Six months after the inauguration of the Judicial panel of inquiry into incidences of police brutality in Akwa Ibom State, the hopes of petitioners in getting monetary compensations from the state government seems to be fading away.
That expectation may not be unconnected to the directive of the National Economic Council (NEC), mandating each state of the federation to set up victims support fund where the victims could be compensated by the panel.
NEC headed by the Vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo had at the end of its 108 meeting on October 14, 2020 directed all state governors to set up Judicial panel of inquiry to investigate alleged incidences of brutality by the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and recommend compensation and other remedial measures where appropriate.
The Council had also urged the state to establish victims Support fund in which upon determination by the panel would be paid to victims to assuage their plight.
To back up the resolution, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila had insisted that the budget would not be passed unless the victims support fund is captured therein.
Governor Udom Emmanuel in compliance with the NEC’s directive had on Tuesday October 20, 2020 inaugurated an 8-man panel chaired by Justice Ifiok Ukana with the mandate to receive and investigate complaints of police brutality, human rights violations and extra judicial killings in the state.
Six months down the line, petitioners in the State have began to grumble as there seemed to be no hope of getting compensation soon.
A petitioner and native of Urueffong Oruko Local Government Area, complained to newsmen in Uyo, of how her hope of getting monetary compensation was dashed after proving how police officers invaded her residence, shot her on the leg and fled.
The petitioner who simply identified herself as Mary said why she is still limping is due to lack of funds to go to hospital to access proper medical treatment, noting that she has already spent all she had treating the leg in a traditional healing centre.
Another petitioner, and indigene who spoke on the ground of anonymity for fear of victimisation narrated that he travelled from a far distance down to Akwa Ibom, his state, to check if the state government commenced payment of compensation as recommended by the Federal government.
“I have presented my complaint before the panel of inquiry so I don’t want to say it again for obvious reasons. But I am worried that Akwa Ibom State Government has not commenced the payment of compensation to victim. It is high time the panel did something about it because other states have started.
” I passed through a lot of stress in bringing my witnesses from where they reside to the court anytime my matter would be heard. It is my prayer that I receive justice and be compensated”, he said.
Speaking on the development, the former Attorney General of the State, Mr.Victor Iyanam, said the state government ought to have established the Support Fund as soon as it set up the committee, recalling that he wrote to Governor Emmanuel twice on the issue explaining the importance of monetary compensation to the victims as directed by NEC.
Iyanam who wondered why the governor reportedly failed to accede to the demand said the state government has all it takes to set up the fund knowing fully well that the Federal Government would refund all states.
“I wrote to the governor, twice telling him the import of raising the victims support fund to assuage the plight of the victims but it seemed that was not his priority.
“Just take a look at what Lagos State is doing and other states that cannot match Akwa Ibom’s allocation. The monies paying as compensation would eventually come from the Federal government. Police is a Federal establishment and it is the FG that would pay through States.
“The Federal Government said there would be a budgetary provision for that, that means there will be a bulk provision to the state governments so that even if they had paid the victims, they can easily recoup those funds, in order words the budgetary provision is in form of insurance to states, that means, go ahead you will recoup.
“This fund is captured in the federal terms of reference to be used in different states, unfortunately, this state government (Akwa Ibom), ignored that part”, Iyanam said.
However, efforts to get reaction from the Attorney general and Commissioner for Justice, Uko Udom, SAN proved abortive as he neither answered his phone calls nor reply to the text message sent to him.
Investigation reveals that some states have inaugurated the pool where victims based on what the panel decides have received compensations ranging from Five Hundred Thousand Naira, One million Naira and above as the case may be.
When the chairman of the panel in the state, Justice Ifiok Ukana, (Rtd) was contacted to react over the incident, he said the victims were right to have reacted that way because that was part of FG’s terms of reference upon inauguration of the panel and urged them (victims) to be patient as the panel would come out with a full report where some of the issues on compensation are addressed.
He however stressed that not all the cases brought before the panel merited monetary compensation.
According to the panel Chairman, “we cannot pay compensation now because the state government did not set up victims support fund which would have empowered us to do so. But when we send in our final report to government, there are some cases that merited compensation and we hope that government will do something about it.
On why Lagos, Ekiti, Delta and some other States in Nigeria have kick started the compensation process, Justice Ukana said, “yes at the NEC level, it was agreed that the judicial panel goes together with the victims support fund, it comes as a complete package and that was what happened in those States you mentioned. Lagos, Ekiti, Delta States set up the pool abinitio.
“The two (panel and the victims support fund) were married for convenience, you receive petition, you look at it based on the money that were kept in your custody, you know the range of approval you are making so that, that money will go round but here, nothing of such is happening.
“The stage we are now is to bring out our final report and definitely there are recommendations for compensations to some cases. We are believing that NEC will use that report to assuage the victims” he said.