Following the demands made by the ENDSARS protesters on police brutality and human right violation of Nigerians, a resolution was reached by the National Economic Council of Nigeria recently asking state governors to set up a panel of inquiries to look into the above-mentioned subject-matter at their various state with a view to resolving them according to the demands of the protesters.
While the idea may appear laudable in its cosmetics evaluation, it is flawed in legal expropriation and judicial sanctity. The Judicial Panel of Inquiries of the various states lacks the jurisdictional competence by law to entertain the subject-matter in this case.
Let us begin by using the Judicial Panel of Inquiries Law of Lagos State as a case study. Section 1 of the Tribunals of Inquiry Law of Lagos State provides that:
“The governor may when necessary constitute one or more persons by a signed instrument, a Tribunal with authority to Inquire into the conduct of affairs of any officer in the public service of the state or any officer in the local authority in the state, or of any chief or management of any department of the public service of any local authority or declarations of customary law relating to the selection of Oba or a recognized chief or any matter related to any chieftaincy dispute or into any matter in respect of which in the opinion of an inquiry would be for public welfare. The governor may by the same instrument or by an order appoint a secretary to the Tribunal who will perform such duties as the members will prescribe”
The aforementioned provision under reference captures the scope and limit of the jurisdiction of the Judicial Panel of Inquiry in Lagos State and same applies to other states of the federation including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The law setting up the panel tied its jurisdiction to the affairs of the civil service and local government authorities of the state for which police brutality and human right violations masterminded by the police or individuals outside the employment of the state is not one of them. Police matters as conveyed by our laws under item 45 of the second schedule, part 1 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is contained in the exclusive legislative list which are functions which only the Federal Government can adjudicate upon.
Do not get it wrong, I have not said the Judicial Tribunals of Inquiries are illegal. I only mean that police brutality or human right violations by the police – a federal institution does not fall within the purview of the state in the eyes of the law. The panels can exercise its functions but the subject-matter must fall under that, specified by the law setting up the tribunal as defined expressly as matters related to the state civil service and other matters connected thereto.
By way of contradistinction, it is the National Human Rights Commission that is saddled with the function to determine all forms of human rights violations of this magnitude, emanating from an establishment of the federal government like the police force.
The NHRC (Amendment) Act, 2010 has conferred on the commission additional independence and strengthened the commission’s power with respect to promotion and protection of human rights, investigation of an alleged violation of human rights, and enforcement of decisions.
The Amended Act has also widened the scope of the commission’s mandate to include vetting of legislation at all levels to ensure their compliance with human rights norms. Specifically, the NHRC is mandated to:
Deal with all matters relating to the promotion and protection of human rights as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other international and regional instruments on human rights to which Nigeria is a party;
Monitor and investigate all alleged cases of human rights violations in Nigeria and make appropriate recommendation to the Federal Government for the prosecution and such other actions as it may deem expedient in each circumstance;
Assist victims of human rights violations and seek appropriate redress and remedies on their behalf
Undertake studies on all matters pertaining to human rights and assist the federal, state, and local governments, where it considers it appropriate to do so, in the formulation of appropriate policies on the guarantee of human rights;
f. Publish and submit from time to time to the President the National Assembly, the judiciary, state and local governments, reports on the state of human rights promotion and protection in Nigeria;
g. Organize local and international seminars, workshops and conferences on human rights issues for public enlightenment;
h. Liaise and cooperate, in such a manner as it considers appropriate, with local and international organizations on human rights for the purpose of advancing the promotion and protection of human rights.
Section 6 of the National Human Rights Commission Act 2010 provides that:
The commission shall have power to –
(a) Conduct its investigations and inquiries in such manner as it considers appropriate;
(b) Institute any civil action on any matter it deems fit in relation to the exercise of its functions under this Act;
(c) Appoint any person, whether or not such a person is in public service, to act as an interpreter in any matter brought before it and to translate any such book, paper or writing produced to it;
(d) Visit persons, police cells and other places of detention in order to ascertain the conditions thereon and make recommendations to the appropriate authorities;
(e) Make determination as to the damages or compensation payable in relation to any violation of human rights where it deems this necessary in the circumstances of the case;
(f) Co-operate with and consult with other agencies and organizations, governmental and non-governmental as it may deem appropriate; and
(g) Do such other things as are incidental, necessary, conducive or expedient for the performance of its functions under this Act.”
In view of the foregoing, it is quite clear and unambiguous that the ongoing Judicial Panels of Inquiries across the state which are delving into the subjects matter of police brutality and human rights violations are completely off the confines of their jurisdiction. The National Economic Council that passed the resolution on the 15 of October 2020 which led to the institution of these Panels of Inquiries across the states have no such powers under the law to do so. It is settled law that parties and/or institutions cannot by their own agreement confer jurisdiction on themselves or on any Court or Tribunal in Nigeria. There must be a legislation setting up the Tribunal and that legislation by the force of law confers jurisdiction on the panel or institutions to function, defining its scope and limits. Anything short of that goes to no issue and same is deemed nugatory. You cannot give what you don’t have.
We must allow the National Human Rights Commission to function and not allow the state to usurp its authorities. This will weaken the commission and defeat its purpose. The conversation on building strong institutions is very critical right now in Nigeria and our actions and inactions must reflect that call to build strong institutions and not to abuse the already existing ones with defined functions.
You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand. It will collapse.
Evans Ufeli Esq is a Lagos-based legal practitioner and Executive Director of Cadrell Advocacy Centre