Crime Guard

August 31, 2013

Controversy continues to trail demolition of Onitsha hotel where human heads were found

Controversy continues to trail demolition of Onitsha hotel where human heads were found

Gov Obi supervising the demolition…

•Detention of arrested persons illegal— NOPRIN…
On August 1, 2013, an unprecedented crowd gathered in front of Upper Class Hotel, 8 Market road, Onitsha , Anambra State, to witness its demolition, following the discovery of two human heads and ammunitions by operatives of the Anambra State Police Command.

Consequently, proprietor of the hotel, Mr Bonaventure Mokwe, alongside 13 of his staff were reportedly arrested.

Controversy has however begun to trail the demolition action allegedly on the directive of the Anambra State Government and the continued detention of the suspects.

Although the hotel proprietor’s wife, Mrs Nkiru Mokwe, had earlier cried foul over the demolition of her husband’s hotel, even as she had raised alarm that her husband’s life was in danger.

Throwing its weight behind Mrs Mokwe’s cry of injustice, the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria, NOPRIN, comprising 46 civil society organisations spread across the country,with the aim of promoting police accountability and respect for human rights has described the continuous detention of the suspects without trail as unconstitutional.

Gov Obi supervising the demolition...

Gov Obi supervising the demolition…

Taking a swipe on the state government, NOPRIN also accused operatives of the state command’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad,SARS for working for the interest of politicians, rather than the Nigeria Police Force. It therefore, called on the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mohammed Abubakar to re-organise SARS with a view to insulating them from abuse of office.

Asserting that there was more to the demolition of the hotel than the alleged discovery of human heads, NOPRIN’s Programme and Advocacy Coordinator, Mr Okechukwu Nwanguma , while briefing newsmen on the development, stated that : “ the Anambra State Government ‘s policy of extralegal demolition of properties of persons accused of crime in the state is condemnable. The state government’s rationalisation that such clearly illegal and primitive action is in line with its policy to sustain the fight against crime and criminality , is preposterous and unfounded in logic and law.

While violent crime plagues Anambra State as most other states in Nigeria and daily assuming a n alarming proportion, nothing whatsoever can justify any crime fighting policy or measure that is contrary to the fundamental law of the country that violates human rights, subverts due process and observance of the rule of law..

“ Among the hallmarks and cardinal principles of democracy include respect for human rights, principle compliance with the due process and observance of the rule of law . Any law enforcement or crime fighting approach that compromises or falls foul of any of these basic democratic principles, will not only be unlawful and criminal but will be counter productive. Democracy is protected by the rule of law. The absence of it will be anarchy which is a threat to democracy.

“The prevailing situation in Anambra State, whereby the state government demolishes property of any person accused of a crime, without any judicial process or valid order of court amounts to lawlessness. It is a policy that promotes self help. It is susceptible to abuse and creates room for the persecution or witch hunting of political opponents or personal vendetta.

Illegal arrest “Mr. Mokwe and 13 of his workers arrested along with him,including a Doctorate Degree student at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, who works part time in the hotel to pay for his studies have remained in detention at SARS Awkuzu till date without any indication from the police as to what next step they want to take.

“Following complaints received by NOPRIN on August 4, that Mr. Mokwe was detained, chained and being tortured, with fears that he may be extra judicially killed in custody, we called and inquired directly from the OC SARS, CSP Nwafor on the condition of Mr. Mokwe in police custody. He only confirmed to us that Mr. Mokwe was still in their custody and alive. He however, refused to state how soon the police will charge him to court or free him. Since then, we were informed, he had been unchained and his wife and counsel allowed to see him some times of the day.

*The 'hotel ...Before the bulldozer moved in

*The ‘hotel …Before the bulldozer moved in

The police violated Mr. Mokwe’s rights to due process and presumption of innocence by detaining him indefinitely. Mr. Mokwe’s family insists that he was framed up by business rivals and enemies who had earlier threatened to plant incriminating objects and use the police to deal with him. They contend that the demolished hotel was a commercial property that was accessible to anyone who could pay for room rental and could implant human skulls there.

Conflicting report“The Mokwe’s family said that although the Police claimed to have recovered fresh human heads dripping with blood from the hotel, what they actually displayed to the media were two dried skulls.

NOPRIN believes that if the police have credible evidence to prosecute the accused persons, they should not delay to charge and arraign them before a competent court of jurisdiction. His continued detention in SARS cell without trial is illegal, unconstitutional and condemnable. NOPRIN has already petitioned the Inspector-General of Police on this matter.

The Nigerian Constitution guarantees, among others: rights to life, liberty, fair hearing and due process. It prohibits torture,cruel, inhuman and other degrading treatment, and gives victims of human rights violations a right to seek redress in court. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights {Ratification and Enforcement) Act, which makes the African Charter part of Nigeria’s domestic law, reinforces these human rights guarantees which are essential for effective policing.

Indicts operatives of SARS
“We have received information about an unholy alliance between the Anambra State Government and the authorities at SARS in Awkuzu whose operatives operate as if they are above the law and accountability. The use of SARS to provide security for illegal demolition of people’s property appear to underscore this unholy alliance.

SARS is under police Force Criminal Investigation Department specifically charged to combat armed robbery and other heinous crimes nationwide. But SARS in all parts of Nigeria has gained embarrassing notoriety , tainting the image of the Nigerian Police locally and internationally, and should either be scrapped or comprehensively reformed to conform to modern standards of policing or human rights compliant policing.

“SARS operatives are known for arresting people for all manner of alleged offences, torturing,and executing suspects, and detainees in their custody are secretly ill- treated. They also dabble into civil disputes.

We therefore, call on Anambra State government to discharge its governance responsibilities lawfully and put a stop to all illegal, barbaric policies and actions,” Nwanguma stated.