Nine years after court order, police yet to produce detained Citizen Jude

 

By Abubakar Yakubu, Abuja

The police at Kuje Police Divisional Headquarters in the Federal Capital Headquarters (FCT) are yet to obey a judgment given on October 21, 2015 by Justice O.O. Goodluck of the FCT High Court in Abuja, which gave them 30 days to produce the body and person of Jude Onunze (Okafor) dead or alive within 30 days.

 

•Kayode Egbetokun, Inspector General of

 

Counsel to Onunze’s family, Nnaemeka Ejiofor told Saturday Sun on Monday that the non-production of Jude, a businessman, has greatly affected his immediate and extended family. He said at the time of his arrest, Jude was married with five children ranging from the ages of 10 to one year and nine months. He also had aged parents.

He said Jude’s children dropped out of school and relocated to the village due to financial stress.

Jude Onunze was arrested by the police at Kuje Police Division on January 1, 2009 when one John Ogbonna reported to them that Onunze informed him to be careful as someone had threatened to kill him.

Mrs Kate Okwor (Nee Onunze), the elder sister of Jude, had told the court that on the 1st and 2nd of January, 2009, she took food to her brother in detention and he ate the food in her presence.

She said on the 3rd of January, 2009, she, in company of her town’s men, went to Kuje Police Station to demand the bail of Jude Onunze (Okafor) but they were asked to come the following day to see the Divisional Police Officer, Chief Superintendent Roland Okoh.

The sister said when they returned the next day at the police station, a heated argument ensued over the non-production of Jude Onunze, which caught the attention of the divisional police officer, who asked them to return on Monday January 5, 2009 so that he could have enough time to decide whether or not to release Jude on bail.

She further told the court that when they got to the station the following day, the divisional police officer informed them that Jude was released on bail on self-recognition the night before they came.

Another prosecution witness, Chijioke Odoh, said when he submitted himself at Kuje Police Station, he said Jude was brought from his cell to face him and he told the police that Odoh’s name was never mentioned as the person that threatened to kill John Ogbonna.

He said the remark angered the divisional crime officer, who ordered that they be put in separate cells until they were ready to speak the truth. Odoh, during cross examination, told the court that Jude was hit on his leg with a wood by the divisional police officer; He said he (Odoh) was released on bail on January 2, 2009 to his brother James, whilst Jude’s bail request was declined.

The police during the trial produced Felix Isah as a witness, who said he reported for duty as the Charge Room Officer at Kuje Police Station on January 4, 2009 and the divisional police officer ordered the release of Jude Okafor on that day.

Isah said he drew the attention of the investigating police officer to the divisional police officer’s instruction, and an entry of Jude’s release of personal belongings in the police custody, before Jude was released, adding that Jude walked out of the police station by himself.

Under cross examination, Isah said he has been a police officer for 32 years where he served substantially as an operations man. The witness said he only worked at the counter on January 4, 2009 as the Charge Room Officer and the service was at the instance of the divisional police officer.

Isah said he was redeployed to MOPOL 2, Lagos after he only worked at Kuje Police Station on January 4, 2009 and thereafter left the counter and went back to his patrol team.

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The divisional police offer, Roland Okoh also testified that Jude Okafor was released on bail together with another suspect. He said he ordered the release of the two suspects as the divisional police officer in charge of Kuje Police Station and prepared their bail bonds, adding that he is unaware of the fact that Jude’s relation are looking for him.

Another police witness, Nuhu Mayor Chindo said Jude Okafor and one other suspect were brought to him for investigation as the investigation police officer and he cautioned, took their statements and they were detained. Chindo said Jude and the other suspect were later released on bail.

The trial ended on February 6, 2014 and both counsels were ordered to file and exchange final written addresses.

Counsel for the police, Simeon Lough Esq. raised three issues for determination. He wanted the court to determine whether the plaintiff from the evidence before the court has been able to establish that Jude Onunze is the same person as Jude Okafor. He also wanted the court to determine if the disappearance of Jude can be linked to the police and whether the plaintiff is entitled to all the claims against the police.

