The Judicial Panel of Enquiry and Restitution for Victims of SARS-related Abuses in Lagos got underway on Tuesday with one of the petitioners recounting his Police brutality ordeal.
Okolieagu Obunike, a father of five, told the panel that in 2012, Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) operatives detained and tortured him for 47 days at their Ikeja office, without trial.
Obunike alleged that the operatives also carted away all his belongings at home, sold his car, a Volkswagen bus, land, bags of cement and Inverter.
He testified as the first petitioner since the Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu set up the nine-member panel on October 15, following weeks of #EndSARS protests across the country.
SARS was dissolved by the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, following protests over the atrocious conducts of the unit.
Three other petitioners were scheduled for hearing on Tuesday. They are: a paraplegic on wheelchair, Ndukwe Ekekwe; Olukoya Ogungbeje: and Basil Chetal Ejiagwa.
But only Obunike’s testified in person. Ogungbeje, a lawyer, and Ejiagwa were absent but represented by their counsel. They prayed the court to adopt their petitions as their testimony.
The court granted their applications.
The testimony of Ekekwe, whose spine was broken after allegedly being thrown from a two-storey building by SARS operatives, was adjourned to give the Commissioner of Police in Lagos time to appear and respond to the allegations.
Panel chair, Judge emeritus Doris Okuwobi, adjourned till October 30.
The panel was scheduled to begin full sitting on Monday, but could not do so because three of its members Rinu Oduala, Temitope Majekodunmi and Lucas Koyejo had yet to be sworn in.
Upon their arrival, Oduala and Majekodunmi, both youth representatives nominated by an online poll took their oaths alongside Koyejo, the Zonal Coordinator (South-West Zone) – National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Obunike told the panel that he was arrested after resigning as manager of a firm, following a false complaint of theft by his boss.
He said he was first taken to Ojo Police Station before being transferred to FSARS office at Ikeja.
There, he was beaten, hung on a pole and paraded as a thief in a market after he refused to admit a bogus theft charge, a day after his arrest.
“They started beating me, paraded me before Alaba International Market. The beating was too much. They broke my head. Then they took me back to the station and called my boss. I spent 47 days with SARS,” Obunike said.
He identified the policemen responsible as Inspector Sunday alias” Baba Ijapa” and ASP (Assistant Superintended) Haruna.
He said: “My family didn’t know where I was. When my mother and wife finally came. They beat them up in my presence. They took over my house, sold my car, bus my inverter, phones and seized my land documents.”
The petitioner said he eventually got judgment against the Police on February 26, 2016 at the Federal High Court in Lagos.
Justice Ibrahim Buba ordered the Police to pay him N10million as exemplary damages, but the Police refused to pay.
He added: “No compensation has been made till date. That’s why I came forward to the panel. My properties were not given back to me. The only one I have got back is the landed property document in 2017. Justice (Mobolanle) Okikiolu-Ighile ordered the release of my documents.”
When asked what he wanted of the panel, Obunike said: “”I want the panel to compel the police to do what the court has said. I am tired of suffering…feeding. Paying school fees of my children is a problem.”
Justice Okuwobi promised that the panel would make its findings on Obunike’s allegations public within seven working days.
Afterwards, the state State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), pledged that the government would not interfere in the panel’s work, adding that the state is “determined to get to the bottom of this matter and will leave no stone unturned to ensure justice is done on both sides.”
He added: “Lagos would ensure the panel’s independence. There will be no interference from the Executive. Anybody who has been abused should come forward.”
Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President Olumide Akpata also pledged the association’s cooperation with the panel. Akpata pledged to send in an observer for every day of the sitting.
Apart from Justice Okuwobi (Rtd), Oduala and Temitope other members of the panel are Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), Director, Lagos State Directorate of Citizen’s Rights, Mrs Oluwatoyin Odusanya; a representative of the civil society groups, Ms Patience Udoh, and a human rights activist, Mr Segun Awosanya.
The panel will sit from 10am to 4pm for six months
The panelists are tasked with listening to the submissions of survivors, interrogating the accused persons, determining the veracity of all claims, recommending punishments for the guilty and appropriate compensation for the victims.