We laud the judicial panels of inquiry set up in some states to investigate and ensure justice for victims of police brutality and EndSARS protests. There is no doubt that so many lives were lost and many businesses destroyed during the protest following the unfortunate Lekki tollgate shooting incident. About 56 Nigerians, including policemen, are reported to have died since October 8, 2020 when the #EndSARS protest started. To heal the wounds of the unfortunate events, we must get to the root of the problem. There is need to ensure justice for the victims, knowing that where there is no justice, peace becomes elusive.
Interestingly, President Muhammadu Buhari has indicated that justice will prevail. In a statement signed by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, Buhari said at least 13 states had established the judicial panels of inquiry as resolved by the National Economic Council to ensure justice for the victims of police brutality across the country.
In Lagos State, the judicial panel has heard different accounts of how SARS personnel brutalised citizens for no just cause. The panel is also trying to unravel the mysteries behind the shooting of unarmed protesters in Lekki. At the end of it all, Nigerians will want to know the perpetrators of that unfortunate shooting and those who sent them.
There have been dislocations here and there. Government needs to come in and cushion the effect of the protest. Good enough, the Lagos State Government has set up N200million compensation fund for victims of police brutality. According to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, a list of victims has been generated and there are checks to ensure that no name is excluded. Sanwo-Olu also pledged to compensate and offer tax relief to some shop owners who are victims of the vandalism that trailed the Lekki shooting. The governor had earlier promised scholarship for children of police officers killed during the protest.
Similarly, the Oyo State Government has also promised to compensate families of slain policemen in the state. According to Governor Seyi Makinde, the families will be compensated from the N500million fund already set aside to compensate victims of police brutality and injustice. These are all good efforts.
Nevertheless, justice should not just be financial. There are other ways of getting justice for the victims. Since some states have set up judicial panels, they should not hesitate to act on the reports of those panels. As the late Justice Chukwudifu Oputa believed, they must ensure that there is justice for the victims, justice for the appellant or accused and justice for the society whose values have been desecrated by the crime in question.
It is imperative to note that police brutality is a global problem. There is also global concern to ensure that victims of police brutality get justice. Amnesty International estimates that the police were involved in the deaths of over 1,000 people in the United States in 2019 alone. Earlier in the year, there was global outrage against the brutal killing of a Black man, George Floyd, by a police officer in Minneapolis, US. Although the officers involved have since been sacked, there are still moves to ensure justice for George. His family and community want all those connected with the death to be held accountable.
In some cases, people are outraged at the perceived unfairness of court rulings in favour of police officers. For instance, the grand jury failed to indict a police officer called Daniel Pantaleo, who killed an African American, Eric Garner, on July 17, 2014, while apprehending him with a chokehold. This was despite overwhelming video evidence. This engendered protests in New York and some other cities at the time. It was not until August last year that Pantaleo was fired.
It was a similar thing in the case of 24-year-old Anthony Smith, another African American killed by then St. Louis Police officer, Jason Stockley. Smith’s encounter with the police took place in December 2011 but it was not until September 2017 that a trial and acquittal took place. Oftentimes, people believe that race is a factor in such unfair court decisions.
The story is the same in some other parts of the world. Many of the over 7,000 Belarusians detained and tortured by riot police in the aftermath of President Alexander Lukashenko’s electoral victory last August are currently considering options for legal redress.
We are hopeful that the victims of police brutality and EndSARS protests will get justice. We advise the victims to appear before the judicial panels and expose what happened during the period. Civil society groups should also be involved. For the nation to move forward, justice must be served.