Counsel to Jude’s family, P.A.N. Ejiofor Esq. urged the court to determine whether there is uncertainty about the identity of Jude Onunze Okafor and whether the police are not liable for his disappearance.

He also wanted the court to determine if Jude’s elder sister is not entitled to all their claims.

Justice O.O. Goodluck ruled that Jude’s elder sister has sufficiently established that Jude Okafor is the same person as Jude Onunze, whose true likeness was shown in a photograph tendered in court as exhibit.

The court also said it was disinclined to endorse the submission of the police counsel that Jude’s elder sister never saw him in police custody and never disclosed to the court that her brother was ever brought out to the counter from the cell. The judge ruled that a careful perusal of the testimony of Chijioke Odoh, the prosecution’s third witness, leaves the court with the firm conclusion that Jude was indeed arrested. The judge recounted that the witness also disclosed to the court that he and Jude ate the food brought to him by his people in the police station.

“Besides, he disclosed that both himself and Jude were interrogated at the Kuje Police Station and thereafter placed in separate cells,” the judge added. Justice Goodluck also said Odoh testified on how Jude was assaulted during the interrogation, adding that the testimony was not controverted nor was it impeached under cross examination. He said the police witnesses also testified to the effect that Jude was released and was seen making his way out from the police station.

The judge also wondered how Jude’s social status suddenly rose to one who qualified for release by bail through self-recognition between the short time his people were agitating for his bail and the night of his release.

“The court has painstakingly examined the exhibits presented at the trial, particularly the  documentary evidence purportedly reflecting the signature of Jude and is of the view and will so hold that the signatures are inconsistent hence could not have been signed by the same person.

“A careful comparison of the signatures in Exhibit D.W.2D (Statement of Jude while in police detention)  and the signature purportedly signed by him in Exhibit D.W.2E (application for bail) as well as Exhibit D.W.1A (the police entry book on page 63, reflecting Jude’s signature in the column titled ‘signed suspect’. The signatures are substantially dissimilar and are at variance to the signature in his statement, Exhibit D.W. 2E,” the judge ruled.

He said the court disbelieves the police evidence that Jude was discharged on self-recognition and un-persuaded that he signed the acknowledgement of his personal items at the time of his alleged release.

“Besides the court finds the testimony of the police witnesses unpersuasive and incredible, having held that Jude’s elder sister was at the Kuje Police Station on January 4, 2009 to seek the release of Jude; this court is disinclined to believe the police witnesses that Jude was released in the night of January 4, 2009.

“In the circumstance, I am of the view and will so hold that Jude Okafor did not set is foot out of the police station on self-recognition on that fateful day,” the court ruled.

Justice Goodluck further ascertained that the court is not convinced by the bogus explanation or the unsellable cock and bull story that Jude was released hours ahead of the time the station’s divisional police officer was to inform Jude’s elder sister on his decision to allow or disallow her bail request.

“The defendants as law enforcement agents are duty bound to explain to the satisfaction of the court the whereabouts of a Nigerian citizen whom they admitted was in their custody. I hold that the police are liable for the unexplainable disappearance of Jude,” the judge added.

The judge also faulted the testimony of D.W.2 (charge room officer at the station). “It seems he was deployed to work as a charge room officer for only one day. His duty as demonstrated by him at trial was to effect the release of Jude on the night of January 4, 2009 and thereafter resume work at MOPOL 2 in Lagos.

“What was extra-ordinary about the work of a charge room officer that could not be effected by the investigating police officer or any other police officer at Kuje police station and why was an operations officer deployed to work as a charge room officer at Kuje Station for just one day,” the judge wondered.

The judge then ordered the police to jointly or severally produce the body and person of Jude Onunze (Okafor) to the court dead or alive within the next 30 days from the ruling date. The court also ordered the police to pay N10 million general damages to the plaintiff (Jude’s elder sister).

Counsel to Jude’s family, Ejiofor, lamented that Jude’s family members have gone through both mental and financial stress since his incarceration at Kuje Police Station for the past 15 years. He said the non- production of Jude by the police after the court’s judgment is very worrisome as his family members are left in the dark on whether he is alive or dead. He said his chamber is presently on a case to press for the fundamental human rights of Jude.