By Henry Ojelu
Following last week’s edition of Encounter which exposed the unjust suspension of 52-year-old Police Inspector, Hilary Okorie for 25 years for arresting a high profile robbery suspect and the refusal by Police authorities to reinstate him as ordered by the court, the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, African Bar Association, AfBA, Civil Society Organisations and senior lawyers have blasted the Inspector General of Police and Police Service Commission, PSC, for the act of injustice and disregard for a court judgment.
Encounter had earlier exclusively reported how Inspector Okorie and three members of his team in 1997 were arrested and detained for 13 months by Police authorities after they had arrested a robbery suspect who their superior officer later instructed them to release.He was arraigned for robbery along with his team members but the charge was abandoned by the Police.
Following his continued detention, Okorie sued the Police for infringement on his fundamental human rights.
After his release as ordered by the court, the Police refused to allow him resume his official duty, claiming that he has been suspended. Okorie returned to court through a suit at the Federal High Court and after 10 years, the court delivered judgment asking the Police to reinstate him and unfreeze his two bank accounts which were frozen.
Despite being served with the judgment and intervention by the Senate, successive Inspectors-General of Police refused to comply with the court judgment directing that Okorie should be reinstated. In separate interviews with Encounter, NHRC, NBA, AfBA, CSOs and lawyers expressed shock over Inspector Okorie’s case and called on the Police authorities to immediately stop the act of impunity.
Okorie must be reinstated – NHRC
NHRC, described Okorie’s case as sheer injustice and called on the PSC to reinstate and pay all his outstanding entitlement.
Deputy Director, Public Affairs, NHRC, Fatima Mohammed said: “This is a case of sheer injustice and violation of human rights. He needs to be reinstated and his entitlement paid. The authority should respect the rule of law and show example for others to emulate. There can be no justification for any form of human rights violation. When court judgments are not obeyed by authorities who ought to, it makes a ridicule of our judiciary. It also encourages impunity.”
Nigeria not on path of redemption —NBA
Reacting to the report, National Publicity Secretary of NBA, Dr Rapuluchukwu Nduka stated that Okorie’s case is a reflection that Nigeria is not on the path of redemption.
He said: “If this report is true, then Nigeria is definitely not on the path of redemption. It is sad that law enforcement agencies keep disregarding the law.”
AGF must investigate Okorie’s case —AfBA
AfBA also expressed shock over Okorie’s case and called on the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, and the Inspector- General of Police, Usman Baba to urgently address the matter.
President of AfBA, Mr. Hannibal Uwaifo said: “By this singular act, the Police has shown itself as an organisation that can never change. This was an officer sent on official duty and the Police could not protect him and give him justice when it mattered most.
The Police will always remain in the strings of politicians and moneybags no matter how dirty the money is. Corruption in the Police is endemic and they can sacrifice any of their officers who has no godfather.
“What is worse; they filed frivolous cases against their own, refused to obey court judgments and held an innocent man bound in chains for 25 years. The Police authorities and the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation must thoroughly investigate this matter, shame and bring the heartless individuals responsible for this to justice. This victim must be compensated for violation of his rights and dehumanization.”
Police disdain for court judgment worrisome —A2J
Expressing shock over the matter, Project Director, Access to Justice, A2J, Deji Ajare noted that Okorie’s predicament is a reflection of Police’s disdain for court judgments.
He said: “I have read the very sad and agonizing story of Inspector Okorie.
“His case is simply a manifestation of the disdainful attitude of the Police towards court judgments and the essence of justice in general.
“Like this case, you will find several judgments of courts in Nigeria and of regional courts that the Police have flagrantly refused to obey.
“This case is, however, even more disturbing because it is akin to the parable of the fowl that eats its own younglings.”
