By SIMON EBEGBULEM
THE pronouncement of Justice Adamu Hobom of the Federal High Court, Benin ordering the wife of the deputy Governor of Edo State, Mrs Endurance Odubu to pay the sum of N12milion as compensation for beating up an Army Captain, Olorunduyilemi Stephen was a landmark judgement. Hitherto, uniformed personnel had been accused of taking the law into their hands at the slightest excuse. But this time, Captain Stephen, perhaps because he had just come out of the House of Prayer, or for whatever other reason, chose the path of civility for his patience for the violent attack on him on January 11, 2010.
On that day, security men attached to the wife of the Deputy Governor, supposedly beat the army officer to a pulp, after which, they bundled him to the residence of the Deputy Governor from where he was moved to the Edo state Government House. It would be recalled that the sad event occurred on a Sunday after Mrs Odubu and Captain Stephen left the Winners Chapel, along Sapele Road where ironically, both of them had earlier worshipped.
The army officer was driving home after the service when Mrs. Odubu’s convoy overtook him with blaring siren. While he reportedly left the lane for the convoy, what happened later according to the army officer was that to his surprise men of the State Security Services (SSS) and mobile policemen attached to her convoy blocked him and pounced on him.
Their grouse was that the Army officer should have left the road entirely so as to allow the convoy pass. But for the stroke of luck, Captain Stephen would have been a forgotten soldier. While beating him, one of the mobile policemen (name withheld) bragged that they should waste the officer and even corked his AK 47 riffle to execute his threat.
Stephen claimed that as a trained soldier, he quickly disarmed the mobile policeman after he sensed he was going to shoot him. Captain Stephen took the rifle from the mobile police officer and removed the cartridges. His action infuriated other officers in the convoy of Mrs Odubu, as a result, more of the men pounced on him ferociously and he went into coma. They drove the battered body to the residence of the Deputy Governor and from there; he was taken to the Government House.
Counsel to Captain Stephen, Barr. Clement Dike, narrating the incident which came under arbitration at the Federal High Court, Benin as suit No: FHC/B/CS/226/2010 said: “Both of them were coming from the church, and when they got to Dumez junction along Sapele Road, he heard a siren and he cleared for them and left the road so that they could pass. But when they passed him, they blocked him. It was the SSS vehicle in that convoy that stopped and they pounced on him. One of them said ‘waste him,’ one sergeant (name withheld) corked his gun to shoot the captain. But luckily he dodged the sergeant and put him off balance. While struggling, the mobile policeman shot two bullets at the Captain and it hit the ground.
Continuing, he said “at that point, the Captain disarmed him and removed the cartridge from the AK 47, and he left the sergeant. The rest now pounced on him and bundled him into their Hilux jeep and laid him on the floor of the vehicle. He would have been dead if he was not a soldier. That was abuse of power. They took him away to the deputy governor’s house and from there, to Government House. The captain’s wife, who was with him when the incident happened now called some of his colleagues who came to rescue him from Government House”.
It was as a result of the assault that the Captain went to court to contest the breach of his fundamental human rights.
Justice Hobom, who delivered judgment last Monday, ordered Mrs Odubu to tender apology to the Army officer in three electronic media and two national dailies.
Justice Adamu Hobon in the judgment explained that the use of siren is for emergency use by fire fighters and to clear road for top government officials, adding that the wife of a deputy governor was a private person and not entitled to heavy security guard and use of siren.
He added that the defendant did not arraign the complainant before any competent court since the incident occurred in January, 2010, which according to him means that the complainant did not commit any offence. He described the beating of the Army officer as unlawful and therefore awarded N2m as special damages for medical bills and car damage and N10m for general damages for infringement on fundamental human rights and illegal detention of Captain Stephen.
According to the Judge, “sirens are used for emergency cases such as fire fighters, road safety officials, Medical emergencies and high government officials who are on emergency movement and need clear roads. But the wife of deputy governor of Edo State is none of these, rather she is a private person who is not entitled to such heavy security guards .
It is settled that when a person sets a house ablaze and leaves the scene he/she cannot claim innocent” adding that “ she claim not to be at the scene of the event is not tenable. Therefore, the sum of N2million damages claimed on his damaged car and medical bills is granted while the sum of N10 million is awarded for general damages on infringement of his fundamental human rights, assault and under inhuman treatment meted on him”.
Captain Stephen’s counsel, Mr. Clement, commended the judgment but said “12 million is insignificant to the damages demanded”. They had demanded for N502million. According to Mr. Dike, “the judgment is not bad except that the area of awarding damages which we are not satisfied with because when you consider what the court said, the act is unlawful, unconstitutional and barbaric if you remember the case between Okeke against Arogundade and Nigerian Navy the court awarded N100 million damages and they did not beat the girl but they only dragged her and tore her shirt that was all.
But in this case, there was actual beating, and attempted shooting. If not for his training, he would have been dead by now. When you compare the two cases this one is more serious and more damages would have been awarded. There is no law that states that you must leave the way or road if a siren vehicle is coming. We asked for the law they could not provide it.
They had earlier agreed that he left the way but later enter again which we replied to and they could not make any reply to it at all. So I did not raise it again but maybe in appeal I will refer to it. I did tell the court, for the fact that the applicant came to court, is enough to give him more damages because if it were else where the soldiers would have gone to kill many people. But he chose to come to the court to seek redress which is a civilized way to do things.
The court would have awarded him good damages so that other soldiers can go to court to pursue their rights but that opportunity has been missed. The command at Abuja has been following the case to know the outcome to encourage other soldiers to go to court instead of going on rampage. I think we are going to appeal”.
Counsel to Mrs. Odubu, Jimoh Ohiafi said “we are in a democracy and that judgment has been delivered, we look forward to seeing the next stage”.
Justice Horbon concluded by saying that the judgment was not meant to punish any party. “We examine cases and evidence before us, it is either in your favour or not. But this was a clear violation of the human rights of an individual and that was why it should be addressed”.