A Federal High Court in Lagos has fixed June 19 for further adoption of oral evidences in a suit against the Nigerian Custom Service over assault on a journalist, Otunba Olomofe.
The trial judge, Abdulazeez Anka, fixed the date after a cross examination of the applicant by the respondent.
The Lagos branch of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, had filed the suit on behalf of the Badagry-based journalist, seeking enforcement of his fundamental rights to life, freedom of expression and the press.
Joined as respondents in the suit are the then Comptroller-General of Customs, Abdullahi Diko, the Seme Area Controller of Customs, Muhammed Ndalati, and a Deputy Comptroller of Customs, Emmanuel Nkemdirim.
Others include Ibrahim Turaki, an Assistant Comptroller of Customs at Seme; Sam Madubueke alias “big Sam of Ibiye;” Suleiman Momoh alias “Basket”, as well as two men simply called Elijah and Shehu.
At the last adjourned date on April 25, the applicant (Olomofe) had began oral evidence and had recounted before the court how he was allegedly assaulted by some men at the premises of the NCS at Seme.
He had informed the court that he was tortured and brutalised and eventually dumped in a pit.
When the case was called on Tuesday, Mr. Olomofe was led in cross examination by the respondent’s counsel O. Adaoibi and C.C Ifediora.
On the question whether he believed that the NCS Seme was harbouring smugglers, Mr. Olomofe replied Yes.
He said that the Seme NCS had done everything to shield the sixth to eight respondents and their gang from justice, adding that they were all paid hands of the Seme customs command who had curiously continued to enjoy their protection.
When asked further to identify the spot and in whose presence the assault took place, Mr. Olomofe said:
“I was attacked initially on the threshold of the office of fourth respondent (Turaki) in the presence of the Ndalati, Nkemdirim, and Turaki, (second to fourth respondents).”
He said he was then physically carried to a refuse pit near the Seme Customs warehouse by the sixth to eight respondents, adding that the gory incident was still fresh in his memory.
After cross examination, Justice Anka fixed June 19, for adoption of further oral evidences.
At the last adjourned date, Mr. Olomofe had recounted his ordeal at the NCS Seme.
“On that fateful day, I received a call from Ibrahim Nuhu Turaki who is an Assistant Comptroller in charge of Import at the Seme area command of the NCS;
“A colleague Mr Mc Dominic Nkempyie, who works with the Tide Newspaper, had earlier sent a questionnaire to the Command.
“The questionnaire requested for comment on the smuggling of light arms and ammunitions, trafficking of persons, importation of prohibited poultry and dairy products, which are all under the prohibition list of the country.
“I went in the company of Nkempyie and we arrived there at about 5pm and reported to the customs area Public relations officer, who took us to Turaki’s office.
“On our way to his (Turaki) office, I observed the presence of Momoh, Madubueke, Elijah and Shehu; I was ushered into Turaki’s office by the PRO, and Turaki insisted that the PRO should stay and be a part of the meeting.
“He also sent for the Deputy Comptroller (Nkemdirim), the PRO Ernest Olota and then asked Madubueke, to come into his office and be a part of the meeting.
“In response to the questionnaire, Turaki and Nkemdirim explained to us that these questionnaires were not meant for a question and answer segment, adding that as journalists, we could get to the root of investigations and gather our reports.
“They therefore said that they could not answer the questions.
“After the meeting, we made to leave but then, Ndalati (Seme area controller) came to the threshold of Turaki’s office and said to Turaki and Nkemdirim “both of you have saved this journalist from my firing squad today, otherwise, there would have been ambulances to convey casualties from here.
“I immediately said I was sorry and that I meant no harm but only bent on promoting good relationship with the NCS, and then I respectfully opted to leave.
“Before I could move out, I was pounced upon by some ferocious men led by Momoh, Shehu and Elijah who were notorious for their border activities; and I heard them say ‘You will die here today, so that journalists will learn to leave border alone.’
“I was beaten to stupor with one of eyes almost blind with blood, and then dumped in a pit; and from the pit, I heard Ndalati telling the others that they had beaten me enough, adding that it will now serve as a warning to other journalists.
“Following concerns and insistence of some passersby who identified me as a well-known journalist, as well as attentions drawn to me in the pit, I was then taken to the Customs Mess Clinic.
“There at the clinic, Turaki came and apologised to me adding that I was not the target but that they had wanted to maim Mc Dominic Nkempyie.
“I was then taken to another hospital in Badagry and on my way from the hospital, I stopped over at the police area K command to make a statement. Eventually, I was taken to Mecure diagnostic centre at Oshodi for several diagnostic tests.”
According to Mr. Olomofe, he still suffers trauma in his left eyes as a result of the assault meted on him.
He, therefore, urged the court to allow justice prevail.
In his suit, the applicant is claiming the sum of N500 million as damages against the NCS, for the assault he allegedly suffered at Seme border post.
Mr. Olomofe is also asking the court to declare that the respondents infringed on his right to life “as guaranteed by Section 33 (1) of the 1999 Constitution.”
He also wants the court to declare “that the assault done to him in the course of discharging his professional duties and obligations, constituted an infringement on his rights to freedom of expression and the press.”
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