An Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has awarded a fine of N50 million against the Nigeria Police for the illegal detention of Inalegwu Ochife, a man accused robbery.
Mr Ochife was arrested in January by members of the Special Anti-robbery Squad in Abuja for alleged involvement in a robbery at a property owned by the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu.
The judgement followed a fundamental rights application by Mr Ochife’s lawyers after the detainee was locked up for over eight months without trial.
Mr Ochife was also denied bail, despite a court order to that effect in February.
According to copies of the court judgement, delivered in October, but obtained on Monday by PREMIUM TIMES, the police also neglected a request to appear in court over the case.
Copies of the court document also indicate that police officers told Mr Ochife’s wife, Charity David, that they will only arraign her husband at the end of their investigation. The expected duration of the said investigation was not stated by the police officers.
“It is important to place on record that this application has not been challenged despite the proof of evidence that the respondent were duly served with the originating summons and hearing notices,” the court said.
“The respondents have not made any efforts to justify before this court the detention of the applicant for an inordinately long time having regard particularly to section 35 of the 1999 constitution.
“The phrase reasonable time is explained in the section 35 (5) as meaning that in the case of arrest or detention in a place where there is a court of competent jurisdiction within a radius of 40 kilometres, a period of one day and in any other case a period of two days or such longer period as in the circumstances may be considered by the court.
“This provision is mandatary as made manifest by the use of the words, “shall be brought before a court of law.” It is hence not competent for any person or authority other than a court of law to detain a suspect indefinitely, and or purport to pronounce his guilt no matter how strong the evidence of alleged commission of the offence may be,” the judge, John Tsoho, ruled.
Mr Tsoho also said the constitutional provision stated above makes it mandatory for the accused to have been arraigned within a day after his arrest on January 30.
“In this case, the applicant’s detention is located within the Abuja metropolis where competent courts of law abound within 40 kilometres radius. The respondents were obligated to take the applicant to a court of law, within one day.
“The law is settled that in fundamental rights action, damages automatically accrue once the respondent has been adjudged to have violated the fundamental rights of the applicant.
“On this premise, I award punitive and exemplary damages in the sum of N50 million, in favour of the applicants against the respondents jointly and severally,” he said.
The respondents in the suit are the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, the Federal Capital Territory’s Police Commissioner and the Officer in Charge of the intelligence response team for the SARS.
Although the court papers indicate that Mr Ochife was arrested in January and granted bail in February, media reports showed that the he was paraded along with other suspects for alleged robbery in April.
In a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Ochife’s uncle, Fred Ochife, said his nephew had been tortured to the point of admitting to have been involved in the offence.
“After seeing how people are being killed by the officers, he has been tortured to admitting that he gave information to the robbers,” Mr Ochife said.
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