How AGF, CBN Shield Police, Military From Paying Damages To Victims Of Rights Abuses
The popular Nigerian saying “It is easier to drag a horse to the river than to make it take a drink” is apt when one thinks of the frustration of victims of human rights violations seeking to enforce court judgments against Nigerian law enforcement agencies. The judgment itself is not easy to get. Only the extremely patient and dogged can go through the long years of forth-and-back trips to court without giving up. And when the judgment comes, the excitement is short-lived because the victim then realises it is just the beginning of another tortuous and torturous journey if the fruits of the judgment will ever be reaped.
No one knows the story better than Mrs Afusat Enilari and her four children. Their breadwinner, Mr Olajide Enilari, died on January 29, 2009 after being brutalised by two power-drunk military men – Private Friday Ameh and Nimmack Nappon.
Mr Enilari, a flour merchant, had on January 27, 2009, gone to the Nigeria Flour Mills in Apapa Lagos to place an order. He was standing at Airways Junction in Apapa to board a bus, when he was hit by a vehicle, whose driver was apparently in a hurry. On getting up with the help of his truck driver, who was with him, Enilari charged after the rushing vehicle, demanding if the driver planned to kill him.
Suddenly, contrary to his expectation, the vehicle halted and its two occupants hurried out. One grabbed the metal butt of his belt, the other seized an iron rod by the road and they began to whack Enilari. When they smashed his head and blood began to gush out, the military men took to their heels. Though Enilari was rushed to the hospital, he gave up the ghost two days later.
Enilari’s widow and his four bereaved children sued the Nigerian military alongside the two power-drunk officers. The Attorney General of the Federation was also joined as a defendant in the suit filed before Justice Ibrahim Buba, sitting then at the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court.
The family said they were particularly chagrinned that the Nigerian military authorities behaved “irresponsibly and callously” by not even deeming it fit to express any sympathy to the family, despite being aware of the violation.
The rule of the Nigerian court says fundamental rights enforcement suits must be treated with dispatch. But, often, this is not the reality, since the courts’ dockets are congested with backlog of cases. The one filed by the Enilaris in 2009 lasted eight years in court, before judgment came on March 30, 2017.
Eventually, Justice Buba ordered the military to pay the family N35m as general damages“for the loss, pain and suffering caused them by the brutal assault of the deceased by the defendants which resulted in the death of the deceased.”
In addition, the judge ordered the defendants to bear the cost of Enilari’s burial, estimated at N295,000, while the family should also be paid N250,000 for the trouble of coming to court over an eight-year period.
But it is three years on after the court judgment and 11 years after Enilari was killed, still the compensation remains elusive.
The military did not bother to appeal the judgment; they simply ignored it.
Two letters of demand, written in October and November 2017 to both the Chief of Army Staff and the Chief of Naval Staff, by the family’s lawyer, Mrs Chinelo Chinweze of Access to Justice, were simply ignored.
The lawyer said a garnishee proceeding initiated by the family has not succeeded.
Enilari’s widow sounded very despondent when she spoke with our correspondent over the matter.
But the Enilaris are not alone. It is the same tale of frustration for the family of Waheed Kabiru, a student and businessman, who was extrajudicially killed at age 25 in the custody of the police at Igbogbo, Ikorodu, Lagos in November 2015.
Efforts by Waheed’s aged parents and brother to enforce a N200m court judgment secured against the police since 2016 have been futile.
Their lawyer, Mr Olukoya Ogungbeje, says it’s been a journey from one obstacle to another.
Detained beyond 24 hours, killed in police cell
Waheed was on his way from work on November 20, 2015, when he was picked up by armed policemen from Igbogbo Police Station and clamped into cell, his brother, Ibrahim, said.
Ibrahim said when their aged father visited the police station on November 22, 2015 “he was ruthlessly chased and pushed out of the police station because he could not provide money for the release of his son.”
He said repeated visits to the police station yielded no result till they were eventually on December 2, 2015 “confronted with his sudden disappearance” from the police custody.
Ibrahim said, “My deceased brother had remained in detention without bail or being charged to court for (10) days until his sudden disappearance and extrajudicial killing in the cell of the Igbogbo Police Station of the 3rd respondent (then Divisional Police Officer, SP Remilekun).”
