There was jubilation in Okuku community, Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State when news broke out to residents of the community that a High Court sitting in Calabar has ordered the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corp NSCDC to pay N21m damages to one Mr. Frank Oko, who doubles as manager Tonimas petrol station and also an a managing director with Ultimate Frank filing station in the area.
Oko, received the fair judgement after two years of legal battle between him and the management of Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corp NSCDC over sundry allegations including breach of the fundamental human rights of the applicant .
The plaintiff had dragged the management of Civil Defense Corp to court to seek redress over what he called as breaching of his right of dignity f human person.
Oko along with one of his staff, Raphael Ogbe, on monday, January 8, 2018 aftedr a long battle in the court of law finally got a resounding victory against the latter (NSCDC) at the Federal High Court sitting in Calabar and the court ordered a payment of N21million as damages to the two person (applicant) for the trouble caused them by the men of the Nigeria security and civil defense corp.
The applicant (Frank Oko and others) had, in a Suit No. FHC/CA/FHR/47/2016 sought for the enforcement of their fundamental rights brought pursuant to section 46 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria1999 (as ammended) as well as order 11, rules 1 of the fundamental rights enforcement proceedure ) rules 2009 against the respondents (NSCDC) and prayed the court for an order for the enforcement of his fundamental rights to dignity of his human person, personal liberty and freedom of movement .
However, in a 45 paragraph petition prepared by Mba Nkweni, SAN, and others (Council to the applicant, Oko alleged, among other issues that, his arrest, detention, assault, battery, humiliation and and brutalization by the respondents (NSCDC) is wrongful, illegal and unconstitutional, callous, inhuman and a blatant violation of the applicant’s fundamental rights. He alleged that the action of the respondents, particularly, the 3rd to the 7th respondents after humiliating, extorting and seizing/confiscating monies from him without any lawful cause all amounts to abuse of office as against their statutory responsibilities and powers as provided for in the NSCDC Acts, No. 6 of 2007; Cap N146 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2010.
But according to a the petition handed to the Authority, he is seeking an order directing the respondents to pay the applicant the sum of One hundred thousand Naira (100, 000) extorted from him before releasing the applicant and three other persons on the 7th January, 2016; Also an order directing the payment of another sum of Eight hundred and sixty thousand naira (860,000) seized, confiscated or stolen from his Highlander Camry car No. ABJ 903 HY driven into the respondents’ premises by the applicant; amounting to Nine hundred and sixty thousand Naira (#960,000) only.
An order of mandatory injunction directing the respondents to jointly and severally pay the applicant the sum of two hundred thousand naira only being his total medical bill for his treatment at the police clinic , Ogoja for the assault and beatings given to him by the respondents.
Oko who is so aggrieved and through his counsel further sought for an order to direct the respondents whom according to him should jointly pay the applicant the sum of two hundred thousand naira (#200,000) only per day, and for the 25 days the respondents detained the applicant’s truck with Reg. No.UMA 77 YW on the false and erroneous allegation that the applicant was diverting the AGO in the tanker amounting to a total of Five Million Naira (#5,000,000) only for depriving the applicant of the use of the vehicle. The applicant is further directing the respondent to tender a written unreserved public apology to the applicant within thirty(30) days from the date of the judgement which should be published in at least , three national dailies or as may be directed by the court among others.
According to the petition, the respondents violated the applicants rights to his personal liberty, the dignity of his person and freedom of movement. It further stated that the respondent, acted contrary to the provisions in the NSCDC Acts, No. 6 which empowers them to maintain peace and order , protection and rescuing of civil population during emmergencies among other duties.
The case of the applicant, as stated in the 45 paragraph affidavit deposed to by the applicant in person on the 18 th May, 2017 is that the applicant is a business man, an independent petroleum marketer and the manager of Tonimas Petrol service station located along Igoli Rd. in Okuku, Yala LGA of Cross River state. On 7th January, 2016 at about 9am, the 3rd –7th respondents intercepted and arrested Applicants petrol tanker with Reg No. UMA 77 YW laden with 30,000 AGO from the company’s depot at Onne, River state for delivery at their Okuku service station. There was a delivery note No.018645 dated 5th January, 2016 from the depot in Onne. The vehicle was taken from the gate of Ogoja LGC into the the council Headquarters premises which habours the respondent’s office on an unfounded allegation that the product was being diverted.
