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Price of impunity

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Editorial

The seven men who allegedly invaded the Edo State House of Assembly have become the oppressed, because of the way the police handled their arrest and detention. Despite the widespread condemnation that trailed the invasion, a Benin High Court has found their arrest and detention unlawful, and consequently awarded N2.52 million naira in damages, against the police. The award is a lesson for the police, to deal with the rights of citizens in accordance with the due process of law.

We recall the invasion of the state assembly by suspected thugs, allegedly masterminded by sympathizers of the state governor, Godwin Obaseki, which was widely condemned by the public.  The invasion was allegedly carried out to stop the majority faction of the state house of assembly that the governor believed were not sympathetic to him, from accessing the assembly.

Those awarded damages by the high court are Wilfred Ogbewe, Igbinobono Collins, Salami Osayomore, Odion Osayande, Morgan Uwanboe, Ifeoluwa Oladele and Agbonrere Festus. They were arrested in Benin on August 6, for actions that constituted a breach of public peace, and detained for four days in Benin before being transferred to Force Headquarters, Abuja, where they were further detained for another two weeks.

According to media reports, the detainees claimed that they were members of the state vigilante group, who were deployed to the state house of assembly to protect government’s property. While that claim is debatable, after the invasion, they went ahead to remove the roof of the building, which is condemnable. Their action was viewed as an attempt by the executive branch to intimidate and overawe the legislative arm of government.

But the issue before the Benin High Court was for the enforcement of the fundamental human rights of the detainees. In her judgment, Justice Efe Ikponwoba held that the arrest and detention of the applicants was illegal. She held that the police arrested the claimants in the premises of the assembly, detained them for four days, before taking them to Force headquarters, Abuja, where they were further detained for two weeks, without being arraigned before a court within jurisdiction.

So, the police by their lackadaisical attitude turned a good case to a bad one, and thereby incurred cost for the public treasury, as the court has ordered the force to pay damages. The long detention was in contravention of the provision of section 35(5) (a) or (b) of the 1999 constitution (as amended). After the long detention, the detainees were reportedly not even charged to court, thus aggravating the infringement of their fundamental rights, and it is appropriate that the court sanctioned the police.

After all, our laws presume an accused person innocent until proved otherwise by court. Since the provisions of the law are clear, we do not understand why the police failed to charge the detainees before the court, upon their arrest, and seek the order of court to detain them, as provided by our laws, instead of the arbitrary detention. Could it be a case of incompetence on the part of police, or are there fifth columnists who preferred to mess up the case, for untoward reasons?

Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari requested for a speedy trial of criminal cases, from the bar and the bench. As we argued here, the police are the first point for such a revolutionary measure. Unfortunately, the police lack the capacity to start that revolutionary process, as shown in the Edo case. Those that muddled the arrest and detention of the people who allegedly invaded the Edo State House of Assembly have portrayed the police in bad light. They should be punished to serve as a deterrent to other law enforcement agents who might want to toe a similar path.

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