The handling of the arrest and investigation of Mr. Chukwudumeme â€˜Evansâ€™ Onwuamadike, a self-confessed kidnapper and armed robber, by the police is a source of concern to all those who have been following what has now become a â€˜circus showâ€™. Olawale Olaleye writes
Not even the likes of Lawrence Aninih, Dr. Ishola Oyenusi, Abiodun Egunjobi alias Godogodo, Okwudili Ndiwe otherwise known as Derico Nwamama, Shina Rambo or slain members of Baddo, a popular Ikorodu cult killer group, were celebrated as much as the celebrity status extended to Mr. Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, the popular kidnapper known as Evans and since dubbed billionaire, either by the media or the police, who cracked his arrest, perhaps on account of the ransom he confessed to have so far collected from his high profile victims in different parts of the country.
From the first day Evans was arrested and accorded the free hands to grant his many celebrated interviews, an average discerning mind could tell that the Nigerian police, though reveled at his arrest as a major breakthrough in recent time, were going to bungle either the investigation of Evansâ€™ many exploits or to say the least, his trial.
The fact that Evans had offered too many information, a majority of them quite sensitive and which the security agency was expected to have classified, pending the completion of their investigation but chose to willfully dish out, whether or not verified further, confirmed the fears that the police might be working to a despicable answer as far as the Evans case was concerned.
And then, the police, while still parading Evans and supposedly making immense image capital from his many interviews, either by default or design, vitiated their investigation of the kidnap of the six students from Igbonla Model College, Epe, Lagos, when they â€˜inadvertently but openly tipped offâ€™ the other members of the kidnap gang that some of their men had been arrested and had hinted on their hideout. That was crass incompetence.
The troubled parents of the kidnapped pupils would later affirm that the indiscretion of the police through the celebration of Evansâ€™ case had emboldened the kidnapper of their wards and invariably compounded efforts geared towards their rescue.
At this point, Evansâ€™ case had begun to assume an irritatingly annoying proportion following the subtle campaign for his release, which would later be heightened by the plea for mercy by his wife, Uchenna Precious, who had uploaded a selfie with their five kids, claiming innocence of the crimes her husband had confessed to and totally distancing herself from his nefarious activities, even though the husband had reportedly said on a few occasions that she was an accomplice, who had helped to pick up ransom a few times.
Then, the police came up with their shocker: â€œwe are under pressure to release Evansâ€ without as much naming those mounting the pressure on them. This soon fired up Evans, who then sued the police for continuing to detain him without charging him to court.
Evans, who has reportedly dragged the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, before the Federal High Court, Lagos over alleged illegal detention, also joined as respondents in the suit, the Nigeria Police Force, Commissioner of Police Lagos State and the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Lagos State Police Command.
In the rights enforcement suit filed on his behalf by a Lagos-based lawyer, Olukoya Ogungbeje, Evans prayed the court to direct the respondents to immediately charge him to court if there is any case against him in accordance with Sections 35 (1) (c) (3) (4) (5) (a) (b) and 36 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Alternatively, he wanted the court to compel the respondents to immediately release him unconditionally in the absence of any offence that would warrant his being charged to court, contending that his continued detention since June 10, 2017, without being charged to court or released on bail was an infringement on his fundamental human rights.
He argued that the respondents ought to have charged him to court in accordance with the provisions of Sections 35 and 36 of the Constitution, noting that his alleged offence were correspondingly intertwined with the constitutional safeguards as provided under Sections 35 and 36 of the Constitution.
As if that was not enough an insult on the sensibilities of the Nigerian people, Evans took a step further and in yet a new suit, a second one in fact and within 24 hours, claimed N300 million as general and exemplary damages against the police for alleged illegal detention and unconstitutional media trial.
To seal this palpable mockery of police investigation, Evansâ€™ father too, Mr. Stephen Onwuamadike, deposed to affidavit in his sonâ€™s support. He personally deposed to a 27-paragraph affidavit, where he averred that his son had been subjected to media trial without any court order by the respondents.
He contended that the media trial and news orchestrated by the respondents have continued to generate reactions in both print and electronic media without his son being afforded fair hearing and trial before a court of law. He observed that since his sonâ€™s arrest, all his family members have been denied access to him but the media.
