It was a tale of trauma and tears as a woman narrated her ordeal in the hands of policemen before the Justice Ifiok Ukana-led Investigation Panel on Police brutality in Akwa Ibom State.
This was one of the thirty two matters brought before the panel.
The panel listened with bewilderment as the woman narrated how she was “retained” with her menstrual flow for taking food to her husband who was arrested by the police.
Hear her: “My husband was forcefully taken to the police station and detained. While there, I usually visit him to give him food. On one of the visits, I visited with my two children as usual, since I had no one at home to look after them. On getting to the police station, the IPO denied me access to my husband, seized the food for him and and said I should wait.
At about 4pm, those who were on morning duty closed work leaving us in the station. At about 7pm, I made attempt at leaving the station since my children who had not eaten since their morning meal started crying due to hunger pangs. On getting outside, a police man stationed outside enquired where I was headed. When I responded that I was going home. He further enquired if the IPO had authorized me to leave. When I responded in the negative he ordered me to get back inside.
I felt traumatized for being unduly detained. Coupled with the fact that my children were crying due to hunger and I had no extra cash on me to get them food. Besides, I had been standing all through. I was in my monthly flow and had not had a change of pad since morning. I was seriously soaked. I could not sit so as not to create a mess.
At about 9pm, I called one police officer I knew to complain that I was being held at the police station. He then came over, expressing shock and anger, he then called the said IPO who insisted i should not be allowed to go home. My friendly police officer went further to call the OC, who saw me that morning when I got to the station. He expressed shock at the fact that I was still at the station. He then ordered that I should be released to go home.
On another visit to my husband after the mentioned incidence. The same IPO, ordered me to sign power of attorney releasing my husband’s property for sale. Few days after, accompanied by other police men, they came to our home and carted away properties( deep freezer, generator, gas cooker, two standing fans). And while in my home, he made sexual advances at me”
The woman’s narration was one of the many touching stories that received hearing on the 2nd of December, 2020 at Uyo High Court, being where the judicial panel of Investigation on Incidences of Police Brutality in Akwa Ibom State is currently sitting.
On the said day, 32 Matters were listed on the court list for hearing. Eight witnesses testified and we’re cross examined up to a point where adjournments were granted to allow for thoroughness in Investigation.
The Chairman of the panel Justice Ifiok Ukana(RTD) rising from sitting on the 2nd of December,2020 made the following statements while fielding questions from press:
“We thank God that people of Akwa Ibom State, who have been brutalized and victimized in various ways, have risen to the occasion make their petitions known.
The panel received about 150 petitions the first two weeks when memorandum were called for. And since the panel started hearing, sordid and painful revelations have been made of the uncivil ways some bad eggs in Nigeria Police Force handle people.
We wish many people will come out and listen, because this is a lesson to every Nigerian that a lot of things have been wrong. And this is opportunity for these things to be put aright”.
Speaking further, Justice Ukana said the panel will afford members of the public to know that the police do not operate without rules and regulations. In his words, he said: “Our constitution is paramount, and there are fundamental freedom provided there on how to treat people. So where there is a departure, the law must take its course”.
When asked how many matters have been heard since the panel began sitting and how many have been concluded, Justice Ukana responded thus: “in a judicial panel, you don’t talk of conclusion easily. When a memo is filed, and the person who filed it is called, he/she will bring forth witnesses. In certain cases, we have to summon doctors who perform post mortem to determine cause of death where people have been shot by the police. In fact, in most cases here, those corpses are still in various mortuaries. It will require the order of this panel for them to be buried eventually. So it’s a slow process, but it has to be painstakingly done because where allegation is made against somebody, it must be carefully investigated and determined, taking surrounding circumstances into consideration. A judicial process can not be rushed. Fair hearing must not be sacrificed on the altar of speed. Speed does damage in legal proceedings, but it is not that we should be slow. But we must be careful.”
Speaking also about the disposition of summoned police officers to appear before the panel, the panel Chairman, Justice Ukana commented that the turn of events on the panel have been very revealing. According to him: ” police men have even brought petitions , even retired ones. And we are hearing them. Governor Udom Emmanuel made an important point that this sitting is not anti police but targeted at the bad eggs that put the police force in bad light. There are some nice police men who have discharged their responsibilities humanely and with great civility. They are not the people that this panel is meant for. It is for the people that have conducted themselves as if they are above the law. People who throw people behind custody for years without proper remand, people who have tried to extort money, police officers who have sexually harassed wives of suspects and done unthinkable things. Those are the police officers against whom complaints have been brought and we are hearing them painstakingly, deciphering evidence and marrying them to surrounding circumstances so as to come to conclusion as per the validity of the allegations made against such people. The Judicial process is such that the police officers that have been summoned to appear are expected to appear and hear the allegations against them and to defend themselves. They have a right to audience and they come with their lawyers. We cannot discountenance the fact that some police officers who are served summons are going underground, but we will exume them. Because as long as they are still serving, even if they are retired, they have a location”.
Finally, when asked when the panel is likely to conclude hearing on all matters received by the panel, the chairman of the panel said it was difficult to say in advance. He went further to say: “we can’t jump the gun. Avalanche of documents are still pouring in. But what we have done now is, if you are filing late, in that motion of notice, you will canvas argument as to why you are filing late. If we see merit in it, we admit and hear because you see, this sitting may not come soon again. So we give people opportunity to be heard”.
In conclusion, Justice Ukana appreciated the state Governor,HE Gabriel Udom Emmanuel for giving the people of Akwa Ibom State such a favourable outlet for dispensation of justice and also commended the Commissioner for Information Comrade Ini Ememobong for ensuring that reports of the sitting of the panel will enjoy robust media coverage.