Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State

From PETER OKORE, Umuahia

The 16-man Judicial panel  of inquiry set-up by the Abia state Governor,  Dr Okezie Ikpeazu,  following the ENDSARS nationwide protest  by youths, which was  allegedly hijacked by some  hoodlums , has  started sitting in Umuahia, the state capital with 44  pending complaints.  According to the secretary of the panel, Mrs. Uzoamaka Ikonne, said more complaints were still being awaited, as at the time of filing  this report.

Headed by a retired High court judge, Justice Sunday Imo,  other  members of the panel include  Nwakanma John, Daniel Chinagozi, Ariwa Zuby, Eric Ikwuagwu, Bishop Sunday Onuoha of Faith-based organization who is also the  President of  an Umuahia-based Radio station-Vision Africa;  Comrade John Emejor of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ; and Comrade Nnanna Nwafor of the NLC.

The rest are Mrs. Doris Ogala, Barr. Uche Nwokocha of the Nigerian Bar Association; Mr. Nkemjika Nnadozie, Mr. Enyinnaya Standhope Nwigwe, Mrs. Anastasia Uchenna, Mr. Ndubuaku Nwogu and Engr. Steve Sylvanus, while the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Barr.(Mrs.) Uzoamaka Ikonne serves as Secretary.

 The panel has the mandate to investigate allegations and cases of extra-judicial killings and brutality by the police and other security agents in Abia State from 2015 till date. It will   investigate all forms of extortion and intimidation meted to citizens in Abia state.

The panel will furthermore ascertain the immediate and remote causes of the ENDSARS protest and other grievances associated with it; examine the root causes of the hijack of the peaceful ENDSARS protest by hoodlums and identify those involved as well as do all other things necessary to give effect to the terms of reference including, but not limited to, the   recommendations to government on possible compensations to ascertained victims.

According to a release by the Press secretary to the governor, Sir Onyebuchi Ememanka, the panel is expected to turn-in its report within 12 weeks. He described the nature of events of ENDSARS protest as unfortunate in view of the collateral damages so caused on lives and properties  in the State and urged the youths to restrain from further protest as government has noted their demands.

It will be recalled that while inaugurating the panel earlier, governor Ikpeazu hinted that his administration is currently looking at the demands of the youths with a view to meeting them. He, however, regretted the destruction of public and private infrastructures in the State,  pointing out that he would mobilize the youths in rebuilding the damaged infrastructure through  direct labour.

However, at its inaugural sitting, the Chairman of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry, Justice Sunday Imo assured that those who were once victims of police brutality and maltreatments would get the required justice, and possibly, put to an end  any form of police harassment, intimidation and abuses of the rights of citizens in Abia state by officers and men of the Nigeria police and other security apparatuses  in Abia state and, as he put it, “justice is the means by which  established  injustices  are sanctioned.”

  Justice Imo declared:” We want to assure you (complainants) and members of the public that this panel shall discharge her functions without fear or favour, in-line with the Terms of reference and mandate given by the Abia state government. We shall, at all times, ensure that all complaints are given the required attention it so deserves judiciously and justifiably.

Let us use this opportunity to charge all persons making presentations before this panel to maintain the highest level of professionalism and decorum in presenting their matters as this panel will not tolerate any form of misconduct.

 At the various sittings, last week, legal counsel, including  representative of the Commissioner of Police and Divisional Police officers for Uzuakoli, Isuikwuato, Ohafia and others, Mr. Stanley Ofoegbu , confirmed having been served the Notices, but  claimed that most of the complaints reached  their offices some hours before the sitting of the panel began.

They pleaded that they be given some time to enable them confirm and study the  complaints, seek necessary advice before handing them over to the Director for Public  prosecution (DPP)  in the Ministry of Justice for further actions before appearing in court.

 In one of the remarks at the sitting, Chairman of Umuahia branch of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Oliver Amuzie promised that the branch will provide free legal services to complainants who cannot represent themselves adequately at the panel.

While doing so, he also promised that members of his association would co-operate with the panel to make sure that, as he put it, things work out well. He, however, pleaded for time to enable complainants brief their lawyers.

  Speaking also the South-East Trustee for the N.U.J, Ezeogo Boniface Okore assured the panel that journalists will always be present at the sittings of the panel to enable them enlighten the public on the proceedings of the panel as well as help the panel achieve its mandate.

 He prayed the panel to discharge its mandate judiciously so as to stop police brutality as well as achieve justice in the society.

  During hearings on the various cases lined-up, the panel heard about the gruesome murder of one late Friday Arunsi by a police officer alleged to have been drunk at Ebem Ohafia. Youths there (Ohafia) reacted over the murder of one of their vibrant own, which led to the burning of the police station and High court there.

   In another case Charity Ugwuiro versus the Commissioner of Police and the DPO, Uzuakoli, the panel heard how three able-bodied policemen from the Divisional Police Station, Uzuakoli, arrested a young man from his work-place to the Police station there.

The man, whose name was not immediately known) was taken to Uzuakoli Police station and detained in the police cell there in early December 2019. Till today, that young man, who was married and had three children, was thereafter removed from that cell by police to somewhere else. Till today, that young man has not been seen again.

Mrs. Charity, mother of the arrested young man, is asking the Nigerian Police Command to produce her son, just as she is seeking for justice. She told newsmen that effort to locate the where about of her son, since last year or to know his offence, had hit the rocks as the three policemen who whisked off her son from his work-place, have since been transferred out of Uzuakoli Police station.

She also narrated that police at Uzuakoli station allege that there was no entry about her son and his offence in any of the Books held in that station. Still, in another case, a lawyer, Kalu Uche, narrated how a DPO at Isuikwuato Police Division, aided by his men insulted, assaulted and allegedly beat him to stupor when he went there to bail his client.

The panel chairman adjourned hearing on these cases to later dates. Sources say there are several other horrifying and pitiable complaints of inhumanity to man by men in uniforms including that of a young man gunned down for his refusal to offer One hundred Naira (N100.) bribe at a check-point and detention of some young boys in Aba and Umuahia during the military exercise in Abia called “Operation Python Dance” in 2017.

Also expected for hearing include complaints associated with the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, (IPOB) members  still in detention.