Police’s Unpreparedness to Defend Accused Personnel Stalls Sitting of Abia Panel

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By Emmanuel Ugwu

The inaugural sitting of the Abia State Judicial Panel of Inquiry (ASJPI) on police brutality, extra judicial killings and other related matters was adjourned abruptly yesterday following the unpreparedness of the police to enter defence of its accused personnel.

The panel, which sat at the Aguiyi Ironsi Conference Centre Umuahia, has so far received 44 petitions out of which four were listed for hearing at the inaugural sitting.

But the hearings could not proceed beyond the opening formalities following the inability of defendants to appear before the panel while their counsel said he was not prepared for the proceedings.

As the four slated cases were called up one after the other, the police counsel, Mr. Stanley Ofoegbu, a Superintendent of Police, repeatedly told the panel that he needed to go through the petitions before he could enter defence for the police.

Ofoegbu, who is also the officer in charge of the legal section of Abia State Police Command, insisted that the hearing should be adjourned to enable him “verify the facts of the petitions.”

After hearing the police counsel’s monotonous excuses, the Chairman of the ASJPI, Justice Sunday Imo (rtd), adjourned the sitting to Wednesday (today), saying that it was proper to serve all parties the notice of hearing.

He, however, adjourned till November 18, 2020, the hearing of the four cases that could not be heard yesterday because of police unpreparedness even though the complainants and their counsels were ready to go ahead with the hearing.

Justice Imo stated earlier in his address that the judicial panel of inquiry was specifically set up “to ensure that justice is not only done but is manifestly seen to be done to all victims of police brutality in the state.

“Justice, they say is the truth in action. The panel shall in line with its mandate ensure that those who were once victims of police brutality and maltreatment get the required justice.”

He expressed hope that the findings and recommendations of the panel would “possibly put an end to any form of police harassment, intimidation and abuse of the rights of the citizens of Abia State by officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force.”

Imo assured that the panel would discharge its functions without fear or favour in line with the terms of its reference and mandate as outlined by the state government.

Several civil society organisations and professional bodies were represented at the event, including the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Nigeria Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), the National Council of Women Society (NCWS) and the National Youth Council (NYC).

The Chairman of Umuahia Branch of the NBA, Mr. Oliver Amuzie, who spoke on behalf of the Abia bar, pledged the cooperation of lawyers and added that the NBA would offer free legal services to complainants.

In his remarks, the representative of the Abia NUJ, Mr. Ezeogo Boniface Okoro, who is a national trustee of the NUJ, noted that getting justice would not be enough; rather Nigeria should strive to put a final end to police brutality and create a “civilised police” for its people.