Waheed’s detention for 10 days breached Section 35 of the Nigerian Constitution, which says a suspect must be taken to court within 24 hours of his arrest.
Ibrahim said Waheed’s death devastated his both aged parents and other family members, more so as “no one from the Nigeria Police Force has ever been in contact with me, my father, mother or any other member of our family but instead chose to treat us as if we do not exist.”
“No human being deserves the kind of torture and sadistic pain inflicted on my deceased brother by the officers of the Nigeria Police Force, which resulted in his death. Till date, the corpse of my deceased brother cannot be found,” Ibrahim lamented.
In his November 1, 2016 judgment, Justice Mohammed Idris noted that despite being served with court papers, the police chose not to come to court to explain the events leading to Waheed’s death.
“I hold the police responsible for the death of the deceased and the applicant is entitled to some relief,” Justice Idris said.
Before arriving at the N200m damages, which he ordered the police to pay the family of the deceased, the judge bemoaned the steady erosion in the value of the Nigerian currency, naira.
As of November 2016 when the judgment was delivered, N200m was worth US$651,465.7 (at $1 to N307). Today, with $1 exchanging for N381, the value has plummeted to $524,934.3. Yet, there is no end in sight in the struggle to get the money.
A string of obstacles
For all victims of human rights violations, who succeed in getting monetary award against brutish security forces in Nigeria, the first usual obstacle on the path to true justice is Section 84 of the Sheriff and Civil Process Act2014.
This law stipulates that anyone who gets monetary judgment against a state or Federal Government agency must first obtain the consent/permission of the state’s Attorney General or the Attorney General of the Federation, as the case may be, before he can garnishee the bank account of such an agency.
But being an agent of government, the AGF is not known to grant such consent. The AGF routinely ignores such requests for consent or simply dismisses them.
Such victims/judgment creditors often have to begin a new legal battle to compel the AGF, through a mandamus order, to give them the consent.
If they succeed in obtaining a mandamus order against the AGF, they may even have to go further to start a contempt proceeding against the AGF, where he shuns the mandamus order of court.
Those who successfully cross the AGF’s consent hurdle will then have the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria to contend with next.
The CBN is known to routinely disobey court orders authorising withdrawal of damagesfrom the accounts of government agencies, including the law enforcement agencies.
Most times, access to the funds is not granted without the victim/judgment creditor initiating a contempt proceeding against the CBN Governor and other officials.
It is instructive that the police and the military rarely enter an appearance in court when they are sued for rights violations. It can be safely inferred that they are confident in the knowledge that they would always be shielded by the AGF and the CBN from paying, even if damages are awarded against them.
The Director, Access to Justice, Mr Joseph Otteh, describes the Sheriff and Civil Process Act 2004, as “arguably the greatest obstacle to the enforcement of human rights in Nigeria.”
“It restricts the ability of Nigerian courts to protect human rights, enforce the rule of law, and check impunity on the part of security and law enforcement agencies,” Otteh says, calling for the scrapping of the law.
He says by withholding consent, “the Attorney General takes side with abusers, and offers nothing but helplessness and despair to victims of human rights violations and who have expended enormous time and resources in often protracted litigations to win justice.”
Otteh says, “The CBN also contributes immensely to the grinding hardships that victims of human rights violations undergo, including families of victims of extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, most of whom are widowed mothers and infant children, who have had to endure blistering suffering on account of the loss of a breadwinner.”
From the AGF to the CBN, Waheed’s family has come through the full gamut of the string of resistances in their five-year-old quest for justice.
In a July 30, 2019 “protest letter” to the Director of Legal Services at the CBN, Mr Akinwunmi Johnson, the family accused the CBN of “constituting itself into a lawless organisation, fighting tooth and nail and conniving with the police to deny our family of justice and foist injustice on us, despite the dismissal of the application of your bank for stay of execution of the order absolute.”
At the moment, the family is back in court with a contempt proceeding against the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, and four other CBN officials over their refusal to release the judgment credit.
