• Rivers Police command pledge full investigation

BY EMEKA EJERE

Continued delay in the prosecution of four police officers involved in the brutal treatment that left a Port Harcourt mechanic dead and his four colleagues in terrible conditions is beginning to raise doubts about the Rivers State Police Command’s ability to give justice a chance in the matter.

It is even more so with events taking a new twist on Tuesday, March 17 when a Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt struck out a fundamental human right suit filed by the family of the deceased, Mr Chima Ikwunado.

Chima died in police custody on December 23, 2019, and his family, through their lawyer, filed the fundamental human rights suit demanding compensation to the tune of N10billion from the police.

The Ikwunados had dragged before the court the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu; Commissioner of Police, Rivers State, Mustapha Dandaura; the Commander, Eagle Crack, Mile One Division, Benson Adetuyi; and the Investigating Police Officer.

But the court struck out the suit after counseling to Ikwunado family, Princess Chinyere Lawrence, applied to withdraw same due to what she called errors in the application. Lawrence said she moved for the withdrawal of the suit to correct the errors and re-file the application.

However, counsel to the police, Isokari Egop, during the court proceedings asked the court to dismiss the suit. The presiding Judge, Justice Kolawole Omotosho after listening to both sides in the matter, struck out the suit.

The court had on Tuesday, March 11, advised Lawrence to seek enforcement of a breach to the life of the deceased and not his family members.

Justice Omotosho, following the submission of the plaintiff’s counsel, advised Lawrence to go back and regularise her prayers to seek enforcement to the breach of the right to life of Chima, as the deceased’s family members right to life was not threatened nor breached.

Egop had told journalists outside the courtroom that the plaintiff’s counsel abused court processes when she duplicated the same action in three different courts.

He said, “I told the court that one cannot duplicate action on one particular right and the court heard me out because the wife of the late Chima Ikwunado had filed a case before the court; the father also filed before another action,  and before you know it, another person will come and file. Its duplicity of actions, which is an abuse of court processes.

“We are not happy that somebody died, but it must be established that somebody killed somebody, for that person to be liable. What I am saying, in essence, is that I don’t want to pre-empt the court.”

But Lawrence said she filed the same matter in three different courts to overwhelm the police.

She stated, “We wanted to shake the police; we wanted to even file more than these and at the end of the day, withdraw them. In this application, we are asking for stiff monetary compensation to make the police to sit up. We are asking for N10bn in compensation.”

Tortured to death

Chima and his colleagues Victor Ogbonna, Osaze Friday, Ifeanyi Osuji and Ifeanyi Onyekwere (now known as Ikoku 5) were arrested for driving against traffic on December 19, 2019, and tortured at Mile 1 Police Station.

At the point of arrest, the policemen allegedly took N93,000 found on Chima and remanded him on allegations of car theft and cult violence.  In detention, he alongside others were allegedly tortured most brutally despite a confirmation by the owner of the Toyota Camry that the car had not been stolen and that Chima was his mechanic only taking the car for a test run after routine repair.

The owner of the car, Chinedu Ezenwaliri, said that he got to know that Chima was detained with his car at the E-Crack Unit cell in Mile 1 Division when he could not find the mechanic and his car days after dropping it with him for usual repairs on December 19, 2019.

Ezenwaliri said: “I refuted the allegations that Chima was anything of such (armed robber and cultist); that he has been my mechanic for many years and he never stole my car. On a trip out of Port Harcourt, I heard that Chima had died in a police cell.”

When the news broke that Chima had died in detention, his family members and colleagues concluded that he was tortured to death for an offence he did not commit. But the state police command claimed that he died of excess blood sugar level in his system.

While the cause of Chima’s death became a serious issue, the other four were battling to survive the tortures the E-Crack operatives allegedly subjected them to. They knew that Chima had succumbed to torture and neglect and was afraid for their own lives.

Also afraid were concerned individuals and rights groups who argued that the continued detention of the Ikoku Four was a ploy to cover up what happened to Chima. However, relief came eventually when a magistrate court discharged and acquitted them after the police said it couldn’t prove a case against them.

Taste of hell

According to one of the Ikoku 5, Victor Ogbonna, who spoke during a phone-in radio programme, one of the leaders of the police ‘torture team’ was a woman, who took pleasure in torturing detainees.

Ogbonna noted that before Chima died, he was bleeding through his nose and ears from the severe beatings he received from the police officers, noting that during torture sessions, the policemen used hammers, planks, knives, and unknown chemicals on them.

Speaking on what transpired in detention, Ogbonna said the female police officer was always hitting at the private part of the late Chima and threatened to cut off his penis if he refused to confess that the vehicle they were arrested in was stolen.

According to Ogbonna, the female police officer threatened Chima, saying: “If you refuse to confess that you are an armed robber and a cultist, I will cut off your penis so that you would not be able to impregnate any woman again (touching his penis)…

“When Chima died, the Policemen asked us to carry out his dead body, which they covered and hid from the public. We don’t know where his corpse was dumped.”

