Lawyer of widow whose husband was killed by police over N50: AGF, IG have ignored appeals for NPF to pay damages

Mr Tope Temokun, counsel for Queen Akarewan, widow of Christopher, a commercial motorcyclist killed by the police in Ondo for refusing to give them N50, tells PETER DADA how the Nigeria Police Force has refused to pay N7.9m in damages to the widow over one year after a court judgment ordered that the money should be paid within 30 days

What is your relationship with the family of the deceased?

I did not Mr Christopher Akarewan or his wife before the unfortunate incident that led to his extrajudicial murder.

How did you get involved in the matter?

After the incident, I was invited by the Urhobo Progressive Union – the umbrella association of the Urhobo people in Okitipupa Local Government Area of Ondo State and the Ikale Youths Movement. The incident happened in Okitipupa, an Ikale town, and so it was a public interest case and every man and woman of conscience became a stakeholder. I took up the matter in public interest (pro bono publico) and filed the suit against the police.

We have been on it since then. In November 2018, the Federal High Court sitting in Akure, presided over by Justice A. Dogo delivered judgment and awarded the sum of N7.9m in damages against the Nigeria Police Force for the extrajudicial murder of Akarewan in Ondo State in 2011, wherein the court ordered the judgment debtors to pay the judgment sum within 30 days from the judgment date.

After the policemen discovered that the dastardly deed had been committed and the victim was still breathing and writhing in pains, rolling on the ground, rather than making an effort to carry the victim to the hospital and save his life, they preferred to cover their tracks. While Beatrice Odjugo – the woman who was with Akarewan on his motorcycle, shouted for help from passers-by and made attempts to ensure the policemen did not escape, the policemen violently descended on her, battered her and subdued her before escaping.

Early morning the next day, October 14, 2011, members of the deceased’s family visited the police station to report the incident formally to the Divisional Police Office at Okitipupa Divisional Police Headquarters, but policemen who had obviously been aware of the fatal action of the previous night, had stationed strategically themselves around the station in war-like manner and refused the family entry. On arrival at the station, the policemen at the station – all bearing arms – shouted at the family to leave the station immediately or be dealt with. But the family insisted on seeing the DPO before they would leave. While insisting on seeing the DPO, the police also shot the deceased’s cousin, Robinson Okotie, killing him.

The tragic reality is that the mothers of the deceased persons are of the same parents and in fact, both of them– Christopher and Robinson – grew up together with the former’s mother, who is the eldest child of their maternal family.

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The shooting and killing inflamed public anger all over Okitipupa, pushing people, comprising women, youths and transporters, who had resented police’s alleged excessive extortions, to take to the streets in protest. They cried against police brutality and it took the intervention of the traditional ruler, Oba Obatuga – the Jegun of Idepe, and the army personnel deployed from Okitipupa Barracks to come in, in a very civil and community-friendly way, to douse the public tension created by the heartless killings of two innocent men – whose mothers are blood sisters, born of the same parents.

Was the policeman that shot Christopher arrested?

Yes. The policeman who allegedly shot the deceased is one John Aghaulor. He was arrested, given orderly room trial, dismissed and charged to court secretly without informing family members who could provide useful evidence for his prosecution. The incident happened in Okitipupa. He was charged with murder in Akure and remanded in prison custody while his file went to Director of Public Prosecution for legal advice. That was the last we had of him. We learnt later that he was granted bail and that he jumped bail.

Since there is a judgment on the ground, why do you think the police disobeyed the court order?

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Firstly, it is not part of our national culture for law enforcement agencies or government bodies to willingly pay court-ordered damages. I have practised law for 12 years now in this country and for the greater part of those years, I have been involved in numerous human rights enforcement cases in which I have secured judgments in most of the cases – whether against the NPF or the Nigerian Army. I have observed that these bodies do not willingly pay court-ordered damages even when they don’t have appeals.

Secondly, national psychology as it is today under this present government, has allowed disobedience to court orders to pervade our national life. From the Federal Government to the state governments, disobedience to court orders is in vogue. But we won’t allow the era of impunity to deter us. We will continue to play our God-given roles; we will continue to stoke the fire and we know that someday, it will bring forth good flame.

What steps have you taken to get the judgment obeyed?

We have written to the Commissioner of Police in Ondo State through our letter of December 28, 2018. The appeal to the police to obey the court judgment was rebuffed.

We wrote again to the Attorney-General of the Federation to advise the police to obey the court judgment, by our letter of June 3, 2019 and by the AGF’s letter of July 17, 2019, we were informed that they had forwarded our letter to the Inspector-General of Police for necessary action.

By another letter dated September 16, 2019, we wrote the IG to make a passionate appeal for the police to comply with the judgment but till now, all our entreaties have been ignored.

Since all your entreaties have been ignored, what further steps are you going to take now?

We will be back in court to use the instrumentality of law to compel compliance.

Don’t you think the police can still appeal the judgment?

The judgment is water-tight and I don’t believe it is reasonable for a public body to continue dissipating taxpayers’ money to pursue appeals against poor citizens where such body has been found liable by the court. Two relations were killed. Would you say they were not killed? If ours were to be a sane society, the matter should not last in court. It should have been settled by the authorities by compensating the families.

The orderly room trial established the case against your officer and that was why he was dismissed and charged to court. So, what business do you have coming to court to reprobate again that you are not liable; after all, he was their officer when he killed. But here in this country, the custodian of public trust and security see themselves in war against those they are paid to protect. The police could only postpone the day, but the money will be paid. And any appeal against a judgment like this will be extremely immoral and satanic and amount to a mere waste of time and public resources.

Apart from the money from the judgment, what other ways do you think the widow and children of the deceased can be assisted?

(It won’t happen) except if good men and women, who are in scanty number among us, but who live a life of giving and charity, see how the widow could be integrated back to life through empowerment and the children made to return to school to be able to stand among their mates tomorrow. Otherwise, our governments do not see the welfare of the downtrodden as part of their priorities, except if there is a political goal to score.
Source: PUNCH NG

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