Justice Aneke had on February 13, 2020 summoned Emefiele, CBN Director of Legal Services, Johnson; Mr Olusegun Bolaji and MK Gbenro Adetona, to appear before him to explain why they should not be sent to prison for disobeying the order of court.
Maimed without remedy
When Krimo Usman got into an argument with a friend on December, 22, 2010, he had no idea how much the incident would alter his life. An encounter with the Divisional Police Officer in charge of Kirikiri Police Division in Lagos on that day has left Usman maimed for life.
Today, 10 years after the DPO shot him at close range on his right knee, Usman walks with a permanent limp and is pained that the N4.5m damages with 21 per cent interest, which he got in 2016, after four years of legal battle, remains elusive till date.
The refusal of the AGF to give him consent to withdraw the judgment sum from the account of the Nigeria Police Force is the clog in the wheel of justice for Usman.
Usman’s lawyer, Chinweze, lamented that police authorities had shunned a letter of demand for the N4.5m compensation, and without the consent of the AGF, any garnishee proceeding would be rejected by the court.
But while delivering judgment on December 7, 2016, Justice Muslim Hassan had affirmed that Usman truly deserved compensation, given his pathetic ordeal in the hands of the police.
Framed for armed robbery, detained in “Oven Cell”
Usman’s case was that he was arrested on December 22, 2010 on a bogus allegation of armed robbery.
He said, “The DPO personally interrogated me. When I refuted the armed robbery allegation, the DPO pulled his pistol from his waist sachet and shot my knee at a very close range, shattering my knee cartilage and paralysing my leg.”
He added that rather than give him access to medical care, the DPO ordered his transfer to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Ikeja, where he was kept for two months in the SARS “Oven Cell”.
Usman said, “No medical treatment was offered to me at the SARS cell for the two-month stay, in spite of my putrefying bullet wound.
“The custodial condition at SARS, Ikeja was blistering and unbearable, characterised by overcrowded and pest-ridden enclosures in both the ‘Oven Cell’ and the ‘Wounded Cell’; poor ventilation, no sleeping materials, no potable water or food in a cell enclosure named ‘Oven Cell’ in which faecal waste overflowed toilet bowl and filled the cell with unbearable stench.”
To compound his ordeal, he said SARS operatives wrote a self-incriminating statement in his name and forced him to append his signature “under the threat of shooting my other leg.”
He said, “I yielded to the threat for fear of being shot and I was arraigned at the Ikeja Magistrates’ Court on the basis of the incriminating statement in February 2011, after two months of incarceration in SARS’ cell, and I was in remand custody, without trial, at the Kirikiri Medium Prisons for over one year and six months.”
Justice Hassan described Usman’s inhuman treatment in the hands of the police as “callous, wanton and reckless”.
But it’s four years since Usman got N4.5m judgment yet justice has not come his way.
Others like Usman
There are countless victims of police inhuman treatment like Usman. In the last three weeks, following the spontaneous nationwide #EndSARS protests, sparked off by the footage of a youth being shot in broad daylight by policemen, the nation has been regaled with heart-wrenching tales of Nigerians who have fallen victim of police routine acts of wickedness against defenceless citizens.
Usman’s case mirrors the plight of Dalington Amaiham, who has been struggling for seven years now, to no avail, to enforce a N15,128,000 judgment, after being crippled in 2012 from gunshots by Inspector Usman Shehu, Corporal Alex Edomagbo and Corporal Seun Adewale.
For “the senseless and unwarranted shooting of the applicant on his back and knee by the afore-mentioned officers, which caused severe injury to the applicant’s back and knee, leading to a severe damage to the applicant’s leg, thereby preventing the applicant from walking as well as carrying on with his normal life,” Justice Mohammed Yunusa, in 2013, awarded N15.1m damages to Amaiham.
But like Usman, Amaiham’s quest for justice has been frustrated by the need for AGF’s consent to make withdrawal from police bank account.
It is exactly the same story for graphic artist Tomori Gbolagade, who was shot on the right hand by Corporal Philip Ayuba manning a checkpoint in the Dopemu area of Lagos on the night of September 30, 2011.
Nine years on after the incident and five years after he got judgment, justice remains elusive to Gbolagade. The AGF has yet to honour his October 9, 2019 letter, requesting consent.
