…..N200m awarded against police by court still unpaid
By Chidi Nkwopara, Owerri
In Igbo tradition and culture, children are expected to bury their parents and not the other way round.
While it is very painful for parents to bury their children, it is even worse when such promising children are killed by the police and branded armed robbers, as in the case of Hisrael Olannanyika Nwigwe!
Narrating his ordeal to Saturday Vanguard in Owerri, Chief Nwigwe said that his late son, Hisrael, was a qualified nurse and duly registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria.
Apparently irked by what his father, Chief Innocent Onwufiwe Nwigwe, called “the painful circumstances that led to my son’s untimely death”, he dragged the Police Service Commission, Inspector General of Police, Imo State Commissioner of Police, the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, Divisional Crime Officer, DCO, Owerri West local government area of Imo State, and Sergeant Bassey Ubana, to court vide HOW/469/2016.
Chief Nwigwe sought a declaration that the killing of his son on July 4, 2016, at Ihiagwa, Owerri West local government area of Imo State, by Sergeant Bassey Ubana, an agent of the other respondents, “is unlawful, callous and constitutes an infringement of his fundamental right to life”.
Nwigwe made other prayers, including but not limited to “the sum of N5 billion against the respondents, being fair and reasonable compensation and exemplary damages for the unjustifiable and unlawful killing of Hisrael Olannanyika Nwigwe, and loss of affection and psychological trauma” he suffered.
He recalled that he filed a 27-paragraph affidavit in support of his Motion on Notice, while the respondents filed Notice of Preliminary Objection and a 10-paragraph affidavit in support of their motion, adding that counsel on all sides also sent in their addresses.
Nwigwe recalled that after graduation, the deceased enrolled as an apprentice in a patent medicine store, when he was unable to secure a job in a public hospital and successfully concluded his apprenticeship.
Chief Nwigwe said: “Upon expression of his desire to set up a patent medicine store in Lagos and demonstrating his commitment to achieve this goal, he raised the sum of N1.4 million to support his son’s proposed business.
“On July 4, 2016, at about 06.00 hours, he and some members of his family had a meeting with his son, Hisrael, prayed for him and bade him farewell. He left about 10.00 hours.”
According to Chief Nwigwe, he became apprehensive when his son did not call him or any member of his family, throughout July 4 and 5, 2016. On July 6, 2016, adding that he was later informed that his son was arrested by the police at Ihiagwa.
Armed with this information, he sent his daughter, Miss Oluchi Lorita Nwigwe, to Ihiagwa Police Station, to confirm if he was there, but on her return, his daughter informed him that the Station Officer at Ihiagwa, denied the arrest of Hisrael.
Apparently not satisfied with the answer he received, on July 7, 2016, he went to Ihiagwa Police Station in the company of his two children and met the DCO, who told him, after he had introduced himself that his “son was shot dead by the police at Ihiagwa, during a police shootout with armed robbers”.
Continuing, Nwigwe said that in utter disbelief, he rebuked the DCO for making such a false statement and requested to see the body of his son.
He thereafter, reported the matter to the Commissioner of Police and narrated his encounter with the DCO and he was asked to come back on July 11, 2016, to enable the Imo police boss to assemble the parties involved in the matter.
“The Commissioner complied as promised and on this new date, the proprietress of Mary Zeal Restaurant, Ihiagwa, simply known as Chioma, was also brought before the Commissioner of Police, CP.
“Giving account of what happened, Chioma claimed that my son and his friend ate in her restaurant and paid her with a fake N500 note. After about 30 minutes, one of them, who incidentally was my son, came back to pick the bunch of keys they forgot in her restaurant, but she refused to release the keys and rather called the police.
“She further stated that sequel to the call, Sergeant Bassey Ubana arrived on a commercial motorcycle and arrested my son, put him on the same motorcycle he came with, sat behind him and left. Chioma also claimed that she did not know what happened after they left her restaurant. The CP thereafter asked me to file a formal petition and directed us to his Deputy”, Chief Nwigwe recalled.
The aggrieved father further recalled that in the Deputy Commissioner’s Office, Bassey said that he was on duty at the Health Centre, Ihiagwa, when he received a call from Chioma that somebody paid her with a fake N500 note.
