Ten months after it was set up, Deputy Editor Mike Ubani, writes that the Enugu Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutality/Other Related Extra-Judicial Killings, is pursuing an agenda inimical to the one handed over to it by the state government.
When Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, on Wednesday, October 22, 2020, inaugurated an 8-man Judicial Panel of Inquiry to receive and investigate complaints of police brutality and/or related extrajudicial killings in the state, he undeniably mandated the panel to deliver justice for all victims of the dissolved Special Anti-Robbery Squid (SARS), and other police units.
The panel consists of Justice Kingsley Ude (rtd) as Chairman, the founding Director of Women’s Aid Collective (WACOL), Prof. Joy Ezeilo, and Comrade Osmond Ugwu as members representing the Civil Society Organizations.
Other members of the panel include an Assistant Commissioner of Police, ACP Ikechukwu Odokoro (rtd); representative of the youth, Charles Ogbu; representative of students, Comrade Stephen Ani, who is the Student Union President, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN).
Also in the panel are the State Coordinator, National Human Rights Commission, Enugu State, Dr. Valentine Madubuko, and Barrister Onochie Obuna Ngwu, representing the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, who serves as secretary of the panel.
The Enugu judicial panel, like other panels across the country, was put together following weeks of strong-willed protests by youths on the streets of major cities in the country against police brutality and related extrajudicial killings.
“Our youths have been consistent and resilient in their demand for justice for all victims of these twin vices as well as far-reaching reforms in the Nigerian Police,” said Gov. Ugwuanyi.
He expressed implicit confidence that the members of the panel had the “requisite competence, experience and character to deliver on the crucial mandate.”
Responding on behalf of members of the panel, Justice Ude (rtd) thanked Gov. Ugwuanyi for finding them worthy to serve “in this onerous and very important assignment.”
Ude assured the governor that the panel would do its best to address the inherent issues to the satisfaction of the public, especially the protesting youths.
However, ten months down the line, it’s doubtful whether the panel has lived up to the expectations of both Gov. Ugwuanyi and members of the public, especially the angry youths who literally put their lives on the line to remonstrate against police brutality and alleged unlawful killings.
The Enugu panel has mysteriously turned out to be a personification of injustice, rather than a body deliberately set up to deliver justice without fear or favour to the victims of police brutality and extra-judicial killings in the state.
The AUTHORITY learned that some members of the panel have turned the board to a source of personal financial enhancement, while playing down or even suppressing petitions that have the potency of exposing the ‘wicked deeds’ against humanity committed by some high-heeled individuals in the state.
In fact, ten months down the line, a member of the pane (name withheld) is allegedly putting up an exquisite duplex in his country home, courtesy of illicit money made on the job.
“I have handed over members of Enugu panel on police brutality and extra-judicial killings to the hands of God. My God who sees everything, and knows everything, will judge members of that panel at the appropriate time,” grieved Mrs. Christiana Iyioke.
Iyioke who spoke to The AUTHORITY through a male relation, alleged that her son Chinweokwu Iyioke, was unlawfully killed by the police sometime ago, hence she is seeking justice before the Enugu panel set up for that purpose.
In her petition to the panel – listed on Cause List No. 43 – she accused Police Inspector Samuel Henshaw, led by Inspector Sylvester Dumbri, then of Police Area Command, Nsukka,(now at Police Area Command, Orba, of unlawful execution of her son.
She also indicted Chief Ikeje Asogwa, Executive Chairman, Enugu State Universal Basic Education Board (ESUBEB), and his Personal Assistant, Emeka Nnamani, of being accessory to the alleged murder of her son.
But she appears to have met a brickwall. According to Mrs. Iyioke, the panel has never deemed it necessary to either acknowledge her petition, or invite her to appear before it.
“Where lies the justice that the governor has asked members of the panel to deliver,” queried a visibly traumatized Iyioke.
Her lamentation came shortly after the panel’s Secretary, Barrister Onochie Obuna Ngwu, told a section of the media that the panel had concluded its sitting, and would submit its report to Gov. Ugwuanyi on or before the month of August runs out.
Ngwu was also quoted in the report published by Vanguard Newspaper, and some online Newspapers, as saying that the panel received 147 petitions; 60 were treated, while 35 cases were transferred to the administrative panel, because they did not fall within its jurisdiction.
Furthermore, Ngwu said the remaining 52 petitions were abandoned by their owners, as they refused to appear before the panel, in spite of several reminders.
According to him, “our sitting was smooth, except that some petitioners submitted their petition, and went home to relax.
“We have to go on air to re-awaken their consciousness to the petition. We also faced the problem of counsels’ absence to hearing.”
But in a riposte, Comrade Osmund Ugwu, who represents the Civil Society community in the panel stopped short of describing Ngwu as a pathological liar.
In a statement obtained by The AUTHORITY, Ugwu said: “I wish to dissociate myself from the media reports on 2nd and 3rd August, 2021 in which the Secretary to the ENDSARS related Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutality and Other Related Extra-Judicial Killings in Enugu state, Mr. Onochie Obuna Ngwu, was reported as saying that 52 petitioners out of 147 petitioners who submitted petitions to Judicial panel abandoned their petitions and that the panel has concluded sitting.
“As far as I am concerned …the information is very fallacious, deceitful and misleading. The opinion of the secretary on these issues does not represent the opinion of the panel and are not true. The panel members have not decided on the issue of abandoned petitions and have not concluded sitting.
The panel sat on Tuesday, August 10, 2021, when it heard five petitions, a development that contradicts the secretary’s assertion that that the panel had concluded its sitting.
