On the last Saturday in May 2010, armed police officers stormed a compound at Ikate-Ebute village, Epe-Ajah expressway, on the outskirts of Lagos, where Victorin Kpanou and his mates were sitting.
The police officers, from the Jakande Police Station, herded all the young men into an uncompleted building in the next compound.
And then a shot was fired.
When the smoke from the gun’s barrel cleared, Mr. Kpanou, 23, a citizen of the Republic of Benin, lay in a pool of his own blood.
The young man’s father, Nicolas, dashed out of their home to the scene of the incident but the angry police officers stopped him in his tracks, threatening to also shoot him if he didn’t move away as they dumped the corpse into their patrol van and drove off.
Later, the officers claimed that on that day, they raided an uncompleted building in the area which is used as an abode by robbers and hoodlums to unleash terror on Nigerians.
But in a judgment delivered last week by Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Lagos, the police were found culpable of extra-judicially killing Mr. Kpanou and ordered to pay N60 million as damages to the family.
The judge rejected the police’s claim that the deceased was killed by an “unknown person.”
The suit, filed by Falana and Falana Chambers on behalf of Nicolas, Mr. Kpanou’s father, had sought for an order declaring that the killing violated the fundamental right of the deceased to life as well as for the release of his corpse to the family.
The judge granted all the orders.
An indifferent police
The manner of Mr. Kpanou’s killing was as heart-breaking for his family as the apathy shown by the police afterwards, a review of the court documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES showed.
After the shooting, the deceased’s father said that his efforts to make Ekpo Ufong, the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, of Jakande Police Station, release the body were unsuccessful.
“In view of the refusal of the Divisional Police Officer to release my son’s body to me, I lodged a complaint with the Consulate General of the Republic of Benin in Lagos,” Mr. Nicolas said.
The same day, an officer of the Benin Consulate visited the Jakande Police Station but Mr. Ufong was out of the office.
The next day, the officer said he received a call from Mr. Ufong who confirmed the incident and told him he had led an operation to dislodge hoodlums in the area following a petition received from the traditional ruler of the area.
“I took the boy to the hospital but unfortunately he died on the way going, I put the corpse at the mortuary, we can meet as from 4 o’clock today or tomorrow morning, I will be in the office,” the Benin Consulate officer quoted the DPO as saying.
However, subsequent visits to the police station to meet with the DPO yielded no result as Mr. Ufong remained elusive. A letter, dated June 2, 2010, and sent to the police officer was never responded to.
On June 8, 2010, the Benin Consulate wrote to the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Zone 2 headquarters in Onikan, Lagos, protesting the killing of its citizen.
“The Consulate General of the Republic of Benin in Nigeria, Lagos, has the honour to inform you about the Divisional Police Officer behaviour (DPO) at Jakande Police Station,” stated the letter signed by Anselme Fanou, Plenipotentiary Minister at the Consulate.
“The Consulate General of Benin Republic protests vigorously against this criminal act committed by a Police Agent who is supposed to protect citizens and populations in a country.”
After four months of no action from the police, the Benin Consulate wrote to the Zone 2 headquarters again demanding a comprehensive report of the incident.
“The Consulate General of the Republic of Benin in Nigeria, Lagos, cannot accept these excesses…,” Mr. Fanou said.
“Resolutely, the authorities of Benin Republic are expecting to receive the corpse of their citizen as per the promises of the DPO of Jakande Police Station and to know the cause of the incident.”
In the same October, the deceased family’s lawyer petitioned the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, Lagos, seeking for justice.
“We urge you to use your good office to carry out an extensive investigation on this matter as it relates to the extra-judicial killing and gruesome murder of Victorin Kpanou with a view to bringing those responsible to book,” said the petition signed by Adedotun Isola-Osobu for Falana and Falana’s Chambers.
There was no response from the police.
Two months later, seven months after Mr. Kpanou’s killing with no visible action from the police, the Consulate wrote to the DCP in Panti requesting for the police’s assistance and co-operation.
“I reported this police blunder to Zone 2 who directed me to your office and at several occasions my officer met the DCP and the O/C D4, but unfortunately up till now no respond or concrete action to clear up this murder,” said Mr. Fanou.
“The Consulate General of the Republic of Benin in Nigeria, Lagos, will appreciate your assistance for justice just as the Authorities of Benin Republic are still waiting for the police report to elucidate this situation.”
Killed by ‘unknown person’
In their response to the judge, during trial, the police denied culpability in the death of Mr. Kpanou, insisting that their investigation showed he was killed by an “unknown person.”
Mayowa Olojode, the Investigating Police Officer, said that the police were responding, on the said day, to a complaint from Eti Osa Local Government Area that robbers and hoodlums had taken over an uncompleted building in the area from where they unleash terror on Nigerians.
“Security report were dispatch (sic) to Governor’s office where team of task force personnel were detailed to demolished the said area with member of Nigeria Civil Defence Corps and the three Police Division under the area,” said Mr. Olojode, a Police Corporal.
“Over 200 people of different nationalities like the Chad…., Togolese were arrested and taken to Alausa with some arms and other dangerous weapons, charms recovered from them were also taken to Alausa worth to life lost.”
Mr. Olojode said that the claim that the police left the area, after the raid, with a dead body was a figment of the imagination of the deceased’s family.
According to the Corporal, Mr. Ufong informed him that two weeks after the incident, an anonymous caller informed him that somebody had been killed after which he directed the caller to come to his office.
The caller never showed up, the police officer said.
“Since there was no casualty, there was nothing to realised (sic) to anybody but the whole people were taken to Alausa and not the police station,” said Mr. Olojode.
The judge found the claims of the police to be bogus and delivered the ruling.