JUSTICE U. P. Kekemeke of an Abuja High Court last week delivered a judgment that should halt security agencies that make brutalising people their duty.
In awarding N100 million as special damages to Desmond Utonwen, a Senior Correspondent with TheNEWS Magazine, he made the point about the illegality of brutality, contrary to the perception that even if there was such law, security agencies were above it.
On 11 December 2009, Utonwen was in Garki, Area 3, Abuja to report a protest. The police, presumably on a mission to quell the protest, brutalised him.
They beat him to unconsciousness, bundled him into a police vehicle, where he was detained for many hours without access to medical treatment. He could have bled to death.
According to the court, the police violated Utonwen’s right as enshrined in Section 34 (1) of the Constitution which states, “Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly – (a) no person shall be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment”. It ruled that the treatment was inhuman and degrading.
Specific matters Utonwen raised against the police were the forceful collection of one digital camera, one digital recorder, TheNEWS magazine official identity card, cash of N2, 000 from him.
Justice Kekemeke said the police’s action amounted to forceful acquisition of the applicant’s property and ran contrary to provisions of the Constitution which awarded the applicant rights to own moveable property.
Sections 33 and 44 state, “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, every citizen of Nigeria shall have the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria.
No moveable property or any interest in an immovable property shall be taken possession of compulsorily and no right over or interest in any such property shall be acquired compulsorily in any part of Nigeria except in the manner and for the purposes prescribed by a law.”
His rights under freedom of the press and expression as captured in Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution were other matters the judgement treated. The judge additionally ruled that the police should immediately return all the items they seized from the journalist.
Brutalities are not limited to journalists. During protests, the police attack the people under the guise of keeping the peace. Victims of police brutality include suspects who are beaten under interrogation. They now know they have recourse in these matters.
The police have to take this judgement serious, apart from the cost of damages, for more telling situations where people die from police brutality. What compensations can pay for their lives? The police should punish the officers who dehumanised Utonwen as a lesson to others.