We’ve provided AGF sufficient materials to prosecute indicted SARS officials – NHRC

By Eric Ikhilae, Abuja

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said it has provided the Attorney General (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami all relevant materials needed to prosecute the 33 ex-operatives of the now scrapped Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) indicted for impunity and rights abuses in a report recently submitted by a Presidential Investigation Panel constituted by the NHRC.

NHRC’s Executive Secretary, Tony Ojukwu stated this while reacting to report that the office of the AGF claimed there were insufficient evidence to prosecute the affected operatives and requested the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to set up “a special investigation team” to conduct “thorough investigation” on the cases.

Ojukwu noted that the two issues raised by the AGF as impediments to prosecuting the indicted operatives were that he has not received the original case files and that some of the police officers must first be dismissed by the Police Service Commission (PSC) before they could be prosecuted, “which is procedural.”

He added: “We have worked on those conditions. We have sent all the original cases files, not only to him (the AGF), but to all the states, because the law says it is either the Attorney General of the Federation or the Attorney General of the states.

“There are about 13 states involved, and I can assure you that we have dispersed all the original case files to all the 13 states. Secondly, we have submitted the list of these officers, with other necessary documents to both the Police Service Commission and the Inspector General of Police.

“So, they need to do the needful. Moving forward, I expect that, once these internal procedures are tidied up, they should be able to do what they are supposed to do. This is because, as at today, we have sorted out these two obstacles identified by the AGF.”

Ojukwu, who frowned at the excesses of security agents in their relations with the people, and their reluctance to subject themselves to the law, insisted that members of the various security agencies must learn to comply with their rules of engagement.

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He noted that one of the major challenges of democracy and human rights protection in the country is that most people still manifest military mentality, while security agents feel they could operate unchallenged.

“The law enforcement agents still keep feeling that nobody should challenge them,” Ojukwu noted, adding that it was time they realise that, in a democracy, despite the importance of their duty of keeping the society safe, they must operate within the confines of existing laws and the rules of engagement which they made for themselves.

Ojukwu, who sought more funding for his commission to enable it to effectively deliver on its mandates, noted that the debate over whether or not the government should regulate the use of social media was unnecessary. He noted that the issues of freedom of expression and access to social media are constitutional matters.

On the argument that there are sufficient laws to punish social media abuses, Ojukwu argued that  it was within the right of the government, in a democracy, to seek to push through some policies, while the people also reserve the right to push counter arguments.

“We are expecting that there would be a public hearing on any Bill to regulate social media. Certainly we would be there to defend the right of Nigerians to free press as enshrined in the Constitution. There have been attempts before and public hearings were conducted.

“What we encourage is responsible media engagement. We do not encourage irresponsible use of social media. And, there are mechanisms to hold anybody who is irresponsible on social media accountable.

“What we do not support is a situation where people are irresponsible on social media and still, they do not want to be held accountable. Your right stops where my own begins. So, if you decide to use social media to overstep my own right, then I have a right to call you to account.

“It is the same thing for the government too. If any person oversteps his bound through social media, the government has the right to call that person to account. We encourage people to exercise their right, whether to social media or to the conventional media. But that right has to be exercised responsibly. And if any person crosses the line, I think that person should be held accountable,” Ojukwu said.