A family in Bayelsa State is accusing the police of forcing their son at gunpoint to jump into a river where he eventually got drowned.
Joseph Uzoukwu and Christiana Uzoukwu, who are the grandparents of the victim, are suing the Commissioner of Police, Bayelsa State, the Inspector General of Police, and the nation’s Attorney General jointly for N864 million for the alleged murder of Tochukwu Uzoukwu, 25.
The case was first filed at the Federal High Court in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. It was later transferred to the Federal High Court, Calabar, Cross River State, to avoid it starting afresh, when the judge handling it was transferred to Calabar.
The Uzoukwus are also asking the defendants to jointly pay the family N3 million being the “cost” they said they incurred to recover the corpse from the river, the mortuary bills, and other sundry expenses.
The victim’s mother, Christiana Uzoukwu, and four of his siblings are also plaintiffs in the case.
The plaintiffs, according to court documents, said the victim, Mr. Uzoukwu, was arrested on May 11, 2011, at Shell Ramp Water Front, close to Goodluck Jonathan Bridge, in Yenagoa by a police sergeant, Benjamin Ogbuagu, for alleged possession of Indian hemp.
The Uzoukwus told the court in their affidavit that the police made a demand for “settlement” before they could release their son, and afterwards ordered him at gunpoint to jump into a river, despite the victim’s plea that he was unable to swim.
“Tochukwu Uzoukwu pleaded with them to spare his life and told the police he could not swim and that he is an Igbo boy but the police will have none of it,” the Uzoukwus said in their affidavit.
“When he refused to jump into the water, they cocked their guns and threatened to shoot. With imminent death facing him, Tochukwu jumped into the water and was drowned.”
The Uzoukwus also filed before the court a statement from one Stanley Godspower, a resident at Shell Ramp, who claimed to have witnessed the incident that led to the victim’s death.
“On 11th May 2011, (at) about 6:30 pm, I was taking my bath on the steps of the Shell Ramp jetty when I heard a shout from someone repeatedly saying ‘abeg (please) officer, abeg officer’ and was crying,” Mr Godspower said in his statement on oath.
“When I looked at the direction of the voice, I saw three police officers with the famous ‘Tangbe uniform.’
The police officers led a young man to the waterfront close to a floating toilet inches away from where I was bathing.
“The police officers ordered the young man to kneel down and say his last prayer.
“They later ordered him to stand up and jump into the river or be shot. The young man started saying that ‘I don’t know how to swim’ and continued to beg the police officers. The next thing I saw was that the young man jumped into the river when the police officers cocked their guns and threatened to shoot at him.
“I saw that the boy couldn’t swim and was drowning. The police officers stood there and watched while the young man drowned,” Mr. Godspower said.
The family said the body was recovered from the river after a four-day search.
Mr. Uzoukwu, before his death, had just finished his apprenticeship in the salesof building materials and had started catering for his mother and his siblings, the family said, adding that he lost his father when he (the victim) was 22.
Meanwhile, the police have denied being responsible for the death of Mr. Uzoukwu.
Paul Ekubi, a police sergeant, in an affidavit disposed of on behalf of the police, said Mr. Uzoukwu “escaped from policemen and ran into the dark, and that the police only got to know about his death later.”
They also gave their defence in an affidavit filed on their behalf.
“On the 11th of May, 2011 at about 1930 hours, one Tochukwu Uzuokwu (now deceased) was arrested by men of the anti-vice patrol team headed by Sgt Benjamin Ogbuagu for alleged unlawful possession of Indian hemp at the floating toilet shell ram waterside Yenagoa,” Mr. Ekubi said in his affidavit.
“The said Tochukwu Uzuokwu was with the team until the team leader Sgt Benjamin Ogbuagu received a distress call through a radio message that they should relocate to Arietallin road to effect arrest of some cultists operating in that area.
“Before the team left Shell Ram waterside, the team leader handed over Tochukwu Uzuokwu to another patrol team headed by Sgt Boniface Nwagboso also assigned to patrol that Area.
“Tochukwu Uzuokwu told the patrol team that he can go and show the team the dealer where he bought the Indian hemp. Tochukwu Uzuokwu led the team down the waterside of the River-ban area and showed the team a plank house, but as the officers were trying to ascertain whether there was somebody living in that house, Tochukwu Uzuokwu took to his heels and escaped from the team through the back door.
“When the search for Tochukwu Uzuokwu for re-arrest proved abortive, they returned to their vehicle to continue with their patrol,” the police sergeant said in the affidavit.
The police also denied that they demanded “settlement” for the release of the victim when he was arrested.
Ebimobowei Okele, of the D. D. Fuderikumo Chambers, Yenagoa, is the plaintiffs’ lawyer, while the police is represented by Mgbechukwu Asuru and Zedeme Gwegwe.
The case comes up on October 4 in Calabar for the adoption of written addresses by lawyers to the parties.