From Magnus Eze, Enugu

Four individuals from Umugwuakum Akwuke community in Enugu South Local Government Area of Enugu State, namely Ifeanyi Ngene, Charles Ugwu, Prince Reginald Nwoye, and Sunday Egbo, have filed lawsuits against the State Commissioner of Police, Kanayo Uzuegbu, CSP Chidiebere Ijioma from the IGP’s Special Unit (Octopus), Enugu State, and the officer-in-charge of the Anti-cult Unit in the state, SP Chidolue Ekeleme.

In their separate suits, which were filed on April 17, 2024, at the Federal High Court Enugu Division with case numbers FHC/EN/C8/59/24, FHC/EN/C8/60/24, FHC/EN/C8/61/24, and FHC/EN/C8/62/24, the plaintiffs accuse the three defendants of grossly violating their fundamental human rights. They are individually seeking N200 million jointly and severally as general damages from all the respondents.

According to the statements submitted by their counsel, Ifeanyichukwu Obasi-Nweze, the first defendant (Commissioner of Police), second defendant (Ijioma), and third defendant (Ekeleme) allegedly arrested, tortured, and unlawfully detained them in relation to a land dispute between Etiti-Ngwo in Udi LGA and Umugwuakum Akwuke community.

Among the reliefs sought by the applicants, they are requesting the court to declare that the actions of the defendants constitute a gross violation and infringement of their fundamental rights, including the right to life, dignity of human person, personal liberty, fair hearing, peaceful assembly and association, as guaranteed by sections 33, 34, 35, 36 (4), 40, and 46 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended), and Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act CAP A9 LFN 2004, and are therefore wrongful and illegal.

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Additionally, they are seeking an unconditional release from detention, an order restraining the respondents from further harassment, intimidation, or arrest in connection with the land dispute or related disputes in the community, and an order directing the first respondent to publicly apologize to the applicants by publishing the said apology in a widely read national newspaper in Nigeria.

In a supporting affidavit deposed by Nnaemeka Nwoye, it is stated that the Akwuke community members had filed a petition to the Inspector General of Police regarding unknown gunmen terrorizing their area and supporting hoodlums who were demolishing houses and fences. In response to the petition, a police team arrived at the scene in March 2024, resulting in the arrest of five hoodlums and the recovery of four guns inscribed with “Etiti-Ngwo.” Further investigations revealed that the guns provided by the Etiti-Ngwo people were being used by the unknown gunmen to terrorize the area.

However, the affidavit claims that during an encounter with individuals wearing army uniforms who turned out to be military personnel, the applicants and others were allegedly beaten and handed over to the MTD Police Station Awkunanaw. Later, they were reportedly transferred to CSP Chidiebere Ijioma, who has allegedly been favouring the Etiti-Ngwo people and engaging in actions of detention and torture against the applicants on their behalf.

The affidavit further suggests that the Etiti-Ngwo people, with the assistance of the first to third respondents (the police officers), are using their influence to brutalize, harass, and intimidate the applicants and other innocent individuals from the Umuogwuakum Akwuke community in an attempt to claim additional land that was never in dispute, despite a Court of Appeal judgment clearly identifying the disputed portion.