responsive, more civil without actually forgetting the fact that we have a job to do. The police must be “responsible and civil” in performing their duties.
Whatever Delta State pays as compensation will go towards the national count of N25bn for victims in nine states. Bayelsa, Rivers, and Imo top the list of states with heavy compensations to pay.
Bayelsa State owes N21billion, Rivers will pay N1billion, and Imo State N770m. Citizens in 19 states filed 2, 458 petitions on killings, torture, and other crimes by the police.
During #ENDSARS, citizens also misbehaved. Protesters looted property in many states including notably Cross River, Delta, Plateau, and Oyo. In Lagos State, citizens damaged many public property and those of individuals, including the home of the Oba of Lagos.
Twenty-nine states raised panels, according to the National Economic Council. The report of Lagos State is still outstanding. Even with the reports, #ENDSARS highlighted the increasing division of the country. Seven states in the North did not follow the NEC advisory to set up panels.
They are Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara. Significantly, #ENDSARS highlights the urgency of defining the nature and tenor of civil-police relations in Nigeria. #ENDSARS should birth a different panel, this time states-wide to agree on civil-police relations.
Police have frequent and regular contacts with citizens. The Federal Government controls the Nigerian Police from Abuja while they are in all 774 local governments of the land. There are other complexities.
The nature and policing style of a country reflects its leadership. Even at state government level, governors can influence the style of the force in their state unless faced with an intransigent commissioner of police on a specific mission.
The police are a mirror of the society. Are the Nigerian Police a faithful mirror? Is the problem with the Nigerian society from which the Police draws values and attitudes? Should we examine selves as we delve into civil-police relations? Time for frank talks.