In a chat with our correspondent, Gbolagade says he believes the Nigerian judiciary is incapable of getting reparation for citizens whose rights have been violated by agents of the state.
“I think the cases that the (Nigerian) judicial system can handle are cases between individuals. When it comes to real issues involving the government, I don’t think the judiciary has any say,” Gbolagade says.
Justice Saliu Saidu had on September 30, 2015 ordered the police to pay Gbolagade US$47,062 “being the total expenses incurred for the medical treatment of the plaintiff in Nigeria and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd stages of surgery in India.”
In addition, the court awarded another N5m to Gbolagade “as general damages for the physical, emotional and psychological pain/suffering caused him since September 2011, when this injury was inflicted on him.”
Gbolagade’s lawyer, Mr Monday Ubani, says all efforts to get the money have proved abortive.
“I have written to the Attorney General, I have not got a response; I even brought in the Central Bank of Nigeria in the garnishee proceeding but the CBN has been hiding the bank account of the Nigeria Police Force. One thing is to get judgment, it is another to get remedy when your rights have been violated,” Ubani laments, saying, “This thing has to be done by way of law reforms.”
More horrific tales
Justice B.I. Molokwu was enraged by the way the police treated the case of Mr Daniel Bisiriyu, after he was shot on the stomach by a trigger-happy policeman on August 6, 2008 following a melee in the Egbeda/Akowonjo area of Lagos.
The younger brother of the deceased, who testified before the judge, recounted how after getting an emergency call, he rushed to the scene of the incident, found his brother bleeding profusely but policemen stopped him from rushing his critically-injured brother to the hospital to save his life.
“The police also refused to reveal the name and identity of the culprit, claiming that the matter was being investigated,” the brother of the deceased added.
In her judgment of May 25, 2012, Justice Molokwu said, “His (Bisiriyu’s) shooting and death are totally senseless. No sympathy was shown by the defendants to the family of the deceased. The identity of the police officer who shot the deceased was a closely guarded secret by the 1st to 3rd defendants, just as the reason for the shooting. It shows an utter disregard for human life and the dignity of human person.”
The judge went on to award N15m exemplary, aggravated and special damages against the police in favour of the widow, Mrs Toyin Bisiriyu, and her four children.
But justice has yet to come the family way 12 years after Bisiriyu’s unwarranted killing and eight years after the judgment.
The impediment, as usual, is the non-existent AGF’s consent to take the money from the police bank account.
Like the Bisiriyus, the Odeyemis are also seeking justice eight years after the life of their loved one, Roseline Odeyemi, was needlessly cut short by Inspector Usman Shehu, Corporal Alex Edomagbon and Corporal Seun Adewale, who were shooting for fun around 4pm on May 12, 2012 at the entrance of Melanido Night Club, somewhere in Lagos.
Justice C.J. Aneke has since June 30, 2014 ordered that the Odeyemis be paid N50m exemplary and aggravated damages with 21 per cent interest “to assuage their pains, suffering and expenses over the loss of the deceased person, as well as for the unbridled impunity bellying the rampant and reckless use of firearms by the respondents’ officers in Nigerian in recent times.”
Justice in this case is frozen by the requirement for the consent of the AGF.
It is for this same reason that a national newspaper in the country has not got justice 26 years after armed state agents invaded its head office in Lagos, brutalised journalists, whisked away the editor and sealed off its office, in June 1994 during the jackboot reign of the late General Sani Abacha.
The court had in the same year awarded N25m damages in favour of the newspaper and N100,000 in favour of its editor.
At the end of a 25-year legal trip all the way to the Supreme Court, the apex court, finally in June 2019, affirmed the monetary awards.
But over one year after the judgment and 26 years after the rights violation, the applicants’ lawyer, Mr Clement Onwuewunor, says refusal of the AGF to give consent has kept justice at bay.
Long years of police impunity spark #EndSARS protests
At the moment, Nigeria is emerging from the negative aftermath of #EndSARS, a nationwide protest by millions of youths across cities and towns, demanding the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit of the Nigeria Police Force notorious for brazen assaults, extrajudicial killings and extortion.
