A federal High Court sitting in Lagos, southwest Nigeria, Monday ordered the Nigerian Police to pay the family of a woman lawyer, Patricia Onyeabo, who died in police custody due to lack of medical care, the sum of N100 million as compensation.
The judgement of the court was sequel to N1 billion suit slammed on the Inspector General of Police (IGP) by Miss Amaka Onyeabo, also a lawyer, over the death of her mother, Mrs. Patricia Onyeabo, in police detention.
The late Mrs. Onyeabo, before her death on 16 May, 2014, was the Legal Adviser/Secretary to the Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC.
Joined as co-respondents in the suit are: Lagos state Commissioner of Police and Assistant Commissioner of Police, Nigerian Railway Corporation headquarters.
Amaka, in an affidavit sworn to in support of amended originating motion filed before a Federal High Court in Lagos, by her lawyer, Chief Anthony Idigbe, SAN, asked for a declaration that the unsubstantiated indictment in a letter, leading to the harassment, detention, intimidation, humiliation and restriction of movement of her late mother since April 25, 2014, until her death on May 16, 2014, by the respondents are frivolous, vindictive, wicked, smacked of gross impunity, unlawful, unconstitutional and breach of the fundamental rights of the deceased.
The lawyer asked for an order of the court directing the respondents to tender unreserved apology to her and her entire family in any two daily newspapers circulating within Nigeria and an order directing the respondents to pay her family the sum of N1 billion, being general and aggravated damages for unlawful detention and death in police custody.
The applicant averred that her deceased mother received a letter on April 25, 2014, signed by the Nigerian Railway Corporation’s Managing Director, Engr. Adeseyi Sijuwade, accusing her of conspiring with 69 other staff of the corporation to embezzle over N1.5 billion between 2011 to 2013, before her retirement from the corporation in February 2014, upon attainment of the statutory age of retirement, and that no report of the purported finding was made available to her late mother prior to her retirement in February 2014, or at the point being communicated the said decision reached.
Amaka averred further that in the shocking letter received by her late mother, she was informed that the aggregated sum of N16.5 million over the period of three years (2011-2013), had been traced directly to her personal accounts as proceeds of the alleged conspiracy to defraud the corporation of N1.5 billion of pension funds and her purported benefit in the alleged embezzlement conspiracy.
She also averred that the deceased was arrested and detained at different formations of the Nigerian police in Lagos and Abuja between May 2, 2014, on the basis of warrant of arrest and detained till when she died on May 16, 2014, and all efforts by the deceased lawyer to secure her bail, so that she could get adequate medical care was rebuffed by the police authorities, and that during her detention, the deceased suffered stroke and she eventually died on May 16,2014.
It was further averred that her deceased mother did not commit any crime that could warrant her forceful and unlawful detention by the respondents outside the constitutionally prescribed period without bail, and that when her late mother applied for bail it was bluntly rejected by the police.
She was not also arraigned before any court of competent jurisdiction for any offence.
The lawyer also averred that the alleged petition, harassment, and threats of arrest by the police were made in bad faith, calculated to blackmail, exploit, embarrass, stripe her late mother of any iota of dignity and that same as completely smeared her late mother’s reputation and family name built up over several decades of meritorious service and exposed her late mother’s entire family including herself to the most humiliating form of ostracism, isolation, finger pointing, community jeers, public indictment without any form of fair hearing or opportunity for the deceased and her entire family to clear the deeply tarnished name and dignity of her entire family.
However, the respondent in a counter affidavit filed and argued before the court contended that miss Amaka has no locus standi to institute the action on behalf of her mother.
In his judgement, the presiding judge, Mohammed Idris while citing series of authorities said: “I hold that the Nigerian Police have failed in their responsibility. The applicant has liberty to life while in the custody of the Nigerian Police but was denied, thereby leading to her life being terminated. If she had access to hospital she would not have died, but the police deprived her the right to visit hospital to treat her ailment. Therefore, the applicant is entitled to general damages in the sum of N100 million.”
Citing the supreme court authority in the case of Bello versus Attorney General of Oyo State delivered by the late Justice Kayode Eso, to the effect that we should be our brother’s keeper, the judge disagreed with the submission of the Nigerian Police that the applicant has no legal right to institute the legal action on behalf of her late mother.