A Delta State High Court sitting in Otor-Udu, Udu Local Government Area, has ordered the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu Abubakar; the O/C IGP Monitoring Unit, DCP Abba Kyari; and Detective Reuben Noah to pay three journalists the sum of N350,000, being damages over their unlawful arrests and detention.
The affected journalists are Matthew Omonigho, Christopher Odamah and Onyekachukwu Meluwa of Daily Post, Delta Trumpet and The PUNCH newspapers respectively. They are all based in Delta State and were unlawfully arrested and detained in Warri by the IGP Monitoring Unit.
The court, presided over by Hon. Justice Roli Daibo Harriman, also directed the respondents to tender an apology to the applicants in three national dailies within 14 days.
A copy of the judgement, which was obtained by our Correspondent in Warri on Thursday, stated that the three journalists separately approached the court for the enforcement of their fundamental human rights through their counsel, Oghenejabor Ikimi, Esq, seeking for N10m each as damages in Suit No: OUHC/FHR/87/2020, OUHC/FHR/86/2020 and OUHC/FHR/85/2020 respectively.
The court, in its judgment, stated that, in the circumstances, it found that “the actions of the respondents were calculated, and did breach the fundamental rights of the applicants, and they are entitled to compensation.”
The judgment reads in part, “The assault, beatings and arrest of the applicants by the respondents on Tuesday, 26th day of May 2020 at the Press Centre of the Warri Correspondents Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Warri; and the subsequent detention of the applicants by the respondents from 4:30pm till midnight in their cell at the respondent’s Police Area Command Office Warri, is a violation of the applicant’s fundamental right to liberty and right to private and family life as guaranteed by Sections 34(1),35(1) and 37 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as Amended
The judgment affirmed that the N350,000 awarded as damages was for Christopher Odamah (Delta Trumpet) – N100,000; Matthew Omonigho (Daily Post) – N150,000; and Onyekachukwu Meluwa (PUNCH) – N100,000
Counsel to the three journalists, Oghenejabor Ikimi ,Esq, in a statement, confirmed the judgment, just as he lauded the Judge of Otor-Udu High Court for “a sound judgment.”
Ikimi recalled that Christopher Odamah, Matthew Omonigho, Onyekachukwu Meluwa, Edeki Igafe (NAN Correspondent) and Francis Sadhere (Business Day Correspondent) were arrested and detained at the Police Area Command, Warri, from 4:30pm to 12 midnight by men of the IGP Monitoring Unit, Abuja, led by one Detective Reuben Noah, without any formal charge and in lieu of one of their colleagues for no just cause.
“Pursuant to the intervention of the Delta State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Inuwa Hafiz and others, the said five journalists were released on administrative bail at about 12 midnight same day,” Ikimi noted.
Continuing, he said, “Owing to the above development, the Centre for the Vulnerable and the Underprivileged took special interest in the case of the above journalists and did write the Inspector General of Police on the issue, demanding public apology to be rendered forthwith by the Police High Command to the said journalists, but same was to no avail.
“Following the refusal of the Police High Command to tender public apology to the said journalists, CENTREP filed the below mentioned fundamental rights suits on behalf of three of the journalists at the Delta State High Court, Otor-Udu.”
Ikimi, who is also the Executive Director of CENTREP, said, ”The above suits were not aimed at disparaging the Nigeria Police Force as an institution, but same is actually geared towards deepening our democracy and to further enhance our human rights culture.”