Ogbonna, who explained how they were tortured, said: “We were handcuffed and hanged face down on an iron pole behind the E-Crack Cell. There were times they hanged us and left for the day’s patrol until they came back.

“We were 95 persons in a cell. Due to the severe beatings, we even told them to take all the monies the seized from us. But they refused. I can’t even use my two hands now.”

He also revealed that some detainees at the E-Crack Cell pleaded guilty to crimes they didn’t commit, including a man who was dressed up to travel to his village for Christmas in December but was arrested in front of his house.

A right activist and lawyer, Mr Paul Arinze, who has been observing the case, noted that the country’s policing system gives room to abuses and the gross violation of human rights. He said, “Bad cops are hardly sanctioned for violating the codes that define operations as law enforcement agents.”

“What is very troubling is the way that some police officers cook up charges and make a simple matter complex just because they want to extort money from suspects, including those they wrongly arrested.

“No matter the extent we go in reforming the police, without making it clear that officers that act wickedly for selfish reasons and thereby betray public trust will be held accountable, we will only continue to scratch the surface.”

Endless investigation

On February 9, the police agreed to a second autopsy to ascertain the true cause of death of the mechanic following increased pressure from civil society organizations. The autopsy report was released two weeks later to the Rivers State Police Command.

Dr Cornell Chukwuegbo, pathologist for Chima’s family said the autopsy report was not for public consumption. According to him, autopsy reports are not made public except through the appropriate channels. However, sources said the report showed the mechanic was tortured intensely before his death.

The public relations officer of the police command, Nnamdi Omoni, had claimed in January that the mechanic died from high blood sugar, a claim the bereaved family denied.

Omoni, however, admitted subsequently that the police lied to the public over the cause of death of the mechanic, saying his earlier statement was a product of what the commander of Eagle Crack Unit, SP Benson Adetuyi, told him, adding that the command was embarrassed by the outcome of the lie told them by Adetuyi.

“SP Benson Adetuyi was called when the news went viral and he said they were investigating a case of armed robbery.

“He said that they (Chima and the Ikoku 4) were intercepted and taken to the station and that they were interrogated and detained in the cell in the cause of Interrogation Chima eventually died in custody and he was taken to the hospital and it was revealed that he died of high sugar level.

“I am quoting him. When I was interviewed on the radio I quoted him based on that. When the CP summoned him, he told the CP the same thing. When the Force PRO called him and the team to Abuja, he told them the same thing so we were startled when an autopsy was conducted the other day we were thrown aback”

“I equally said we were not contending with or rely 100% on what he told us, that CP has ordered a full-scale investigation into the matter.

“The revelations we are getting today is as a result of the investigation that was instituted by the commissioner of police by men of the state CID. It is still from the same police the revelation of there was no autopsy came.

“If we wanted to cover our tracks, we would have done that but because we are transparent, the report from the pathologist is still from the police’ doctor.

“The officers involved in this dastardly act were detained when it was confirmed that the Late Chima died out of torture, that is murder and we would deal with them appropriately.

“For the commander himself, he has been redeployed. All hands are on deck to ensure that justice is served in this matter.

At a meeting with family members of late Chima Ikwunado at the State Police Headquarters at Moscow Road, Port Harcourt, Rivers CP, Mustapha Dan Daura, noted that the police is poised to ensure all those involved in the matter are investigated and if found guilty prosecuted.

He said he had been directed by the Force headquarters to investigate the matter and submit a report on it. The Police Commissioner also appealed to the family to exercise patience while investigation and autopsy were being carried out to enable them to do a thorough job.

But that the result of the autopsy has long been released and nothing has been heard about the four police officers is raising fresh fears that justice may be denied at last.

“I think there is a collaborative effort among the 3 organs of government to deny the Ikwunado family and the rest of Ikoku 5 justice”, says Patrick Okoro, a Port Harcourt residence who is interested in the matter.

“Otherwise why shouldn’t the governor, the chief justice and Inspector General of Police do something about this?”

Another resident, Chuks Anyansi, said, “The Rivers CP should try and show his competence here. This thing is getting out of hand. If it was his son that was killed like that, will he keep quiet?”

Dousing tension

Aware that people are beginning to see the possibility of her compromise, Princess Lawrence has come out to explain the withdrawal of the case while reassuring that she will never be compromised.

Speaking on a live programme on 92.3 Nigeria Info monitored by our correspondent on Wednesday, Lawrence said, “We had to withdraw the suit after getting more details that were not captured before going to court. For instance, we did not have the autopsy report before filing the suit. When we’re through with that, we’re going to re-file the suit.”

On police’ claim that investigations were not yet concluded she said, “Since the autopsy report is out for more than 3 weeks now, I don’t know what the police say they’re still investigating

Allaying fears of the possibility of compromise, Lawrence said, “I’ve never done that and I will not do that. I’ve got phone calls from influential people to withdraw from the case, but I will not stop the fight until justice is done.

“It is not justice for Chima and his family alone, it is justice for all.

When asked if she may need more lawyers she said, “I’m being supported by Network of Lawyers of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Association of Igbo Lawyers, though they’re not coming to court.”