Presidential Panel on SARS receives 103 complaints – NHRC boss

THE Executive Secretary, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Mr Tony Ojukwu, said on Monday that 103 complaints of alleged human rights violations were received by the Presidential Panel on the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

Ojukwu, who doubles as the chairman of the presidential panel, said this at the second sitting of the panel for the North-Central zone held at FCT High Court, Maitama, Abuja.

“Out of this number, the panel received 37 complaints from the North-Central zone, 37 from the South-West, 16 from the South-South, 9 from the South-East, 3 from the North-East and 1 complaint from the North-West,” Ojukwu said.

He said that hearing had been concluded on 51 complaints, while 52 complaints were still pending, adding that out of the 52 pending cases, 29 were part heard, while 23 were fresh complaints

The NHRC boss said that the public hearing of the Presidential Investigation Panel on the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) has yielded remarkable positive results in the Squad’s operations.

He said that the public hearings also serve as an avenue to sensitise public and SARS operatives.

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According to him, there were instances the panel was informed that after getting hearing notice, some SARS operatives alleged to have violated human rights reached out to victims for settlements.

“It is interesting to note that the public hearing of the presidential panel on alleged cases of human rights violations against SARS has started yielding some remarkable positive results in the way SARS operatives now carry out their operations.

“There are instances where on the spot investigation over complaints that had lingered before the police were resolved by the panel leading to the recovery of cars allegedly auctioned by some SARS officers without due process.

“There are also cases where property seized or houses locked up by SARS have been released to their owners, among others,” he said.

Ojukwu said that since the constitution of the panel by NHRC on the request of the then Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), it had held four sittings in Abuja, Lagos, Owerri and Gombe.

On the challenges being faced by the panel, he explained that such included the failure of the police in some cases to conduct a post-mortem examination on suspects alleged to have died in police custody.

Other challenges, he said, were the failure of complainants to appear before the panel due to victimisation, intimidation and threats issued to them by some SARS operatives.

Also, the unwillingness of complainants to appear despite assurances of their safety by the panel, among others.

He, however, warned that any case of intimidation of complainants or witnesses will be viewed seriously by the panel.

Ojukwu said, “there have been several cases where unruly SARS officers were disciplined by the panel.”

He, therefore, urged the Inspector-General of Police to assist and ensure that all complainants before the panel are not molested in any way by SARS or police officers whose cases are before the panel.

He further assured stakeholders that the panel and the NHRC would adhere to the principles of a fair hearing in discharging its functions.

Ojukwu added that the panel and NHRC would not stand to watch while fundamental human rights of citizens are trampled upon and violated by law enforcement agencies, entities or individuals.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the panel was set up by the Federal Government to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses by the men of Special Anti-Robbery Squad.

The panel is to make useful recommendations to the Federal Government on the way forward.

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