Although the matter is yet to be assigned to any judge, the police have also reacted to the development and said they had a mandate to keep him for at least three months. Spokesman for the Police High Command, Jimoh Moshood, said the police had obtained a court order from a Federal High Court, Abuja, to detain Evans for three months, in order to allow them carry out proper investigation on the suspect.
The investigation, the police said would take the operatives to Ghana, South Africa and many parts of the country before he could be arraigned.
A Deputy Commissioner of Police, Administration, in the Lagos Command, Dasuki Galandanci, also told journalists last Friday that the Police were in the midst of a thorough investigation on Evans, noting that â€œEvans has been a kidnapper for a long time and has been on the wanted list of the Police in Anambra, Abuja, Enugu, Edo and Lagos States. He also has a criminal gang, some of whom have been arrested in Enugu and Lagos.
â€œBut there are still more out there. Therefore, this needs a painstaking investigation. Besides, we need to understudy him as well as debrief him properly. By so doing, we intend to use his tactics to get others. He will eventually be charged to court after investigation is concluded,â€ he said.
The incontestable truth of this matter is that Evans is presumed innocent before the law until pronounced otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction. It was not a wrong that he approached a court to press for his rights, because the police had begun to make a mess of it already as he was constantly in the news courtesy the police style of investigation.
It was smart also and of course, expected that the police would have approached a court of competent jurisdiction to ask for more time to hold him while they conclude their investigations, which they reckoned would take them to at least two other African countries and many states within Nigeria.
The period of wait also gives Evans some reprieve, because like a lawyer once said, even if someone pleaded guilty to murder in court, the court would still record not guilty for him until the investigations are concluded, because a murder case cannot just be dispensed with without ascertaining the circumstances leading to it.
Although this situation, he reasoned, was applicable only to a murder case while other cases in which the culprit pleads guilty would require straight sentencing. From his analysis, therefore, Evans remains innocent before the law even though he had confessed to his crimes and cannot be tagged otherwise until a court of competent jurisdiction says so. As such, neither the police nor anyone else can tag him â€˜criminalâ€™ before the law does so yet.
Taken together, the problem remains the police, who have continued to make a needless, shameful and disappointing public show of what was expected to be a discreet investigation of a high profile case that they had failed to crack for many years before finally coming round it. To think that the police would not have compromised their investigation in whatever way is slim. Whether or not such a development was deliberate is also very likely.
Their celebration of the arrest of Evans was too early and premature let alone making it some sort of circus show, which has come to embolden a self-confessed suspect to be asking for his rights as guaranteed by the law that he willfully circumvented in the bid to survive illegitimately.
The good news, however, is that he was arrested in Lagos, where he was domiciled and firmly established in his kidnap business for many years. Lagos, therefore, has a law against kidnapping.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of the state recently signed into law, the state kidnapping prohibition bill, 2016, which prescribes life imprisonment or death penalty for the offence of kidnapping and forceful extortion in Lagos State. This could mean that Evans may get a life imprisonment or death sentence. The law provides for death penalty for kidnappers, whose victims die in their custody, and life imprisonment for the act of kidnapping.
The Lagos State House of Assembly had passed the bill on January 5, this year and the governor has said the law was enacted to address key issues bordering on security, noting also that kidnapping had become a major threat to the safety of residents and, therefore, required decisive action by the government.
â€œThis law imposes a penalty of life imprisonment for kidnapping for ransom. The law stipulates that, where a victim dies in the course of kidnapping, the suspect is liable on conviction to death. Security is of utmost importance to our administration, and we are confident that this law will serve as a deterrent to anybody, who may desire to engage in this wicked act within the boundaries of Lagos State. Our justice system will be required to execute this law in absolute and make sure that any criminal caught faces the full wrath of the law,â€ he said.
In the light of the foregoing, whether or not there was a deliberate attempt by the police or some of their men to frustrate the investigation and trial of Evans, the law of Lagos would neither change nor be bent for his sake. The gory tales of some of Evansâ€™ victims sum it all up. This trial is long in coming and now that it is here, no security arm of government or its personnel should mess this up. All eyes on Evans and the police!