A magistrate court in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, on Monday dismissed criminal charges filed by the police against three persons in the state for protesting at the gate of the Government House, Uyo.
Benson Benjamin, Enobong Kenneth, and Utibe Akan were arrested by the police in January last year and charged to court for conspiracy to commit unlawful purpose and conduct likely to cause breach of public peace.
The three men were among hundreds of ‘next of kin’ who were protesting against the state government for the non-payment of gratuities and pensions of their late relatives, some primary school teachers who died while in the government service.
They were arrested by Deina Abibo, an assistant commissioner of police serving at the state police headquarters, Ikot Akpan Abia.
Mr. Abibo, who was the complainant in the case, served as the first prosecution witness (PW1).
The magistrate, Martin Johnson, said the prosecution failed to establish a prima facie case against the accused persons and therefore dismissed the case against them.
The magistrate said Mr. Abibo had admitted before the court, during cross-examination, that it was customary for people to hold peaceful protest in front of the Government House gate and that it would be wrong to arrest any Nigerian for embarking on a peaceful protest.
“PW1 (Mr. Abibo) stated under cross-examination that it was wrong for him to have arrested the accused persons,” the magistrate said.
The magistrate said the police officer vowed before court never again to arrest any citizen who embarks on peaceful protest.
The accused persons were represented pro bono in the case by a Lagos-based human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, and Augustine Asuquo.
Mr. Effiong, who addressed journalists outside the courtroom, commended the court for the judgment and appealed to the state governor, Udom Emmanuel, to listen to the voice of conscience and pay the late primary school teachers their entitlement.
“If former governors in the state are being paid hundreds of millions of naira as pensions, I see no reason why the government would continue to refuse to pay the late teachers their entitlement.
“A government that has N10 billion to build a worship centre, a government that has billions of naira to build a new governor’s lodge in Lagos, shouldn’t find it difficult to pay poor pensioners their money,” Mr. Effiong said.
The lawyer added, “The government has been giving frivolous excuses that they couldn’t pay the late teachers’ entitlement because the case was in court. Now that the court case has been settled, the government should begin the process of paying the late teachers their pensions.”
One of the discharged men, Mr. Benjamin, was overwhelmed with joy while speaking with journalists.
“I feel great. I feel vindicated. I feel victorious. This victory is not only for the three of us but for all the next of kin and the poor and traumatised pensioners in Akwa Ibom. I am appealing to Governor Udom Emmanuel and the Akwa Ibom State Government to listen to our voices and our cries,” he said.