By Onikepo Braithwaite
I’m beginning to feel more like only a Crime Reporter, than the Lawyer/Law Editor that I am. Lately, my writings have been about crime, as the violence and the state of insecurity in Nigeria today is unprecedented, worrisome and almost out of control. The horrendous attack on St Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State on Sunday, killing innocent Parishioners who went to Church to worship, is loathsome, reprehensible, hateful and abominable – another rising vicious trend of people being attacked in their places of worship. In December 2021, 16 people were callously killed in a Mosque in Niger State, when armed bandits attacked them during the early morning Fajr prayer. What makes it worse, is the docility (sometimes complicity) of Government and its officials in these disasters, for one, for not bringing any perpetrators to justice.
Sadly, I cannot but mention two more cases of jungle justice.
David Imoh was burnt alive, allegedly by a mini mob of ‘okada’ riders of ‘Northernish’ extraction in the Lekki axis of Lagos, over a misunderstanding concerning N100. He was said to have been beaten to a state of unconsciousness first. His two colleagues who were also beaten to a pulp, were rushed to the hospital for treatment. I watched a heart wrenching video of his widow and their two little sons. I read in the news that seven people have been arrested for this horrendous crime, including a 22 year old. Subsequent upon this, Lagos State Government banned okadas in certain local governments, with effect from June 1, 2022. I urge the Police to bring the perpetrators of this horrible crime to justice, whoever they may be and wherever they are from. Meting out the appropriate level of justice, is one of the ways to curb this evil of mob/jungle justice. I was however, taken aback by the news report I read about the reaction of Hausa leaders in some of the areas affected by the okada ban – I expected to read that they are using their influence and good offices to help fish out some of these criminals, but instead, they were reported to have issued veiled threats to Mr Governor to lift the ban on okada riders, or risk losing the votes of numerous okada riders in the election. This is not the way to resolve societal challenges; dialogue and cooperation between community leaders and Government, is a better way.
Tears filled my eyes when I read about the gruesome murder of Harira Jibril, a 32 year old 9 months pregnant lady and her four other daughters in Anambra State (a total of six innocent souls). Who could be that cruel? I have watched a Mafia movie (I’m not sure whether it was ‘The Godfather’) in which even a seasoned assassin refused to commit murder when it involved a woman and child. Jibril Ahmed, the widower and father of the little girls, who was hitherto looking forward to the birth of his fifth child, has been left without an immediate family. I read on social media that Harira and her children were targeted, because they were wearing hijabs. Again, the perpetrators of this horrific crime, whoever they may be and wherever they are from, must be brought to justice.
I unequivocally condemn these unlawful killings.
Then I watched the video of some of the Kaduna train abductees, 72 days in captivity today and still counting, in a pitiable condition; some, especially the two little sons of the family of four children and their parents who are among the abductees, sick, pleading for Government to rescue them before the kidnappers begin to kill them one by one. Only one group out of numerous others that remain in captivity, unaccounted for.
Yet, Government and Politicians seem totally unconcerned and unperturbed about the state of insecurity and by extension, the state of the nation, only interested in primaries, elections and 2023; everything else, has paled into insignificance. Sadly, the Chibok girls who remain in captivity over eight years later, after the initial hype of the Buhari administration getting a few of them back, have been more or less forgotten, and so has Leah Sharibu. Well, many Nigerians including my humble self, have not forgotten the numerous abductees in captivity and the horror they must be facing; and we call on Government to fulfil its responsibility of securing the lives of these people by rescuing them forthwith, or paying their ransom to get them released. See Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)(the Constitution). Let me add that, the amendment to the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2013, criminalising ransom payments to kidnappers will obviously be observed in the breach, as families that are able to raise money to free their loved ones from captivity will certainly do so, instead of sitting down twiddling their thumbs doing nothing, like Government.
Was the killing of innocent Harira and her lovely daughters, some kind of cruel revenge for the mob justice meted out on non-Muslims in the North, or a sick show by some in their quest for a South East Presidency or secession? If it has to do with the latter reason, then one can only wonder about the voting pattern at the recently concluded PDP Presidential Primaries, which was the first opportunity for South Easterners to show their commitment to their own cause of producing a President from their zone. I was surprised to see that out of 95 South East Delegates who partook in the PDP Primaries, the aspirant from the South East region who scored the highest, Pius Anyim, only secured 14 votes; Sam Ohabunwa, only 1 vote, while Charles Okwudili got none! Assuming that 15 Delegates voted for the South East two aspirants, who did the other 80 vote for? One would have expected that one of the South East aspirants would have secured all the 95 votes or they would be distributed amongst the three aspirants, to show a total commitment to the South East Presidency cause. Alas! It was shocking to see that the South East didn’t wholeheartedly, not even quarterheartedly vote for their own. Even if none of the South East aspirants won, it would have been a step in the right direction for them to show commitment by supporting their goal fully.
