COVID-19 second wave forces indefinite postponement of NHRC panel sittings

The current spike in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the independent investigative panel on the violations of human rights by defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other police units to postpone its sittings indefinitely.

The panel, set up by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to investigate human rights violation by police units, last sat on December 17, 2020, before proceeding on Christmas and New Year break.

Headed by a retired justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Suleiman Galadima (retd), the 11-man panel was billed to resume sitting on Monday, January 11 but it failed to commence sitting for the year to hear the over 200 petitions filed before it.

Tribune Online was informed by the NHRC Assistant Director, Corporate Affairs and External Linkage, Hajiya Fatimah Agwai-Mohammed, that the panel did not resume sitting as earlier scheduled due to the rising cases of COVID-19.

According to her, there was the need to comply with guidelines put in place by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, adding that some measures needed to be put in place before the panel resume sittings.

She submitted that people had to be alive before coming before the panel, adding that people coming before the panel ought to be protected against the deadly pandemic.

“Rising cases of the second wave of the pandemic is alarming and the guidelines by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) must be adhered to.

“People have to be alive and fit to come to the panel hearing. It is not right to expose them without adequate protection or protective measures.

“You never know who is carrying the virus and it is not everyone that is conscious of the use of the protective measures,” Hajiya Agwai-Mohammed said.

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She said that due to the fact that the ceremonial court of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory at Maitama, Abuja, used by the panel was not always available due to other uses, the panel had to settle for the commission’s auditorium, which she said was not big enough.

“Our auditorium where the panel uses is not big enough to take the number of people that attend the hearing.

“Moreover, when prominent persons are invited to the hearing, they come with their entourage.”

Agwai-Mohammed informed that the NHRC decided to put the panel’s sittings on hold due to the high number of COVID-19 cases being announced daily.

“With this increase in cases that PTF is announcing, the commission deemed it right to put on hold sittings (of the panel) until proper measures are put in place.”

Such protective measures, according to her, included the provision of adequate rooms with viewing screens, adding that despite the cost implications of these and time it would take, “it is better to do that than to expose people to the virus.”

“We want to try as much as possible to adhere to these guidelines so that if anybody comes in and unfortunately contacts the virus, we know we have done our best.”

She, however, said a new date would be fixed and communicated to all after the commission might have put measures to safeguard lives of people in place.

The panel was inaugurated by NHRC Executive Secretary, Mr Tony Ojukwu, on October 21, 2020, following public outcries on police brutalities leading to the #EndSARS protests witnessed in some parts of the country.

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COVID-19 second wave forces indefinite postponement of NHRC panel sittings

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