An official within Nigeria’s presidency on Thursday expressed shock after the Nigeria Police Force launched a legal bid to arrest the ongoing proceedings by judicial panels set up by state governments to investigate allegations of brutality against the law enforcement agency’s personnel, which triggered the #EndSARS protests that later snowballed into an orgy of violence in October.
A top presidency official, responding to THISDAY inquiry on whether or not the police suit has the consent of the Buhari administration, said they were surprised when the news broke.
Earlier, the police had filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja, praying for an order stopping the various states’ judicial panels of inquiry probing allegations of rights abuses and other acts of brutality against the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other police tactical units.
The plaintiff in the suit marked, FHC/ABJ/CS/1492/2020, urged the court to restrain the attorneys-general of the 36 states of the federation and their various panels of enquiry from going ahead with the probe.
But the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, has denied authorising the suit and ordered an investigation into the circumstances surrounding its filing.
Besides, he has queried the Force Legal Officer, who may face further sanctions if found guilty of dereliction of duty, over the suit.
The suit has also divided lawyers and other activists as while some hailed it, others condemned the action.
It was, however, learnt that the police headed to the court to stop the judicial panels’ proceedings in a bid to stop attacks on their officers and policemen as well as on their assets.
According to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, 57 civilians, 37 policemen and six soldiers were killed all over the country when hoodlums seized the #EndSARS peaceful protests and went on a looting spree, arson and vandalism of public and private property.
In addition, the hoodlums injured 196 policemen, destroyed 164 police vehicles and torched 134 police stations.
In the wake of the social crisis, the National Economic Council (NEC), chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, at a meeting in Abuja on October 15, directed the 36 state governors and the Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to establish judicial panels to investigate alleged police brutality, supervise fresh tactical team being set up by the Inspector-General of Police and raise a fund to compensate victims of cruelty by the defunct rogue squad, SARS.
At the meeting, attended by state governors, among others, the NEC had said that membership of the judicial panels should compose of representatives of youths, students, civil society organisations and be chaired by a retired state High Court judge.
About 1,247 petitions are believed to have been filed in 30 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) with the panels set up to investigate complaints of alleged police brutality or extrajudicial killings.
THISDAY, however, gathered that Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Borno and Yobe States are yet to set up panels in their states.
But a THISDAY source, who sought not to be identified, described the police suit as nothing but a rogue action, which he viewed as an affront to a presidential directive that birthed the constitution of the judicial panels.
According to him, the constitution of the panels was the outcome of NEC resolution, which he said secured the nod of President Muhammadu Buhari as part of the necessary steps for police reform.
The source viewed the action of the police, which is an agency of the federal government, as an affront to a presidential directive which authorised the constitution and activities of the panels.
He added that even the Attorney-Government of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr.Abubakar Malami, was not aware of the decision to file the suit.
He described such a situation where the AGF, whom he described as the chief law officer of the federation, was not consulted before an agency of government proceeds to the court as an aberration.
“It was a NEC decision and the president approved it. What the police are doing is a rogue action. The presidency may ask them to withdraw the suit. The AGF has said he’s not aware of the suit and no agency of the government ought to go to court without the knowledge of the AGF as the chief law officer of the federation. They were ill-advised,” he said.
The official described the police decision as baseless, noting that all that was rather expected of them was to prepare to defend the allegations against them and not attempting to stop the investigations.
He also expressed concerns that the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Adamu, whom he said would be due for retirement in January, could dare to undertake such a move.
According to him, the IGP should have rather been interested in the outcomes of the investigations as viable tools for police reform, which would have been his legacy when he retires.
Asked if NEC will not respond to the move, a presidential source said there is no how NEC could react now, bearing in mind that the council is not a personality but a body of persons which takes decision only when it meets.
Omololu Ogunmade, Kingsley Nwezeh, Alex Enumah