By Robert Egbe
The Lagos State Judicial Panel probing police brutality on Friday awarded N7.5 million to a petitioner, Marc Chidiebere Nwadi, who was imprisoned for six years without trial, following his arrest by the police.
Nwadi, 40, was detained between 1999 and 2005 at the Kiriki Maximum Security Prison Ikoyi, because he refused to give the police a bribe.
Nwadi came to Lagos from Abia State in 1999 to visit his brother in Ojuelegba, but could not locate the address.
He was 18 years old at the time.
He got to the Oshodi Park at about 8:30pm and was trying to navigate his way to Ojuelegba when a police van pulled by and some officers jumped out.
They arrested him and he spent six years in prison awaiting trial.
For three years, Nwadi’s family was unaware of his whereabouts until a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member posted to serve in the facility heard his story and sent a message to Nwadi’s family.
Following the corps member’s intervention, Catholic Church missionaries were contacted and they facilitated Nwadi’s freedom after another three years.
By then he was 24 years old.
While in detention, Nwadi wrote two books and founded a non-governmental organisation to encourage young people to stay off crime.
Nwadi narrated his story during his first appearance at the panel last November 28.
He said: “I arrived in Lagos at about 8pm and was heading to Desert Street, Egbeda. It was late at about 9:30pm. When I got there, I was told my brother no longer lived there. The new occupants (a barber’s shop) didn’t know my brother’s new address.
“I begged them to allow me to sleep in the shop and I slept there till the morning. I carried my Marlboro bag with me, trying to get to Ojuelegba from Oshodi to meet an uncle who could help. Then a van drove by.
“People ran, but I was confused, and before I could react, I was grabbed, beaten, and my head was hit with the butt of a gun.
“When I asked what I did, I was beaten and later taken to Idimu Police Station along with others.”
He was detained for three months in a cell because he could not cough up N10,000 allegedly demanded by the police.
He was then arraigned at a nearby court where he was charged with armed robbery and sent to Kirikiri Maximum Prison.
He added: “After three years, I developed partial blindness and deafness from the slaps I received. I did not know that telling the police you have no money makes them more angry.”
Delivering judgment on his petition, panel chairman, Justice Doris Okuwobi (rtd), held that Nwadi suffered at the hands of police owing to his inability to offer a bribe.
Okuwobi awarded N7.5 million to Nwadi and presented a cheque for the sum to him on behalf of the Lagos State Government.
The panel has a N200 million purse provided by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu when he set up the probe of police brutality and the Lekki Tollgate incident last October, in the wake of the near-nationwide #EndSARS protests.
Nwadi, Okuwobi noted, endured six years in prison without any justification.
She said: “His inability to provide bribes led to trumped-up charges, and as a result he was kept in the awaiting trial section of the Kirikiri Maximum Security (Prison) for six years.
“The petitioner was incarcerated in the prime of his life without justification for six years and was never tried or sentenced for any crime despite enduring a long six-year stay in prison and losing a vital part of his youth and opportunities.
“We hereby give an award of N7.5 million in favour of the petitioner.”
The judge emeritus recommended that the investigating police officer in charge of the case should be sanctioned by the police and suspended for six months without pay and that other police officers involved should be suspended for three months.
She added: “The Nigerian Police Force should have a human rights desk in each station which should be manned by lawyers all from the Nigerian Police with a background in human rights.
“A daily audit of cells in police stations should be carried out by the DPOs and head of the human right desks.”
Mrs Okuwobi added that the police should stick to the time frame stipulated by the law for the detention of suspects and curb cases of bribery in the police force.
“It should be the duty of the arresting officers to ensure that relatives of arrested persons are made aware of their arrests and circumstances surrounding the arrest,” she said.