The battle for justice, which started since last year, has finally come to an end.
A Superintendent of Police, Sunday Okpe, who was the Officer in Charge of Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS), Awkuzu, was among those alleged to have illegally arrested a business tycoon, Ugochukwu Oraefo, and extorted him. The court ordered the policemen to pay Oraefo compensations.
In a landmark judgement, an Anambra High Court sitting in Ogidi, Idemili Local Government Area, ordered operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) to pay N5 million as compensation to the Onitsha businessman, Ugochukwu Oraefo, for extortion, illegal arrest, unlawful detention and torture.
Oraefo was sometimes in 2019 whisked away from his factory by SARS operatives from Awkuzu and unlawfully detained. He was later extorted N6 million.
The business tycoon, through his lawyer, the Executive Director of International Human Rights and Equity Defence Foundation (I-REF), Justus Ijeoma, instituted a fundamental right enforcement action against the respondents.
The plaintiff had prayed the court to award N100 million damages against the policemen as compensation for the unlawful detention, torture and other breaches of Oraefo’s fundamental rights.
The plaintiff also prayed the court to direct the policemen to tender a written apology which would be published in a very conspicuous page in two daily national newspapers.
Justice E. S. Nri-Eze in his judgement on March 5, 2019 held that the policemen failed to prove that the arrest, detention and torture of Oraefo were justified in law as the applicant had adduced credible and sufficient evidence to prove that his fundamental rights were violated.
Nri-Eze said: “I hold that the applicant’s fundamental rights were grossly abused and violated when the policemen subjected him to such cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture. It was wrong, unconscionable and I dare to say a gross abuse of office for the respondents to subject the applicant to such inhuman treatment merely to intimidate and extort such huge amount of money from the applicant.
“The respondents are hereby restrained from further harassing the applicant. The respondents are hereby ordered to tender a written apology to the applicant, either collectively or individually published in a very conspicuous page in two daily newspapers circulating nationwide. I award the sum of N5,000,000 against the respondents jointly or severally as exemplary and/or aggravated damages for the unlawful violation of the applicant’s fundamental rights.”
Nri-Eze also awarded N100,000 against the respondents jointly or severally.
Oraefo’s trouble started in 2013. He deals on long span aluminium roofing sheets and accessories.
Ijeoma explained that sometime in 2013, his client started receiving frightening phone calls from an unknown person.
The client explained: “The caller threatened to visit me and my family with all manner of violent attacks. He threatened to kidnap and assassinate me. He made it clear that my wife, children and I were being trailed. On several occasions, the caller would call, telling me the exact place I was, what I was doing and what I was wearing.”
The caller told Oraefo that any attempt to report the matter to the police would worsen his situation. It was a period of psychological and mental torture for Oraefo and his family
He recalled: “The caller said that he was going to wipe off my entire family if I didn’t pay N50 million.”
Oraefo reluctantly went into negotiation with the caller and finally paid N20 million. He thought the matter was buried and forgotten until April 30, 2018, when three armed men stormed his factory and attempted to bundle him into a Toyota Camry car. The three men were dressed in plainclothes.
Oraefo, thinking they were kidnappers or assassins, raised the alarm, attracting attention of his wife, factory workers and passers-by.
He said: “It was at that point they told me that they were policemen from Awka. I asked to see their identity cards and also sought to know why they wanted to abduct me in such a manner. This infuriated them and they started beating me, trying to force me into their car. They threatened to shoot me.”
When Oraefo’s wife noticed that the situation was snowballing, she called Ijeoma, unfortunately the lawyer was in Netherlands.
The policemen took the victim to their station at Awkuzu, where they inflicted injuries on him through torture as they tried to force him to accept being a criminal.
Oraefo said: “At their station, I was taken to their torture chamber, where I was hanged for close to an hour until I passed out and was later revived. They first brought two blank sheets of papers for taking statement and forced me to sign them before they started torturing me.”
The lawyer said: “The officers claimed that someone reported a case to them against the victim, making reference to the encounter between the victim and the self-acclaimed criminal (caller). The SARS men held the victim in their custody from April 30th to 5th of May. Every explanation made by the victim to them that he was a victim in the hands of those criminals fell on deaf ears.
“The victim even promised to provide them with the bank account details of the criminals, into which he paid part of the ransom money, but the policemen didn’t bother to make any effort at arresting the criminals. Rather, they continued to torture and threaten the victim that they were going to kill him unless he paid them the sum of N20 million. Their only interest was to criminally fleece out as much money as possible from the victim.”
Before Ijeoma could facilitate his client’s bail, the policemen had collected N6 million from him. The case was later charged to court, where Oraefo received the favourable judgement.
Unfortunately, before the judgement came, Okpe had retired.
Asked if the compensation would still be paid since Okpe had retired, Ijeoma said: “Okpe retired in December, but other officers are still in service.”
Police have a tradition of not ever paying for compensations and damages, how will Ijeoma ensure this money is paid.
Ijeoma responded: “That is one of the major issues we have. That is one of the major bottlenecks associated with fundamental rights in Nigeria particularly, when it is the law enforcement agency represented by the police.
“There was a judgement that involved the police in 2014/2015, where a policeman shot a lorry conductor on his leg. The leg was amputated. We went to court and got a judgement of N5 million against the police. Levying execution today remains a challenge, but we were not giving up on that; we are still very much hopeful. There is a straight court decision that empowers you to join the CBN in garnishing proceeding. Garnishing proceeding is the process of levying execution on the account where the court will mandate the bank to screen you through the account.”