The AGO was to be delivered at To nimas petrol service station along Igoli Rd. in Okuku, Yala LGA, which is a distance of about 5— 8 kilometres from Yala LGA. The manager of Tonimas filling station , on hearing that their tanker was intercepted by men of the NSCDC, rushed to their office on his way to make a deposit at a bank. He sought to know why the truck was intercepted. But the 3rd respondents refused to listen to any explanation concerning the tanker and the 30,30000am liters AGO , but they subjected the applicant to beating, using their belt, sticks and butts of their gun, a result of which caused swelling on the left leg of the applicant and laceration all over his body. He was later taken to the office of the respondents where he was further humiliated and asked to frog-jump and detained with three of his staff in their cell for upwards of 7 hours before being released . The 3rd – 7th respondents compelled them to pay the sum of one hundred thousand(100,000) before they were released. Though, his personal car was released along with him, the #860, 000 inside the car was gone. Yet the company’s truck was held back with 30,000 litters of AGO for 25 days.
The applicant, according to the petition, reported the matter to the police at the Area Command of the Nigerian police , Ogoja headwuarters where two officers, one of whom was CPL. Ebri Ebri were detailed to invite the 3rd –7th respondents who, rather than cooperate with the police, resisted the invitation and threatened to beat up the police if he insist on taking them to the police station. The four persons attacked, according to the affidavit, filed a suit No. HMM/2/2016 at the Ogoja Division of the High Court of Cross River State on the 26th January , 2016 before their tanker was released.
But a 41 paragraph counter affidavit prepared by B.C.G. Ugwu Esq. (Councel to the respondents) deposed to by one Michael Akwo of the Anti-Vandal unit of the 1st respondent, Ogoja Division debunked most of the claims by the applicant.
Though, he admitted that officers and men of the 1st respondent accousted the truck with Reg. No. UMA 77 YW on the said date during their patrol. And that the driver showed them a delivery note but had no way bill which is the legal document for haulage of petroleum products. And that the vehicle was taken into their premises for investigation.
He claimed that the driver offered to bribe them with one hundred thousand naira (100, 000) which raised suspicion of the respondents. The affidavit stated that the 3rd , 4th and the 7th respondents did not threaten the applicant with gun as alleged by the applicant. Rather, according to the statement, the applicant was boasting of his connections to other security agencies, after which a uniformed soldier without a name tags for identification came to the scene of the incident. And that upon explanation to the said soldier by the 4th respondent, the soldier left. The respondent claimed that the applicant attempted to disarm the 5th respondent but was subdued. He said neither the applicant nor the drivers were detained, humiliated or frog-jumped directly by any of the respondents. The affidavits further denied ever demanding or received the sum of one hundred thousand naira or any other sum from the applicant.
It claimed that the applicant was only invited to the respondent’s office where he was cautioned and he undertook not to behave in such manner again.
It stated that the said truck was released to them immediately when they realised that it was leaking fuel and was constituting a security and environmental risk to the premises.. The counter affidavit maintained that there was no evidence of humiliation or harassment of any kind against the 1st — the 7th respondents. And that it was established that the respondents acted in line with their duties under the NSCDC Acts. It insisted that as far as the applicant has not been able to prove any injury suffer or violation of his rights in his affidavit means that the applicant is not entitled to any releif or compensation, whether monetarily or otherwise. It further stated that the applicant was never detained beyond any reasonable time as he was released along side his truck at about 1. 30 pm same date he was taken to custody, that is, 7th January,2016.
But in his ruling, Justice I.E Ekwo who is the trial judge in the matter that is made available to our correspondent stated that having perused the oral and documentary evidences on both sides, said, ” I am unable to find where in the entire defence of the respondents where the case of the applicant has been controvert with credible evidence. I have noted that the respondents have sought to controvert the documentary evidence of the applicant particularly Exibit MEU 2, MEU 3A, 3B, 3B, 3C,3D,3E and 3F using oral evidence which is the averment in the counter affidavit. In his submission he noted that the law is trite that documentary evidence cannot by any measure be varied or demolished by oral evidence.” The position of the law, according to him, is that , once documentary evidence supports oral evidence, such oral evidence becomes more credible. Having taken a critical look at the suit and counter affidavits of the parties in the case , the trial Judge, in his opinion, noted that the defence of the respondents did not hold water.
” I find that the 3rd –7th respondents are unable to justify their action…. I am forced to note that the defence of the respondents is porous in its entirety, reliant on affidavit evidence. I find that the case put forth by the applicant has not been successfully discredited by the respondents, and I must therefore, attach probative value thereto. He noted that the case must therefore, succeed on its merit as he has evaluated the affidavits and documentary evidence of the applicant and found them to be admissible, relevant , credible, conclusive and more probable than that tendered by the respondents.
” I agree with the learned councel for the applicant that apology and compensation are consequential where the court finds that the fundamental rights of a person are breached.
However, after hearing both sides of the facts the trial judge finally gave directives that a N21m naira be paid to the the plaintiff for breach of his fundamental human rights.
But in a swift reaction to the judgment, the managing director of Ultimate Frank Oko filing station told journalist that with the judgment it means the judiciary is still a hope to the common man in the street who may have no one to speak for him.
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