David-Chyddy Eleke in Awka
A High Court in Ogidi, Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State has ordered officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and an officer of the Nigerian Police Force to pay the sum of N5million as compensation to Ugochukwu Oraefo for extortion, illegal arrest, unlawful detention and torture.
Oraefo, an Onitsha-based businessman, was in 2018 arrested at his factory by men of the squad and taken to their office at Awkuzu, where he was unlawfully detained, subjected to excruciating torture and criminally extorted the sum of N6milion as ransom.
The officers had accused Oraefo of working with kidnappers, and having also paid some money to kidnappers, without alerting the police. But the victim rather confessed that he paid ransom to kidnappers who had called and threatened to kidnap him, and also warning him not to disclose it to the police.
The victim, who spoke to journalists upon his release, had said he was kept in detention and tortured for five days, after which a mock execution was carried out on him, with the threat that he would also pay them to secure his freedom.
Though Oraefo, through his lawyer, Justus Ijeoma, was able to get a refund of the N6million he paid to secure his release from the police, Ijeoma, who is also the Executive Director of International Human Rights and Equity Defence Foundation (I-REF), instituted a fundamental right enforcement action against the SARS.
The Respondents in the suit marked ‘HID/MISC/ 129/2018’ were Commissioner of Police, SP Sunday Okpe; Officer in charge of Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS), Nigeria Police Force, Awkuzu; DSP Elias, Commander of SARS Nigeria Police Force Neni; Commander of SARS Nigeria Police Force Ogidi and Sgt. Osmond Tagbo, Police officer attached to SARS at Neni office.
The plaintiff had prayed the court to award N100 million against the respondents jointly and severally as compensation for the unlawful detention, torture and other breaches of the applicant’s fundamental rights.
Oraefo also prayed the court to direct the respondents to tender a written apology which will be published in two national dailies circulating nationwide.
Delivering judgment on the matter on March 5, Justice E.S Nri-Eze held that the respondents failed to prove that the arrest, detention and torture of the applicant were justified in law as the applicant had adduced credible and sufficient evidence to prove that his fundamental rights were violated most unjustifiably when he was arrested, detained and tortured, and that the sum of N6 million was extorted from him.
Part of Nri-Eze’s judgment read: “I hold that the applicant’s fundamental rights were grossly abused and violated when the respondents subjected him to such inhumane and degrading treatment and torture.
“It was wrong, unconscionable and 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 applicant, from the peculiar facts of this suit, is entitled to exemplary or aggravated damages against the respondents for the cruel, outrageous and flagrant disregard and violation of the applicant’s fundamental right to life and dignity of human person.
“I award the sum of N5, 000,000 (Five million Naira) against the respondents jointly or severally as exemplary and /or aggravated damages for the unlawful violation of the applicant’s fundamental rights,” the Judge stated.