Whatever the reason for the extra-judicial killings, it cannot justify the murder of innocent people in cold blood, especially little children, whether in the North or South. See Section 33(1) of the Constitution; Sections 315 & 220 Criminal Code and Penal Code Act respectively and Section 8(1) Administration of Criminal Justice Act. Interestingly, Learned Silk, Yemi Candide-Johnson sent me some statistics last week, evincing the fact that from 2019 to date, mob justice has been highest in the South West and lowest in the North East. While mob justice is carried out usually for economic reasons like burning of suspected thieves with tyres in the South West, in the North, it has more to do with religious and ethnic differences.
Enthronement of Lawlessness
The bottom line is that, there is more lawlessness than lawfulness going round in Nigeria these days, and it is fuelled by the fact that perpetrators are able to get away with it. However, when this disregard for the rule of law is displayed by those in authority who are expected to uphold the law, it becomes even more worrisome.
Magistrate M v ACP A
I wasn’t particularly shocked when I first saw the story of an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP A), who allegedly arrested and detained a Magistrate for coming to inspect the jail under his command without obtaining his permission! However, Magistrate M has since come out to deny that aspect of the story.
Apart from UN Protocols like the ‘Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners’ approved in 1957, which provides for regular inspection of penal institutions by qualified inspectors inter alia “….to ensure that these institutions are administered in accordance with existing laws and regulations and with a view to bringing about the objectives of penal and correctional services” (see for example, Sections 55 & 9 thereof), Section 34 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 (ACJA) empowers any Magistrate designated by the Chief Judge for that purpose, to inspect Police stations or other places of detention within his/her territorial jurisdiction other than the prison, at least once a month. Nowhere in that provision, does it state that the Magistrate requires the permission of the DPO or ACP, to conduct such inspection. Also, Section 21(1)(ix) of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019 provides that a Magistrate and District Court Judge are official visitors of custodial centres in Nigeria, to inspect custodial centres, cells and their other divisions (also see Section 22 thereof).
In a news report which I read, Magistrate M confirmed that there was a disagreement between herself and ACP A, because she didn’t seek and obtain his permission to interrogate the inmates before conducting the inspection.
First, I must condemn what seems to be the negative trend of trying to oppress and rubbish the Judiciary, the third co-equal arm of Government. See Sections 4-6 of the Constitution, and recall the October 2016 DSS raid on Judicial Officers. Just like perpetrators of mob justice, nobody paid the price for that fiasco. This lack of accountability for lawless behaviour, especially on the part of those in authority, would have emboldened ACP A and given him the impetus to misbehave with Magistrate M, simply on an egotistical whim. Assuming, but not conceding that ACP A had the power to arrest a serving Magistrate, in this circumstance, what offence did the Magistrate commit, that would have warranted an arrest? It is trite law, that a suspect can only be arrested for an offence known to law. Aside from the fact that such action would have amounted to disrespecting the Judiciary, a gross abuse of power on the part of the ACP, and disregard for the rule of law, it would have constituted the offence/tort of unlawful/false imprisonment. See Sections 35 (1), 36 & 41 of the Constitution and FRN v Hyeladzira Nganjiwa SC/794/2019.
Magistrate M is a woman; would the Policeman have treated the Magistrate in such a disgraceful manner, if it was a man like himself? Maybe because of their discriminatory regulations against women (contrary to Section 42 of the Constitution) and the way the Police has been known to treat domestic violence cases against women (allegedly calling it a family matter, to be settled at home), I cannot but help feeling that the Policeman possibly felt freer to misbehave, because the Magistrate was female.
In U.A.C. (Nig.) Plc v Sobodu 2007 6 N.W.L.R. Part 1030 Page 368 at 394. per Garba JCA (as he then was), the Court of Appeal held inter alia that “False imprisonment involves the unlawful, illegal and unjustifiable restraint of a person’s right and liberty to move freely…. the wrong of false imprisonment consists of acts of arrest and detention or imprisonment of a Plaintiff without lawful justification by the Police or other law enforcement agencies on complaints or information received in the course of their duties”. Also see Abdullahi v Raji 1998 1 N.W.L.R. Part 534 Page 481 at 492 per Muntaka- Comassie JCA.
To establish a false/wrongful/unlawful imprisonment claim, the Plaintiff must prove that (1) he/she was wilfully detained (2) that his/her detention was without consent and (3) that he/she was detained without authority of law. See the case of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines v Taher 2014 3 N.W.L.R. Part 1393 Page 137 at 200 per Orji-Abadua JCA. I submit that, had ACP A made the mistake of detaining Magistrate M, the elements of this tort would have been quite easy to prove.
The remedy for this type of unlawful detention/false imprisonment (not kidnapping), is monetary compensation. The court can award damages, and direct that the Defendant issue a public apology to the Plaintiff. See the case of Jim Jaja v COP Rivers State & Ors 2012 LPELR-20621 (SC); 2013 6 N.W.L.R. Part 1350 Page 225 per Ngwuta JSC. The court may also issue an injunction, to prevent the future recurrence of such unlawful detention.