The chairman of the #EndSARS panel in Abuja, Suleiman Galadima, on Thursday, reminded police authorities of their duty to account for all individuals arrested and detained in their custody.
Mr Galadima, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, gave the charge at the hearing of a case of an alleged violation of the right to personal liberty and enforced disappearance of one Eric Ezeala, who was reported to have been arrested in 2017 by members of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The victim has not been seen his arrest, his family told the panel officially referred to as the Independent Investigative Panel on allegations of human rights violations by the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and other units of the Nigerian police.
The panel was set up by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in the aftermath of the October 2020 #EndSARS protest against brutality perpetrated against citizens by the operatives of SARS and other police units.
It is replicated in at least 28 other states with the mandates to recommend compensations for victims or their families and sanctions or prosecutions for erring police officers.
The #EndSARS panels, the common name given to the panels being a product of the last year’s #EndSARS protest, have submitted their reports in many states with implementation still hanging.
The Abuja panel, which recently resumed from an over-six-month break occasioned by lack of fund, again, on Thursday, expressed frustrations with the police, whose officers named in many cases continued to shun the panel’s invitations to answer questions.
Mr Galadima, the panel’s chair, told the respondents’ counsel led by James Idachaba that the police could not run away from answering questions on the enforced disappearance of Eric Ezeala and other victims.
“We must get to the bottom of this case as quickly as possible,” he added.
A member representing the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on the panel, John Aikpokpo-Martins, reminded the lawyer that the panel was running against time.
“We have a timeline, and we must finish this national assignment within the time frame we have. The panel cannot wind up without confirming the whereabouts of victims in police custody, whether they are alive or dead,” he said.
The leader of the defence team, Mr Idachaba, assured the panel that he would get involved personally to find out the whereabouts of the victim.
He said from a preliminary investigation carried out personally, Mr Ezela was arrested by the Inspector General of Police, Intelligence Response Team (IGP-IRT) and not SARS, as alleged by his family.
The case was adjourned till November 23, for the defence’s report on the victim’s whereabouts.
Hilda Ezeala, the mother of the victim and petitioner who lodged the complaint, had said her son was arrested in July 2017 by some policemen.
She said she was informed to come with her lawyer to the SARS office in Owerri, Imo State, where she was later told that he had been transferred to Abuja.