By Femi Aborisade

ALTHOUGH it has been reported that the Inspector General of Police has moved swiftly to administratively query the authorisation of the suit seeking perpetual injunctive orders restraining the various panels of inquiry set up by the state governments and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), it is scandalous that any such suit could be contemplated in the first place.

Femi Aborisade, human rights lawyer

The institution of the suit and the alleged query show, on one hand, that there is a division between two main tendencies within the ruling class – the tendency that seeks to enslave society by criminalising peaceful protest and the tendency that is responding to the pressure from the larger society for some reform in policing culture. That the suit might not have been instituted with the consent of the IGP also shows, on the other hand, disorganisation and lack of control within a Force that is supposedly based strictly on hierarchical relationships and orders.

It is indeed most disturbing that some forces seek to stop the Panels of Inquiry instituted by some state governments, contrary to the law established by the apex court of the land in Chief Gani Fawehinmi & ORS V. General Ibrahim Babangida (Rtd) & ORS (2003) LPELR-1255(SC). In this particular case, it was held that “…the power to make a law under the 1999 Constitution for the establishment of a Tribunal of Inquiry is now a Residual Power which only the States can promulgate. The National Assembly can only pass such law in regard to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja,” per MOHAMMED, JSC (P.62, paras. A-C).

The scandalous nature of the suit has been aptly captured in case law. In A. G. Anambra State v. UBA (2005) 15 NWLR (Pt. 947) 44 and a plethora of other cases, the courts have established and reiterated that it is antithetical to good government, peace and wellbeing of society for any person to go to court to be shielded from investigation of alleged criminal conduct. The Panels of Inquiry, as the name denotes, is concerned with fact-finding; not trial. So, why should anyone who has nothing to hide seek the protection of the court from investigation?

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It is embarrassing that some forces within the ruling class seek to stop the NHRC from setting up a Commission of Inquiry with regards to allegations of rights abuses in the Federal Capital Territory.

The National Human Rights Commission Act expressly empowers the Commission to “monitor and investigate all alleged cases of human rights violation in Nigeria and make appropriate recommendation to the President for the prosecution and such other actions as it may deem expedient in each circumstance” (Section 5(b), NHRC Act).

Indeed, section 5(a) of the Act empowers the NHRC “to deal with all matters relating to the promotion and protection of human rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria” and all international human rights instruments.

It is indeed most disturbing that some forces seek to stop the Panels of Inquiry instituted by some state governments, contrary to the law established by the apex court of the land in Chief Gani Fawehinmi & ORS V. General Ibrahim Babangida (Rtd) & ORS (2003) LPELR-1255(SC). In this particular case, it was held that “…the power to make a law under the 1999 Constitution for the establishment of a Tribunal of Inquiry is now a Residual Power which only the States can promulgate. The National Assembly can only pass such law in regard to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja,” per MOHAMMED, JSC (P.62, paras. A-C).

In the same case, the apex court held further that “…by the provisions of Section 4 subsection (7) of the 1999 Constitution, the House of Assembly of a State has the power to make laws for the peace, order and good Government of the State with respect to matters not included in the Exclusive Legislative List.

Since the establishment of tribunals of inquiry is not a subject under the Exclusive Legislative List, it seems to me that a State House of Assembly has the power to enact the Tribunals of Inquiry Act, Cap. 447 and therefore the Act qualifies as an “existing law” under Section 315 subsection (1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution and is valid as a State Law,” per UWAIS, JSC (P.51, paras. D-F).

In conclusion, it is my humble opinion, based on the law as established by the apex court and the imperativeness of the requirements of wellbeing of society that the establishment of the various panels of inquiry to conduct investigation into rights abuses is in the best interest of the society.

The National Human Rights Commission and the state governments have the legal capacity to set up the panels of inquiry. The capacity of the federal government to set up same is restricted to the Federal Capital Territory. The law does not permit a person to be shielded from investigation of alleged criminal conduct.

Aborisade, socialist, writer and human rights lawyer, writes from Lagos.

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