The youths demanded that all policemen who had been involved in rights violations be fished out and publicly prosecuted. They are also demanding compensation for all victims of human rights violation by the police. At the height of the protests, soldiers in Lagos in the evening of October 21, 2020 opened fire on the peaceful youth protesters at the Lekki tollgate. Scores were injured, some were feared killed. The incident has attracted global opprobrium for government.
Amnesty lawyer scores Nigeria low
Legal Adviser at the London office of Amnesty International, Dr Kolawole Olaniyan, says to curb wanton abuse of rights by Nigerian security agents “victims must have access to justice and effective remedies, including adequate compensation, reparations, restitution, satisfaction and guarantee of non-repetition.”
“Unfortunately, this is rarely the case in Nigeria as perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity for their crimes. What you have is blatant disregard for the rule of law, judicial corruption and a pervasive culture of impunity which have continued to deny victims of human rights violations and abuses access to justice and effective remedies,” Olaniyan says.
Sheriff Civil Process Act anathema to justice
Human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, believes Section 84 of the Sheriff and Civil Process Act 2014, which he described as “a piece of colonial legislation that came into force on June 1, 1945,” should be abrogated.
Adegboruwa says, “The Sheriff and Civil Process Act was used by the British to gag our people from holding them accountable. This archaic law originates from the British principle that the crown can do no wrong, thus, even when the court has indicted government and awarded damages, Section 84 of the Act allows the executive to sit on that judgment to frustrate its due execution.”
The human rights lawyer says given the principle of separation of powers among the three arms of government, “it is absurd for the executive arm, through the Attorney General, to sit on appeal over the judgment of a court of law.”
“It is an anathema that should not be allowed to stand. It gets more distasteful when the Attorney General is also a party to the case and after losing the case in court upon a full trial, then the Attorney General, who lost the case, is required to consent to its enforcement.
“In most cases, the Attorney General does not grant such consent, leading to a fresh round of litigation to compel him to grant his consent. For poor and indigent litigants, frustration sets in such that the judgment may be abandoned totally.”
Leading human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Femi Falana, says impunity by Nigerian state agents may not let up until individual officers are specifically compelled by the court to pay awarded damages.
Falana says, “My own suggestion is, and I have been pleading with the human rights community, if your client is detained, don’t sue the police alone, sue the police officer involved and ask for specific damages against him. If by the time the judgment is delivered, he has retired, let them take part of his pension. That will serve as a lesson for people. But right now, they detain illegally, some get killed and the officers involved get promoted, retire with their benefits. For me, that should not be allowed.”
We’re law abiding – CBN
But the Director of Corporate Communications at the CBN, Osita Nwanisobi, in response to our correspondent, disagreed that the apex bank shields law enforcement agencies from paying damages to victims of rights violation.
Nwanisobi claimed there were instances where fraudulently-obtained court orders were presented to the CBN.
“Most judgment creditors think the CBN is just like any other government agency which won’t do due diligence on court order before compliance. We pay where all legal conditions precedent are complied with before order is obtained.
“No garnishee can be honoured if the judgment debtor has gone on appeal and obtained a stay of execution. If you pay, you have not only destroyed the ‘res’ but also risk being cited for contempt,” he says.
He stressed that money in the custody of the CBN “can only be paid in garnishee with the consent of the Attorney General of the Federation obtained prior to the grant of the garnishee order nisi.”
AGF not expected to grant consent with pending appeals – Media aide
When contacted, the Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations to the AGF, Dr Umar Gwandu, demanded evidence that some judgment creditors indeed wrote to the AGF to seek consent but were not granted.
After eight of such cases were shown to Gwandu by our correspondent, he responded that the AGF would not grant consent where there are pending appeals or order for stay of execution.
Gwandu said, “In view of the fact that multiple facts are inherent, including the right of appeal, the right to set aside judgment or court orders and the right to apply for stay of execution, among others, the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice is not expected to grant consent in circumstances where these rights are being considered for determination by court of law of competent jurisdiction.”
But in the eight cases cited, there has neither been appeal nor order for stay of execution. Indeed, most of the cases were not even defended by the police before judgments were entered in favour of the litigants.