Governors split over multi-billion naira #EndSARs protests victims compensation

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Discussions over who picks up the multi-billion naira compensation bills of the over 2,500 victims of police brutality in the country have split the 28 governors that established judicial panels of enquiry following the #EndSARS protests last year.

Investigations by our correspondents revealed that while some governors believe that states should pay compensation to the victims, some others insisted that the Federal Government should pick the bills because policemen who committed the crimes are federal employees.

As a result, the National Economic Council led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has asked states to submit the final reports of their judicial panels to NEC to enable the Federal Government to determine how the compensation will be paid.

The judicial panels in the states were set up sequel to the October 2020 protests by youths in different parts of the country over police brutality and harassment. The protesters had among other things demanded the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad and justice for all the victims of police brutality, including appropriate compensation for the families of those who lost their lives.

The demands included investigation of allegations of police misconduct and prosecution of indicted persons; compensation for victims of police brutality; release of all arrested protesters; increase in the salaries of police officers as well as psychological evaluation of all disbanded SARS operatives before they could be redeployed.

Several states set up the panel while the National Human Rights Commission also set up its Independent Investigation Panel to probe allegations of human rights violations by the operatives and other police units in Abuja.

Meanwhile, following the vice-presidents’ directive that states should submit their final reports to NEC, some states have halted compensation payment to the victims.

Ekiti State, which is one of the states already paying compensation to the victims, said it was forced to halt the process pending when all states submit their reports to NEC.

The state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Olawale Fapohunda, who is the chairman of the implementation committee of the #EndSARS report, confirmed that some states were not ready to pick up the bill.

Meanwhile, some states including Rivers and Plateau, have insisted that the Federal Government must pick up the bill since the policemen who committed the crimes were federal employees, Punch reports.

Fapounda said, “We have begun implementation. Ekiti State did not wait for the final report (before commencing payment to victims) because we recognise that police and civilians were victims. We had to make immediate payments to those who had immediate needs.

“What we just need now is to pay the final compensation. We have already paid half of the compensation. Again, we had to strengthen our Directorate of Citizens’ Rights to ensure that people have access to them – that one we have done.

“The last stage now is to just pay the final amount and close it. The delay has been because there had been discussions at the federal level about the place of the Federal Government in paying the compensations. That was why they said everybody should wait until all states submit their reports.

“At the moment, only 10 states or thereabouts, including Ekiti State, have submitted reports. In Ekiti State, Governor Kayode Fayemi was very clear from the first day that we would start implemention immediately the panel submits a preliminary report.

“Some of the states are raising the issue that how can they pay compensation for violations that were caused directly by a federal institution. That issue has not been concluded yet.

“The decision is that when all the states have submitted their reports, then there will be discussion on a collective approach, a national approach to this issue. The only way to go forward is a national approach, the states will pay compensation to its own citizens.”

The Ekiti AG noted that the proposed reforms would likely be implemented by the Federal Government since the police are not under the control of the states. “That is where we are,” Fapohunda added.

The panel in his state, chaired by Justice Cornelius Akintayo (retd), received and treated 85 petitions while it gave awards in 52 of the cases. Also, 24 of the beneficiaries of the award by the panel had been paid compensations to the tune of over N7m being the first tranche of the implementation of the panel’s report.

The panel also recommended compensation to the tune of N13.8m to 28 other beneficiaries which has yet to be paid by the state government.

One of the beneficiaries, a journalist, Wole Balogun, who approached the panel over brutalisation by soldiers, was awarded N100,000 compensation by the panel.

Balogun said, “The compensation was paid almost immediately into my account by the state government. I was also issued a certificate confirming it has been paid.”

Another victim, Anthony Chukwuebuka, who said he had yet to be paid the N2m compensation due to him, appealed to the state government to have compassion so he could go for surgery and be able to lead a meaningful life.

He stated, “In 2012, when I was a corps member, some SARS operatives invaded our house, harassed us and in the process, one of them used his gun to blind my right eye. The panel awarded me N2m compensation. The money has not been paid.”

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