By IGHO OYOYO
The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja has finally commenced hearing of the appeal against judgment in the Fundamental Human Rights suit between Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), a journalist, Desmond Utomwen and six others.
The hearing is coming 11 years after the journalist, Utomwen, who was a staff of The News Magazine, was brutalised, arrested and detained at the Garki Police Station in December 2009 by police officers and a GTB employee, while on official assignment.
Utomwen had challenged the abuse in court in a bid to enforce his fundamental human rights and secured a judgement against the defendants in which the Court awarded him N100m damages in October 2013.
However, the NPF and the bank appealed the judgement, while efforts to secure a date for hearing at the Court of Appeal took another seven years before a date was fixed for the hearing.
On the September 22, 2020 scheduled sitting of the court (being yesterday), a date for adjournment was taken after the parties argued their motions and applications filed before the court.
Motion for adjournment was premised on the appellant’s requirement to serve the NPF and their agents in the suit, so the appeal could be heard and the matter adjourned to November 5, 2020.
Events that led to the appeal by GTB, as detailed by the Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ), revealed that several police officers and some employees of GTB brutalised Utomwen on December 11, 2009, for covering a peaceful protest outside the bank’s premises in Area 3, Abuja.
The bank’s customers were protesting against alleged fraudulent ATM withdrawals the bank’s officials made according to local journalists and news reports.
Consequently, Utomwen had asked the court to declare that his fundamental human rights were violated when he was obstructed from carrying out his lawful duty.
He explained that he was attacked and hit with buts of the gun until he became unconscious, before being bundled into a police vehicle and detained for several hours without access to medical treatment and his equipment seized.
For close to three years, Utomwen relentlessly sought justice, as the case passed through two judges before reaching Justice Peter Kekemeke.
Kekemeke had declared that the journalist’s right to freedom, right to own moveable and immoveable property, and right to freedom of the press and expression as stipulated in sections 34, 39, and 44 of the 1999 Constitution, were violated.