By Bassey Udo
The Federal and 28 State government are to pay compensation to victims of the October 2020 nationwide ENDSARs protest, the National Economic Council (NEC) said on Friday.
The Council said at the end of its meeting in Abuja that following the receipt of reports from judicial panels set up in 28 States across the country and in the FCT, members resolved to compensate the victims.
The Judicial Panels of Inquiry were constituted with a mandate to probe into allegations of human rights violations against members of Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies during the protest march held in October 2020 across the country.
The panel was constituted in 28 States and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), under the auspices of the National Human Rights Commission to investigate allegations of violations of human rights levied against members of the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies, especially members of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Although the protest which lasted for several days was considered generally peaceful, it later turned violent in Lekki, Lagos following invitation of armed soldiers to forcefully disperse the protesters.
Several persons were allegedly killed stray bullets, while many others were wounded as a result of the stampede that ensued.
In a communique issued at the end of the meeting, the Council directed that payment of compensation to victims should proceed immediately.
Each State, the Council said, would collaborate with the Federal Government to work out modalities for the settlement of all monetary compensations awarded by the panels.
Also, the Council, composed of the governors of the 36 States in the Federation, representatives of the Fedsral Government, and chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, resolved to ensure all persons indicted by the panels are prosecuted according to law.
The Council specifically directed States “to immediately forward copies of final reports of the panels to their Attorneys-General for prompt arraignment and prosecution of all indicted persons.
“Where incidents in the reports relate to matters of discipline, in addition to prosecution, NEC urged the Nigeria Police Force to take disciplinary action on the affected officers in line with the provisions of the Police Act 2020,” the communique said.
Following reports of plans by some groups to organise fresh protests across the country to mark the anniversary of the ENDSARS crisis, Council strongly advised those behind the plan to reconsider the decision, in view of the current security situation across the country at this time.
Council said if the plan goes ahead, there is a possibility of such protests being hijacked by armed hoodlums and other opportunistic criminals to cause mayhem at such protest events and venues.
The 28 States that set up the panels were Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Gombe, Imo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, and Taraba.
Out of the 28 States, 11 States (Abia, Ekiti, Enugu, Gombe, Kwara, Nasarawa, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Plateau, and Rivers) have submitted their final reports to Council, while Lagos is about to finalise its sittings on October 19, 2021, after submitting an interim report.
Governors of other States, including Delta and Ebonyi, have also indicated that their reports would be submitted soon.
Already, as resolved by Council, a number of States have set up the Victims Compensation Funds, from which several victims have already received payments of various sums awarded to them by the panels.
Council directed State Governors to immediately forward copies of final reports of the panels to their Attorneys-General for prompt arraignment and prosecution of all indicted persons.
The Council said where incidents in the reports relate to matters of discipline, in addition to prosecution, the Nigeria Police Force must take disciplinary actions on the affected officers in line with the provisions of the Police Act 2020.
Psychiatric evaluations drug tests for security operatives
To improve the efficiency of the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies, the Council called on the leadership of the security agencies to ensure that persons recruited into arms-bearing security agencies undergo psychiatric evaluations and drug tests before enlistment.
Besides, such persons must, periodically, after enlistment be subjected to further tests, to ensure they are psychologically fit to carry live weapons and to identify behavioural tendencies that may require psycho-social interventions.
In addition, personnel of the agencies must dutifully observe rules of engagement in the discharge of their functions/duties around and within the civilian populace.
Council acknowledged the various initiatives by the Federal Government to strengthen police accountability through the Police Service Commission; sustain improved funding and budgetary allocation to the Nigeria Police Force and other securities agencies, and the lifting of the ban on recruitment of police officers.
Council urged the Federal Government to give priority to the general welfare of police officers and personnel of other security agencies to boost their morale
In particular, it advocated the review of pension and gratuity of retired police officers and attainment of parity of remuneration by police officers with sister security agencies.
The Council urged the government to undertake a comprehensive assessment of all police stations across the country with a view to ensuring they were fit for purpose.
Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies, the Ckuncil said, should deploy cutting-edge technology in the fight against crimes.
Nigeria Police Force, in line with the mandatory training provisions of the Police Act 2020, the Council said, must prioritize training of Police Officers on procedures for the entrenchment of Human Rights Provisions guaranteed by the Constitution and on the professional handling of weapons.
Other resolutions include that all those detained by the Police as a result of the ENDSARs protests are expeditiously processed with due regard to the principles of fair hearing; that the system established within the Nigeria Police Force for receipt and handling of complaints or petitions be strengthened, and all police officers on duty should be in police-approved uniform with their full names and force numbers boldly written for easy identification.
In addition, States should, as resolved by the Council properly utilize and support the community policing programme of the Federal Government, with active collaborative efforts and participation of traditional rulers, elders, youths, vigilante groups, etc.; establish standing committees under States Ministries of Justice to address human rights violations on a continuous basis; and take measures to flush out miscreants squatting in uncompleted buildings, and other blackout spots that serve as hideouts for criminals.
Draft National Development Plan
Other issues presented during the meeting the draft National Development Plan 2021-2025
Making the presentation, along with a memo, the Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, said the draft of a National Development Plan 2021-2025, is a successor plan to the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017-2020.
Among other highlights was the presentation and memo to acquaint the Council with the need for a linkage between Annual Budget and Plans.
The plan also targets an average of 5% vross domestic product (GDP) growth, the creation of 21million jobs, and lifting 35million people out of poverty within the duration of the Plan.
Other details in the plan include a mechanism to engage, empower and employ the country’s energetic youths; promotion of inclusiveness, in terms of opportunities for young people, women, vulnerable people, etc., via mainstreaming, and a financing plan to increase revenue to 15 percent of GDP by 2025 and to decrease the budget deficit.
On policy action, the plan would prioritize and implement critical and strategic infrastructure projects that would directly boost production and productivity.
It would also promote institutional reforms in public sector, law enforcement, judiciary, and secure property rights, including intellectual property, while encouraging measures to diversify revenue and increase tax to GDP ratio by improving tax administration, including the informal sector, and widening the tax base.
On the financial updates, Minister of State for Budget and National Planning said the balance in the Excess Crude Oil Account as at October 13,2021 stood at about $60, 857,773.43; Stabilisation Account N 25,009,892,511.55, and Development of Natural Resources Account N56,144,024,000.71.