“It will … tantamount to injustice and denial of opportunity of being heard, and fair hearing to those who submitted petitions to our panel and have not received any information from the panel since they submitted petitions,” said Comrade Ugwu.
When The AUTHORITY sought Ngwu’s reaction on the issues raised by Comrade Ugwu, he treated the request with absolute levity.
First of all, he asked that a questionnaire that captures the media reports credited to him be sent to his WhatsApp. After that was done, he requested to read the soft copies of the reports credited to him.
But on receipt of the soft copies, he wrote: “All your smearing/whispering campaign which you wrote and forwarded to me for comments are not contained in the two documents you forwarded to me lately, and to that effect, I decline to join issues with you on anything as regards the Enugu State Police Brutality and Extra-Judicial Killings Panel.
“We are not a social media or press release/conference panel of enquiry and my advice to you is disregard or down play any report you saw concerning the panel for you stand to gain nothing from making a mountain out of nothing.”
He apparently forgot that a special provision was made by the state government for media coverage of the sittings and activities of the panel.
And quite inexplicably, Ngwu failed to advice members of the panel, as he did to the Reporter to distance themselves from the media report credited to him.
In fact, it was gathered that Ngwu personally forwarded the stories published in the Social Media to members of the panel apparently for them to be abreast of the position of the panel on those issues credited to him. But he was wrong. Comrade Ugwu insisted that the secretary misinformed the public.
There are ample indications that the panel will end up adding more sorrow and pains to victims of police brutality that are seeking justice before it.
“I don’t think this panel is ready to deliver justice to victims of police brutality in this state,” says one observer of the panel’s activities.
Comrade Ugwu thinks so too. He said: “During the meeting of the panel on Thursday, 29th July, 2021, the panel directed the Secretary to compile all the memos from number one to 147 as contained in the cause list of the panel and update the panel members both in soft and hard copies, the status of each memo vis-a-vis those adopted with dates, those transferred with date, those on the hearing stage and date of last adjournment, and those yet to be mentioned with evidence of communication to the petitioners by the panel through the Registry headed by the Secretary.
“It is from this record that we can, after verification conclude that a particular petitioner has abandoned his or her petition. We have not received such record till today, and as such no panel member has any record of petitions that is said to have been abandoned.
“Prior to the meeting and directive of the panel on the 29th
Jully, … it had directed the Secretary to write to every petitioner acknowledging his/her petition and informing him or her of the next thing expected of him or her, and to appear before the panel.
“To the best of my knowledge he has not done that till date and somebody who does not know the programme of the panel or whether his or petition received any attention cannot be said to have abandoned his or petition. Panel members have severally demanded to see evidence of communication to the petitioners and the Secretary has not produced any.
“The interesting thing is that enough money was approved and released for such purposes by the government to the Secretary. Whether it is utilised for that purpose is what I cannot say.”
The AUTHORITY gathered that the panel has also turned justice upside down in the case concerning Mr. Onagu Ogbodo, a retired permanent secretary, ENSUBEB, who was allegedly stripped and beaten mercilessly by the police inside the board’s premises on the orders of ENSUBEB boss, Ikeje Asogwa.
Among the reliefs sought by Ogbodo whose petition is listed on the Cause List No. 73 are: “An order compelling Asogwa to tender an unreserved letter of apology to him for the brutal physical attack and police brutalization on November 28, 2017.
He is also asking the panel to order Asogwa, Enugu State Government, and the Nigeria Police Force, ‘jointly and severally’ to immediately pay him a compensation of the sum of N500.000.000(five hundred million naira) “for the brutal physical attack and police brutalization …by Chief Asogwa, and his police escort team.”
Furthermore, he urges the panel to recommend to the state government for the immediate removal of Chief Asogwa as Chairman, ENSUBEB “for lack of requisite qualification as required by law, and as a disciplinary sanction for the brutal physical attack and police brutalization … which amounts to a deplorable misconduct incompatible with public service ethics and decorum.”
Apparently prepared to make peace with Ogbodo, the ENSUBEB boss had through his counsel Emeka Asogwa, applied to the panel for an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) of the matter, an application which the panel obliged. \
However, counsels to ENSUBEB boss and Ogbodo,Ifeanyi Okoli, later returned to the panel to announce that the ADR failed, hence the two parties asked that the matter be scheduled for hearing.
It was gathered that whereas the panel informed Asogwa’s counsel on the date fixed for the hearing, it failed to contact Ogbodo’s counsel. Ngwu reportedly told Ogbodo’s counsel that the notice of hearing was pasted on the wall of the court room.
It was further gathered that Ngwu, working alongside the panel’s chairman, have relegated the matter to the list of those cases it branded as lacking jurisdiction, a development which according to a reliable source rankled some members of the panel.
The source who pleaded anonymity told The AUTHORITY that the panel got instruction ‘from above’ to declare that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain the case.
However, there is a groundswell of opinion that if the panel fails to deliver justice to Ogbodo, Gov. Ugwuanyi, in line with his mantra that ‘Enugu is in the hands of God, and that he is a peaceful man,’ should deliver justice to Ogbodo by administratively yielding to the reliefs he is seeking before the panel.
In fact, many of those interviewed on the streets of Enugu, are of the firm opinion that Ogbodo’s case, if left unresolved, would constitute a ‘baggage’ that the governor would carry when he leaves office.
They said that the state had never in its history witnessed a situation where a high-level appointee of a governor ordered the police to strip, and beat up in public glare, another high-level appointee of the same governor.
The AUTHORITY recalls that the state Deputy Governor, Mrs. Cecilia Ezeilo, the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Dr. Festus Uzor, and other senior ranking officials of the government witnessed the incident.