Bassey also told the DCP that he went to the restaurant and arrested Hisrael, adding on their way to the Police Station, my son pulled out a locally made pistol, shot in the air and all of them fell off the motorcycle.
“He also claimed that he overpowered him, took the gun from him and shot him. He also claimed that after shooting my son, he took him to a nearby clinic, where he was rejected. He then moved to the Federal Medical Centre, FMC, Owerri, but my son died before they arrived there. He deposited my son’s corpse in the morgue and furnished the mortuary attendants with my son’s identity, which he obtained from his belongings”, Nwigwe said.
Continuing, he said that “this, and more, formed part of what I told the Imo State High Court, presided over by Hon. Justice I. M. Njaka, as the civil matter progressed.
After going through the preliminary objection raised by the defendants, Justice Njaka said: “I hold therefore that the Sheriff and Civil Process Act is not applicable here. The preliminary objection of the 1st-5th respondents is hereby dismissed.
“I hold that the action of the Applicant is cognizable under the Fundamental Right Enforcement Procedure Rules 2009. It is the contention of the Respondents that someone else cannot enforce the fundamental right of a deceased person. If this argument is accepted, it means that the right to life will be disadvantaged over other rights.
“Right to life is the bulwark of all the fundamental human rights. The right to human life is the highest in the hierarchy of rights enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended, which I think is why it is sitting first among the fundamental rights contained in Chapter 4 of the Constitution.
“From the cases reviewed above, it is clearer now that the 1st-5th Respondents are building on a quick sand, when they posited that someone else cannot enforce the fundamental rights of a deceased person. I hold that the Applicant herein, the biological father of the deceased, Hisrael Olannanyika Nwigwe, is statutorily empowered to enforce the fundamental right of his deceased son.”
On the Respondents contention that “there is no cause of action against the 1st-4th Respondents, the Court said: “It is not in contention that as a police officer and in the course of duty, he (Bassey) was armed with a gun by the 1st-3rd Respondents, who believed he is capable and presented him to the public to perform his duty by law, as explained in the Code of Conduct. I am of the view that the 1st-3rd Respondents will stand or fall with the 6th Respondent (Bassey) in this case.”
Justice Njaka equally held that contrary to the submission of the Respondents’ counsel, C. M. Onyeweaku, “there is a cause of action and the principle of vicarious liability is applicable here. The principle of vicarious liability provides an incentive for employers to exercise care in the selection, training and supervision of all employees.”
The Court further said it was his “finding and I so hold that the circumstances under which life was snuffed out of Hisrael Olannanyika Nwigwe, his right to life was infringed upon. And the violation was by the 6th Respondent, the agent of the 1st-3rd Respondents. His biological father, the Applicant, has proved so.”
Before announcing the orders, Justice Njaka said: “Here is a blossoming young man, whose life was cut short in a flicker of mundane consideration. A young man, who just graduated from School of Nursing in November 2014, and was issued with Notification of Registration as a General Nurse on 6th January, 2016, only to meet his death barely six months after, on 5th July, 2016.
“It was not only that he was deprived of his life, contrary to Section 33(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), the sum of N2 million said to be in his possession, cannot be accounted for.
“The pain, anguish and shock must be palpable on the relatives of the deceased, most especially, the Applicant. The psychological trauma this must have caused him, cannot even be imagined. In the whole, the application succeeds.”
Justice Njaka then made the orders prayed by the Applicant, including the award of the sum of N200 million against the Respondents, in favour of Chief Nwigwe, “being fair, and reasonable compensation and exemplary damages for the unjustifiable and unlawful killing of the Applicant’s son and loss of affection and psychological trauma suffered by the Applicant.”
Chief Nwigwe’s worries are not yet over as the Central Bank of Nigeria and all the commercial banks operating in Nigeria have denied holding the accounts of the Police Service Commission and the Nigeria Police Force.
The garnishees order signed by Justice Njaka, is yet to be effected by this aggrieved father! How the CBN and all banks claim that the judgment debtors don’t have accounts with them remains a puzzle.