Justice R. O. Onunkwo of the Anambra State High Court, Ihiala High Court in Ihiala, has ordered a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), Agbazue Patrick, one Sergeant Utazi and one other to pay ₦15 million damages for unlawful detention of two applicants.
Patrick, who is the commander, State Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Anambra, and Utazi were sued by Izuchukwu Ifeanyichukwu, Ikenna Ifeanyichukwu and Anayo Ifeanyichukwu who were the first, second and third applicants in the suit respectively.
Others listed as respondents in the suit were Ernest Nsolibe, Ephraim Nsolibe, Luke Okolie and Ndudi Okolie.
In the originating motion of July 9, 2019, filed on July 10, 2019, the applicants sought for several prayers.
They included a declaration that the harassment, beatings and arrest of the second and third applicants by SARS, allegdly masterminded by Ernest Nsolibe and Ephraim Nsolibe and instigated entirely by the falsehood of other respondents in the early hours of Monday, July 1, 2019 and their subsequent detention at the SARS cell at Awkuzu on same date till Friday July 5, 2019 at about 8.00pm, is unlawful…”
They also sought “an order of the court restraining the respondents, by themselves or through their agents, servants, privies and officers from further arresting or threatening to arrest, detain, or infringe or continue to infringe on the fundamental rights of the applicants,” among other reliefs.
The applicants’ suit was supported by a 34-paragraph affidavit deposed to by the first applicant (Izuchukwu Ifeanyichukwu), detailing how Mr. Ikenna Ifeanyichukuwu and Mr. Anayo Ifeanyichukuwu (second and third applicants) were unlawfully detained by the police.
In the said affidavit, the deponent made allegations of impropriety and corrupt dereliction of duty against Patrick and Utazi who was the Investigating Police Officer (IPO).
While reviewing the case, the judge noted that he adjourned proceedings in the suit on several occasions and ordered hearing notices to be issued and zserved on the two police officers to appear.
But they did not.
He said: “They simply ignored court processes served on them and treated the court with disdainful levity…
“Notwithstanding substantial allegations of breach of the fundamental right of the second and third applicants alleged against the two police officers, they never responded to those allegations by means of any counter affidavit.”
The court agreed with applicants that it was a civil dispute but the respondents turned it to a criminal matter which led to their unlawful arrest and detention.
“The applicants have averred that they and the third to sixth respondents are related by blood. They have a common progenitor. His name was Ukonwoke. He hailed from Ihudim, Amamu, Ihiala. A parcel of land owned by Ukonwoke and which devolved on his descendants is the subject matter of a land dispute pending in this court. The suit is Suit No. HIH/44/2019”, the judge noted.
Giving his final verdict, the judge said: “Taking into consideration the fact established in this suit, I come to the conclusion that the first, second and the fifth respondent be and are hereby severely condemned in damages for their grossly fraudulent and despicable acts…
“I declare the arrest of the second and third applicants on July 1, 2019, by the first and second respondents and the detention of both applicants by the police officers at the SARS detention cell at Awkuzu, Anambra State, from July 1, 2019, to July 3, 2019, unlawful, illegal and unconstitutional.
“I declare the instigation of the acts referred to above by the fifth respondent (Luke Okolie) as unlawful illegal and unconstitutional.
“I make an order of perpetual injunction restraining the first and second respondents from further arresting or detaining or threatening to arrest or detain or in any way howsoever infringing on the fundamental right of the applicants with Reference to the facts that led to the institution of this action.
“I make a mandatory order directed at the fifth respondent (Luke Okolie), to tender an unreserved and unqualified apology to the second and third applicants in one national daily newspaper.
“I award exemplary, punitive and aggravated damages of N15 million in favour of the second and third applicants against the two police officers (Patrick and Utazi), and fifth respondent (Luke Okolie), jointly and severally.
“I find the third, fourth and sixth respondents not liable for instigating the unlawful arrest and detention of the second and third applicants.
“The first, second and fifth respondents are hereby mulcted in costs, which I assess and fix at ₦250,000 against them, jointly and severally in favour of the second and third applicants.