Alex Enumah in Abuja
A Federal High Court in Abuja has imposed a fine of N5 million on the Nigeria Police Force over the unlawful detention of a nursing mother, Esther Olubode.
The nursing mother, who is a staff of a commercial bank in Abuja, was said to have been arrested and detained by operatives of the anti-robbery squad of the Police in various police stations in Abuja metropolis in 2014.
Delivering judgment in the fundamental human rights enforcement suit instituted by Mrs. Olubode against the police and six others, Justice Inyang Ekwo, found the respondents liable for engaging in oppressive and arbitrary arrest and detention of the plaintiff.
Although Justice Ekwo agreed that the police under Section 4 of the Police Act have power to arrest and detain suspects in connection with any crime, he however said that the power of arrest was not at large.
The judge held that the arrest and detention of the banker and her movement from one police detention camp to another under the guise of investigation was a clear breach of her fundamental rights, especially after the same police had granted her administrative bail that was not breached.
The court further held that the arrest and detention of the nursing mother on six occasions, inspite of meeting bail conditions on all the occasions in addition to the extortion of N35, 000 from the plaintiff in the name of bail were a calculated breach of the freedom to liberty of movement by the instrument of power by the police.
Justice Ekwo stated that the respondents clearly breached Sections 34 and 35 of the 1999 Constitution, which guarantee the fundamental right to freedom of liberty and human dignity.
The court dismissed the defence of the police that it only invited the plaintiff in line with its power under Section 4 of the Police Act for explanation in the unlawful transfer of N360 million from the bank account of a customer, adding that the police was patently biased in the way the investigation was handled, especially when suspects who carried out the alleged crime in similar manner were apprehended by the same police. He said: “In my view and having reviewed the circumstances of this case, I am of the opinion that police was evasive and went beyond its statutory mandate on how to arrest and detain suspects in an alleged crime.
“There is no justifiable reason to have detained the plaintiff, a nursing mother six times after she had perfected police administrative bail and after the suspects using same method to transfer money illegally from customers’ account in the commercial bank have been apprehended.
“More worrisome is the fact that during the period of detention the respondents extorted N35, 000 from the plaintiff in the name of bail.”
Justice Ekwo therefore declared the arrest and detention of the plaintiff as oppressive, unlawful, arbitrary, unconstitutional, and a breach of personal liberty and human dignity of the plaintiff.
He subsequently ordered the seven respondents to pay the plaintiff N5 million exemplary damages and 10 per cent interest on the amount until the judgment is fully executed.
The seven respondents are, the Nigeria Police; Inspector General of Police; Divisional Police Officer, Joseph Popogbo; Investigative Police Officer, Mary Abari; Gobma Anenile, Unity Bank and Police Service Commission.