Those frustrating Okorie’s reinstatement must be punished — Ubani
Okorie’s lawyer and Chairman of Nigerian Bar Association Section on Public Interest and Development Law, NBA-SPIDEL, Dr Monday Ubani said: “I have never seen such a terrible situation where an employee is treated so wickedly by his employer. This is a young man that is being punished unjustly for doing his job. It is only in Nigeria that an agency of the government will disobey the orders of the court with impunity and nothing happens. Unfortunately, these are people that run to the court for help when they are in trouble. My prayer is that those who have frustrated the judgment exonerating this policeman, God will also judge them and their family. Until the right thing is done for this man, everyone involved in the injustice against him will never go unpunished.
“The level of injustice and impunity, in this case, speaks a lot about the image of the agency that is supposed to protect the citizens. If the Police authorities can lie against its own officer and treat him with such disdain, then you can imagine the fate of ordinary citizens. This means that Nigeria is enveloped by dark people who do not mean well for the country.”
This is one transgression too many —Malachy
Former National President of Committee for the Defence of Human Right, CDHR, Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu, said: “This is a reflection that Nigeria has come to a very sorry juncture. It is unimaginable that we are operating at a level that this story depicts. It is disturbing and dangerous. I commend Vanguard for this exposure. It is extremely dangerous that a nation could rather than condemn crime and criminality, condone it. Indeed, it reinforces the saying that any crime which the state with all the instrumentality of coercion, cannot solve, that state is invariably involved in the criminal act. It introduces complex of layers of intrigues that ultimately will not only undermine the country but every law abiding citizen in the country. The greatest casualty is the patriotic and courageous law enforcement officers and in particular, Mr. Okorie who has now become a victim of a ring of criminal conspirators.
“This matter should be a case study for the entire Nigerian Police to review and sanitise its image and operation control. To imagine that this kind of intrigue can be orchestrated and sustained for this long period of time against an innocent person is to completely give up on any hope of redemption for the Nigerian Police.”
PSC denies knowledge of judgment
When contacted, the Police Service Commission denied knowledge of the suit filed by Okorie and the judgment. A top official of the Commission who spoke to Encounter on condition of anonymity said it is abnormal that an Inspector who knows that the commission is the statutory body responsible for disciplinary issues has never deemed it necessary to bring the issue to the PSC.
The official said: “The Inspector never mentioned the PSC throughout his long story. Do courts adjudicate cases not before them? The officer and his lawyers/ sympathisers have never read, known or heard of PSC as the only constitutional body that can employ, promote and discipline the entire NPF except the IGP?
“Meanwhile, I feel he only disclosed one side of the story. Why would his account be frozen if nothing unusual was there? When you get the true facts of why the accounts were frozen, even from his lawyers, you may change your mind about the narrative. It’s an unusual story. He has not said all.”
Police keep mum
Police authorities at the Force Headquarter in Abuja refused to comment on the issue but rather referred our correspondent to the Lagos Police Command and its legal department. Force Police Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba did not also pick calls placed to his mobile number.
5 IGPs, PSC aware of judgment, applied for CTC — Findings
Contrary to the PSC official’s claim, Encounter sighted a petition written by Inspector Okorie to the Commission about his wrongful suspension before going to Court to seek redress.
After securing judgment, Okorie’s former lawyer, Harold Ofundu also wrote to the commission via a letter dated September 7, 2011, informing the chairman of the development.
Acting on the petition, a legal adviser to the Commission, Tijani Mohammed in a letter dated December 21, 2011, applied for the certified copy of the judgment. No action was taken by the Commission after that. On November 12, 2020, Okorie also wrote to the Commission attaching a copy of his previous letter and court judgment and requested that his case should be revisited. No action was also taken after the letter. Encounter also discovered that about five IGPs refused to act on the judgment.
Frozen account had only N31,000 — Okorie
Reacting to the insinuation by PSC that his frozen bank account may contain huge amounts of money, Okorie told Encounter that his salary was N5, 000 as an Inspector and that he had only N31, 000 in his salary account before it was frozen.
“That insinuation is a big lie. I had just N31, 000 in my salary account and an even lesser amount in the second account. If I had huge amount of money in that account, then why did they not interrogate it or even come to court to raise the issue? I think that comment is just a distraction from the main issue which is obeying the judgment of court,” he said.