Court slams N2.5m fine on police chief over unlawful detention of pastor

A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory has ordered the Inspector-General of Police, Hafiz Ringim, to pay Pastor Emeka Ebuta the sum of N2.5million as damages for his unlawful arrest and detention by officers of the Nigeria Police.

The Court presided over by Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi gave the order following a suit filed by Ebuta through his counsel, Chidi Nwankwo, for the enforcement of his fundamental rights.

Onyiyangi in his judgment held that “the applicant has sufficiently established the fact that his right of freedom of movement was curtailed, infringed upon and violated by men of the Nigeria Police based on the complaint of the 2nd respondent Dauda Isa.

“The defense of the 1st respondent, Inspector-General of Police that he neither authorized any police man to arrest nor detain the applicant cannot stand to reason. The 1st respondent is the Inspector-General of Police. He is the overall boss of the police force. All official acts of all officers below his rank are done under his authority. He is the principal and all other officers in the police force are his agents. An agent is any person who acts for another in the capacity of deputy, steward, rent collector for any other agent or trustee” he added.

Justice Oniyangi pointed out that “ipso facto therefore an agent acting on behalf of a known and disclosed principal incur no liability. This is because the act of the agent is the act of the principal. It was the principal who did or omitted to do what the agent did or omitted to do. In that wise therefore the proper party to sue is the principal and not the agent.

“In the light of the foregoing the defense of the 1st respondent (IGP) cannot stand having not denied that the men of the police force that arrested the complainant and detained him in the police headquarters Abuja are not police men. Therefore I hold that suing the 1st respondent for the acts of those police men is proper” he declared.

The  judge further held that “in the circumstances of this application, the transaction leading to the arrest and detention of the applicant is a contractual obligation and civil in nature. It is a case of indebtedness consequent on a contractual relationship. In my view there is nothing criminal that would warrant the arrest and detention of the applicant. Agreed the respondent could invite the applicant but upon the fact of this case they ought to have advised the 2nd respondent to approach the court.

“The arrest and detention of the applicant in this case was to force and compel him to pay for indebtedness he neither incur nor benefit from. It is my view that the police is saddled with enough responsibility than to be using their constitutional power to arrest to recover debts. They are not debt collectors and should never be involved in such service” he declared.

Justice Oniyangi reacting to whether the applicant is entitled to the relief sought said “the answer is not far fetched. Having found that the applicant was arrested, detained, dehumanized and which act is against the spirit of Section 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, I am convinced that he is entitled to compensation for the arrest, detention and humiliation.

“It is not in dispute that the applicant was detained from March 3, 2010, to March 8, 2010. He deserves to be compensated. Accordingly I award in favour of the applicant and against the respondents jointly the sum of N2, 500,000 (Two Million Five Hundred Thousand Naira Only) for the unlawful arrest, harassment and humiliation. Further to this, the respondents, their agents, privies and or subordinates are hereby restrained perpetually from arresting or further arresting, detaining, harassing and intimidating the applicant.

Specifically, Pastor Ebuta had through his counsel, Chidi Nwankwo, had approached the court, asking for a declaration that his arrest, detention, humiliation and continued harassment and intimidation by the respondents and their agents without the commission of any known offence and without justifiable legal reasons whatsoever is not in accordance with the procedure permitted by law and therefore illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional.

He also asked the court for N20, 000,000 as damages for his unlawful arrest and detention.

Ebuta, who is the general manager of Real Estate Emporium Limited, said in his affidavit said that the company was awarded the contract to construct mass houses for the Nigerian Television Authority at Karu, Nassarawa State,  a job he said his company sub-contracted to Ola-Bright Nigeria Limited as according to him the job was too much.

He further averred that in the course of the job Ola-Bright incurred debts as it bought building materials on credit and could not meet the obligation to pay the said debts of about N12, 000,000.

According to him “the 2nd respondent in connivance with men of the Nigeria police force arrested me in spite of the fact that I had explained that Ola-Bright is an independent contractor over whom we have no control. I was held incommunicado in the police cell without access to my family they insisted that I must pay the debt incurred by Ola-Bright.”

Daily Independent