© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Police Brutality: How Police attacked female lawyer over reported rape case in Enugu State
Police says victim remorseful to appear before panel of inquiry
IT was on a Monday evening, 27th January. A 21-year old Eunice Fabien (not real name) raised an alarm on a rape case. She was allegedly raped by Uchenna James Emenike, a 22-year-old man who resides at Corridor Layout, Maryland, Enugu State.
Following the incident, Women’s Aid Collective (WACOL), a Non-Governmental Organisation became her first point of call. Fabien called the organisation to seek the intervention of the women’s rights group.
Prof. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, WACOL Executive Director confirmed the incident to The ICIR.
“Our legal team considered her report and thought it wise that rape was such a serious criminal matter that should require Police intervention and investigation,” she said
“To that effect, one of the lawyers in our office, Ibangah Goodness Esq. took the victim to Area Command Enugu, Enugu State with a petition informing the Police of the development and requested that the matter be investigated.”
Rape is a criminal case punishable under the Nigerian Criminal Code, the Penal Code, the Criminal Laws of Lagos, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (only in Lagos) and the Child Rights Act being domesticated by respective State governments.
In Nigeria, several efforts have been made by various advocacy groups to discourage rape, and rape victims are often encouraged to report cases to avoid a reoccurrence.
However, the same day the incident happened, Goodness together with the victim reported at the Police command, armed with a written statement by the victim.
She expected the police would commence an investigation on the rape matter and ensure justice is delivered.
“She handed the victim over to them and she was also present when they obtained a statement from her. At that point, it was reasonably expected that the Police had formally taken over the investigation of this matter from us,” Ezeilo, who was United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, said.
WACOL had earlier took Fabien to a nearby hospital for tests and medical attention. But, things took a twist when the Police returned to WACOL to demand the rape victim. The Police repeatedly called Ibangah – the female lawyer asking her to provide the rape victim as Emenike’s parents were willing to settle the case with Fabien and her family.
At that point, the issue became intense.
Again the question was why the police should be much interested in facilitating a peace deal with the raped victim and her family, rather than seeking justice.
However, the lawyer then, insisted she already handed over the case to the police officials. As such, the security operatives should get whatever contact information required about the victim directly from the details Fabien personally provided during the official complaint at the police command.
“Rather, the Area commander and some other officers at the station kept calling Ibangah Goodness Esq and trying to intimidate her and coerce her to provide the victim for settlement with the boy’s parent,” Ezeilo said.
Police storms WACOL, brutalises Ibangah
On Thursday 30th January, the Police stormed the office of the women’s rights group. Four police officers from the Enugu Area Command visited, insisting the victim must be made available to them.
All efforts to explain that the group had handed over the case to the police reportedly failed.
It was gathered that at that point, efforts were made to contact the rape victim. But Fabien responded, saying she was on her way to the police station.
However, the officers who were already frustrated by the delay, forcefully took Ibangah’s phone and smashed it.
“These officers failed to listen but instead began entering all the rooms in the office building and when they saw Ibangah Goodness Esq. who was in a meeting at the time, they beat her up to a state of near unconsciousness.
“They extended the beating to Miss Nneka Okwor, another member of our staff when she made to plead with them to stop beating Goodness. These police Officers took the phone of Ibangah Goodness Esq. and confiscated the phone of anyone who dared to take pictures, record or video their hideous acts.”
WACOL office properties were destroyed in the process.
At some point, the female lawyer who was being attacked had to take escape intothe office restroom. “She ran into the office toilet to save her dear life, yet the four of them chased her like a hardened criminal into the toilet, dragged her out and continued beating this helpless and unarmed lady who was assisting the Police to curb crimes in the state.”
Police brutality an everyday norm in Nigeria
This, however, is not the first time Nigerians would complain about police harassment.
The issue of police brutality has largely become an everyday concern, aligned with corrupt practices, arbitrary abuse of human rights, killings among other illegalities.
Another journalist formerly with ChannelsTV was also shot dead by the Police during a similar Shi’ite protest last year July.
In September 2016, Amnesty International indicted the police for self-enrichment by torturing detainees, demands bribes in return for their freedom.
Concerned Nigerians often worry over the psychological conditions of the Nigeru3an policemen, and had in the past threatened to sue leadership of the police force regarding the mental state of the operatives.
These among others are series of unlawful arrests and abuse of human rights the Police have sadly been identified with.
Ezeilo, the Dean of Faculty, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, told The ICIR that after Ibangah was severly beaten by the policemen, she was taken away with another lawyer identified as Ezeani, who was outside the premises when the incident occurred.
Unfortunately, other women who had visited the rights office for other matters had to leave. This happened around 2:00 pm.
Eventually, the lawyers were detained. Their phones seized and denied access to make calls, demanding for Fabien.
At the verge of death
Narrating the incident, parents of the accused persons were already at the police station awaiting the arrival of the arrested lawyers. The police then pushed further on the humanitarian group to produce Fabien.
