By Kanayo WIGWE
OFFICERS of the Rivers State Police Command last Friday arrested a pharmacist for opening his pharmacy during lockdown and collected N20,000 before he was released, a lawyer has alleged.
The pharmacist, Lucky Nwidu, owner of Luckpharm Pharmacy and a senior lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt, and his lawyer, Obinna Chukwuka, said a police officers threatened him that if he did not pay N100,000 he would be taken to the isolation centre in the state, where COVID 19 patients were being treated.
Eventually, the lawyer said N20,000 was extorted from his client before he was released.
Chukwuka, who demanded an apology from the Rivers State Police Commissioner, Joseph Mukan, for the inhuman treatment meted out to his client, said Nwidu was detained in a room measuring 12 ft by 12 ft along with 39 others without any of them wearing a mask.
Narrating how his ordeal started, Nwidu said that two police officers, one male and the other female (in civilian clothing), “stormed” his pharmacy in Port Harcourt on May 8 and tried to arrest two attendants for opening the store during lockdown, insisting that no business was allowed to run.
He said his explanation that pharmacists were essential services workers who were exempted from lockdown regulations were dismissed by the officers. Even when the pharmacist showed the officers an approval from the Rivers State Ministry of Health, signed by the Permanent Secretary, permitting him to open and run his pharmacist during the lockdown, they refused to budge and insisted on arresting his staff.
Nwidu pleaded with the police officers that he be arrested instead of the two nurses, since he owned the pharmacy and authorised them to open it. The two officers easily agreed to that and whisked the pharmacist off to Ozuoba police station.
“I introduce my self and let them know that pharmacist and other health care staffs are permitted to run essential duties. They said no, the Governor authorized a total lockdown. I pleaded that you cannot take away my staff instead arrest me because I permitted them to open the Pharmacy to provide essential services in line with the permit from Ministry of Health. (But) I was arrested and taken away in the Oxuoba police van”, Nwidu narrated in an audio recording he released after the incident.
The pharmacist said when he asked to put on his mask before being taken into the dark room where he was detained, the female police officer, whom he identified as Inspector Bukola, refused and so he was forced to stay in the tiny room which soon got filled with 39 other inmates, many of them equally arrested for violating lockdown regulations.
Eventually, Nwidu was allowed to make a phone call ostensibly to tell his family where he was but he instructed them to quickly contact his lawyer to come to the police station to secure his bail.
Chukwuka said he was shocked at the condition he met his client as he was nearly naked and herded with others behind the police counter.
“My client was stark naked but for the boxers that he was putting on. And he was herded with a crowd of people, no social distancing maintained, they were all crowded in that particular corner. And there was no face mask whatsoever,” the lawyer stated.
Chukwuka said the police officers were very angry to learn that Nwidu had called his lawyer when they allowed him speak with members of his family. He said further that they got even angrier when he showed them the permit to Luckpharm Pharmacy to operate as an essential services provider during the lockdown and would not listen.
“I presented the document authorising Dr Nwidu to operate and asked them to kindly release him to me. And they were very very angry that I had the effrontery to bring an approval letter and said a pharmacist is not authorised to open or operate during the lockdown,” Chukwuka explained.
The lawyer alleged that the police officers demanded for a bribe of N100,000 and insisted that that is the only condition that would make them release Nwidu.
“They said N100,000 or nothing and that if he did not bring the N100,000, they would take him to the quarantine centre and there he would see hell.”
The lawyer said he demanded to see the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, in charge of the station, whose name was given as CSP Christian Ogowoke, but when he met him, the officer is said to have gotten angry and sent the lawyer out of the station.
Chukwuka said he after being driven away, he stayed in his car outside from 2.00pm until 4.30 pm when his client sent for him. When he got back in the station, the police had apparently negotiated the demand they made on Nwidu and agreed that he would pay N20,000 instead of the initial N100,000.
They allegedly asked the lawyer to pay the money otherwise they would not release him.
“The police said they had changed their mind and that my client should now bring N20,000 and that without N20,000 … that in fact they would not go below N20,000. I said bail is free but they would not listen,” the lawyer alleged.
Chukwuka said that he was forced to pay the money to save his client’s health and life because he had been badly treated and his health could be compromised.
As soon as the money was paid, he said it took less than three minutes for the pharmacist’s bail papers to be perfected and he was released.
Chukwuka described what happened as “an affront against the law” and a “violation of Dr Nwidu’s rights” and demanded an explanation from both the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike and the police commissioner.
He called on the governor to clarify if doctors and pharmacists in the state are categorised as essential services workers and if the permit given to Nwidu by the ministry of health was genuine or not.
Chukwuka also demanded that the N20,000 bribe collected from his client be returned to him. He also demanded an apology from the police commissioner to Nwidu for his unlawful arrest and the inhuman treatment he suffered at the police station.
The lawyer equally demanded that the commissioner render same apology to the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria and the Nigerian Bar Association for the inhuman treated their members were forced to go through.
When contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer in Rivers State, Nnamdi Omoni, said that a complaint had been filed about the matter and it was already being investigated.