A Federal High Court judge sitting in Calabar has ordered the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp, NSCDC, to pay about N21 million as damages to an oil marketer, Frank Oko, Manager, Tonimas Filling Station who is also the Managing Director, Ultimate Frank Filling Station, both in Okuku , Yala, for breach of his fundamental human rights and other allegations.
The judgement by Justice I. E. Ekwo, is coming after about two years of legal tussle between Oko and NSCDC over sundry allegations including breach of his fundamental human rights and those of one of his staff, Raphael Ogbe.
In a 45-paragraph petition prepared by Mba Ukweni, SAN, and others (counsel to the applicants), Oko alleged, among other issues, that his arrest, detention and assault by NSCDC were wrongful, illegal, callous, inhuman and a blatant violation of his fundamental rights.
He alleged that the action of the respondents after humiliating, extorting and seizing/confiscating money from him without any lawful cause, all amounted to abuse of office as against their statutory responsibilities and powers.
In his petition, the oil marketer sought an order directing the respondents to pay the applicant the N100,000 extorted from him before releasing the applicant and three other persons on 7th January, 2016.
He also sought an order directing the payment of another sum of N860,000 removed from his Highlander Camry car with registration number ABJ 903 HY driven into the respondents' premises by the applicant.
Oko had also sought an order of mandamus directing the respondents to jointly pay the applicant N200,000 being the applicant's total medical bill for his treatment at the police clinic, Ogoja occasioned by the assault on him by the respondents, among other demands.
Trouble started on 7th January, 2016 around 9am when the NSCDC personnel intercepted the applicant's petrol tanker with registration number UMA 77 YW conveying 30,000 litres of AGO from the company's depot at Onne, Rivers State for delivery at their Okuku service station.
There was a delivery note No.018645 dated 5th January, 2016 from the depot in Onne. The vehicle was seized based on an unfounded allegation at the gate of Ogoja Local Government Council Secretariat and taken into the council premises where NSCDC also has its office.
NSCDC claimed that the product was being diverted whereas the AGO was to be delivered at Tonimas Petrol Service Station along Igoli Road in Okuku, Yala LGA, about 5 kilometres away from where it was seized.
Oko, while on his way to make a deposit at a bank, on hearing that the tanker was intercepted by men of the NSCDC, rushed to their office and sought to know why the truck was intercepted.
But the respondents refused to listen to any explanation concerning the tanker and the 30,000 liters of AGO in it and subjected him to beating, using their belt, sticks and butts of their gun, a result of which caused swelling on the left leg of the applicant and laceration all over his body.
He was later taken to the office of the NSCDC where he was further humiliated and asked to frog-jump and detained with three of his staff in their cell.
They compelled Oko to pay N100,000 for their freedom. Though his personal car was released along with him, the N860,000 inside the car disappeared and the company's truck was held back with 30,000 litters of AGO for 25 days.
The applicant, according to the petition, reported the matter to the police at the Area Command of the Nigerian Police, Ogoja Headquarters where two NSCDC officers, one of whom was CPL. Ebri Ebri were detailed.
The judge, in his judgement, noted that "I am unable to find where in the entire defence of the respondents where the case of the applicant has been controvert with credible evidence. I have noted that the respondents have sought to controvert the documentary evidence of the applicant particularly exhibit MEU 2, MEU 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 3E and 3F using oral evidence which is the averment in the counter affidavit.”
"I find that the 3rd --7th respondents are unable to justify their action. I am forced to note that the defence of the respondents is porous in its entirety, reliant on affidavit evidence. I find that the case put forth by the applicant has not been successfully discredited by the respondents, and I must therefore, attach probative value thereto.”
He noted that the case must therefore, succeed on its merit as he has evaluated the affidavits and documentary evidence of the applicant and found them to be admissible, relevant, credible, conclusive and more probable than that tendered by the respondents.
“I agree with the learned counsel for the applicant that apology and compensation are consequential where the court finds that the fundamental rights of a person are breached.”
In line with the aforesaid, the trial judge gave an order directing the respondents to jointly and severally pay the applicant N21 million as damages for breaching his fundamental rights.
Reacting to the judgement, Oko simply told TNN that “the judiciary is the last hope of a common man."