At that moment, Ibanga, the female lawyer was becoming restless and started having difficulty breathing. Ezeilo said the female lawyer cried for urgent help but the police refused until she collapsed at about 3:00 pm. This was when she had to be rushed to the Emergency Unit of the National Orthopaedic Hospital in the state, again, not by the police but a fellow lawyer who became interested in the case.
“Ibangah Goodness told them that she was having breathing difficulty and needed her medical attention as a matter of urgency, they turned a deaf ear to her plea and continued to force her to make a statement and also produce the victim for settlement.
“Around 3:00 pm Ibangah fainted and collapsed while still in custody and was not rushed to the hospital until after 20 minutes when Daniel Onyeonagu Esq. one of our Pro Bono Lawyers who saw Police reluctance to provide their own vehicle took her in his car to the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Emergency Unit.”
It was providence that saved the female lawyer who was rescued when administered oxygen among other quick interventions.
Narrating the experience, two Police officers who accompanied Onyeonagu in his car allegedly took to their heels when they realised Ibangah ‘became totally unconscious,’ unknown to them, luck was still on the victim’s side.
She was later revived.
“Immediately they arrived at the hospital and before she was revived, the two police officers who had her in their custody and who accompanied Onyeonagu to the hospital thought she had died and ran way.”
The detained Ezeani, however, remained in the police custody from around 2:00 pm till 6:00 pm. She was eventually released after they had obtained her statement.
Meanwhile, the rape case initially reported by the victim through WACOL has not been resolved.
In her reaction, Ene Obi, Country Director of ActionAid Nigeria condemned the police brutality and unlawful arrest of the lawyers. She described the attack as one against all women in the county which should not be condoned.
“…it is an attack on women protecting women, it is an attack on women’s right, it is an attack on the law profession, it is an attack on justice and there must be a consequence,” she said.
Obi, however, expressed hope that that the state commissioner of police would probe the matter.
“This is the height of abuse of Police power, harassing and beating up a human rights lawyer working in an office that has set unprecedented records of assisting the Police in curbing crimes in the country. It is a mockery to an office such as ours and is totally unacceptable and must be fully investigated to bring the culprits to book,” Ezeilo added.
Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), in a petition written to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Police Service Commission (PSC) called for the prosecution of the officers involved in the alleged unlawful act.
“We hereby call upon the Inspector General of Police and the Police Service Commission to investigate this rogue behaviour by the Police and bring all those involved to book,” Kunle Edun, NBA National Publicity Secretary said.
On 3rd February, The ICIR contacted Enugu State Command Police Spokesperson, Amaraizu Ebere. But he said he was driving.
He asked the reporter to send a text message. But the reporter called again the next day and he said he was no longer the spokesperson.
The new spokesperson, Assistant Superintendent of Police Daniel Ndukwe, however, said a panel of inquiry has been set up by Ahmad Abdurrahman, the Commissioner for Police in the state.
He said for almost four days, relevant persons have been meeting over the matter. However, he accused the said lawyer of being remorseful to appear before the committee.
“The CP has set up a panel of inquiry to look into the matter and come up with a report specifically to determine the involvement of the police, the extent of what they did and whether their conduct was professional or unprofessional and present a report,” he told The ICIR.
“…today they are still meeting and they will be interviewing every person, both the Police and officials from WACOL.”
He added that the Police are doing everything possible to ensure justice prevails.
But on the rape case, he said he would not want to preempt outcome of the panel but urged The ICIR to follow up on the matter until a recommendation is made public.
He suggested that the victim and the accused had made peace based on purported reports,”…something like that is flying in the air.”
“When the report comes out, we will make a better judgment from the panel. That is the position of the command now.”
Though, he did not specify when the recommendations would be made public when asked by the reporter. But, simply said, as ‘soon as possible’.
“Today we are meeting and we are supposed to talk to the alleged victim that was beaten. but we have not been able to talk even when she had left the hospital. We are still hoping to hear from her.”
We are being contacted via proxy – WACOL
To verify Ndukwe’s claim on the summon of Ibangah and WACOL’s team, The ICIR, contacted Mrs. Egodi Igwe, WACOL Communications officer and she agreed the office is aware of the meeting. She also said WACOL’s officials have been appearing before the panel.
“…they were there yesterday, though most of the information we are getting were never communicated officially, we are cooperating with the committee so far,” Igwe noted.
But, she said Ibangah is still traumatised and undergoing special medication, thus she would not be able to appear before the committee until she is fit.
“They insisted she must be present at the panel but our ED said she is still taking her drugs and traumatised, so I am not sure she can talk to them today but as soon as she is okay, she will appear. They can still talk to her on the phone if they want.”
Conclusively, Nigerians are patiently waiting to see the outcome of the investigation, with optimism that the law would be duly served against police injustice while the rape victim also gets justice to serve as a deterrent against likely future occurrences.