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Police brutality against female lawyers that unsettles Enugu

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What could have provoked the beating of a female lawyer to the point of coma inside her office by four police officers? Was it actually her refusal to provide an alleged victim that she had accompanied to the police station some days earlier to report a rape case, and for which involved parties had indicated interest to settle? Why did the police desire quick settlement and drafted four officers to hunt a female lawyer and ensure she was brought to the station?

These are, perhaps, some of the nagging questions the Okey Ambrose- led Panel of Enquiry, set up by the Commissioner of Police, Enugu, to investigate circumstances leading to the attack of female lawyers attached to a human rights organisation— Women Aid Collective (WACOL) will provide answers in the next couple of days.

Reports said the four police officers, dressed in mufti – two males and two females— had stormed the New Haven office of the non-governmental organisation, reputed for championing the rights of the vulnerable, especially women and girls on January 30, this year, and gave the members of staff the beating of their life.

It was gathered that the police officers invaded the organisation moments after the culprit’s father, who visited the office to negotiate with the lawyers on possible settlement, allegedly failed in his bid.

One of the female lawyers, Goodness Ibangah, who was actually their target, was seriously battered. She was said to have fainted and was totally unconscious at the police station, where she and her colleague were dragged after the beating and is now recuperating at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Enugu.

It was gathered that this was not the first time the police had allegedly stormed the organisation to maltreat female lawyers. The first of such was said to have occurred in 2017, when they tore the dress of the head of its legal unit, Mrs. Nkechi Ezeani and left her naked, in addition to serious physical violence unleashed on her.

On a fateful day, Ibangah was said to have accompanied a rape victim to the Area Command at Abakpa Junction, some days earlier to lodge the case of the rape. The victim (names withheld), a 21-year-old lady, was said to have been raped by a 22-year-old boy at Corridor Layout, Maryland, Enugu, on January 27.

The rape victim had approached the office with a report of the rape, upon which Ibangah was mandated to accompany her to the Area Command to formally report the crime.

Trouble, however, started for Ibangah, when she refused a request by the police to produce the victim for settlement with the perpetrator’s family. She was said to have told the police to look for the rape victim, as she had handed over the matter to them and that she (victim) supplied all her contact details in writing to them (police) during her statement.

“To our utmost dismay, on January 30, 2020, four police officers from Area Command, Enugu, stormed our office and still requested that our office should provide the victim for them,” narrated Prof Joy Ezeilo, Executive Director of WACOL. “The legal unit repeated to them that it had already handed over the matter to them and that they should look for the victim themselves, using the contact details she provided in her statement at their office. In their presence, she tried to contact the victim who said she was on her way to the station.

“These officers, however, failed to listen. Instead, they began entering all the rooms in the office building, and when they saw Ibangah Goodness Esq., who was in a meeting, they mercilessly beat her 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. The police officers took Goodness’s phone and confiscated the phones of anyone that dared to take pictures, record or video their hideous acts. They also destroyed some WACOL’s office doors in the process.

“The beating was so ruthless that at a point, Goodness 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 the helpless and unarmed lady, who was assisting the Police to curb crimes in the state. And what was her offence? She took a lady who reported to our office to have been raped to them.

“After beating her to their satisfaction, they whisked her away to their office alongside Mrs. Nkechi  Ezeani Esq., who was outside when the incident happened. While this was going on, the people who came to WACOL with different matters ran away. This happened around 2pm. At the Area Command, the two lawyers were detained and their two phones seized. The police officers insisted that the victim must be provided by the lawyers before they would be released.”

Ezeilo, who is the dean of Law Faculty, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, added: “Around 3:00 pm, Goodness fainted and collapsed, while still in custody and was not rushed to the hospital until 20 minutes later, when Daniel Onyeonagu, one of our Pro Bono Lawyers who saw the officers’ reluctance to provide their own vehicle, took her in his car to the Emergency Unit of the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Enugu.

“Two police officers accompanied him in his car. Just before they got to the hospital, Goodness became totally unconscious and lifeless. It took the timely intervention of the doctors at the hospital, who used oxygen and other necessary medical equipment to revive her. Immediately they arrived at the hospital and before she was revived, the two police officers that accompanied Daniel Onyeonagu to the hospital thought she had died and ran way.”

She further alleged that the other female lawyer, Ezeani, was detained and that she remained in police custody “from around 2.00 pm till 6.00 pm,” when she was released, and that the police had not asked about the female lawyer they battered.

“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. It must be fully investigated to bring the culprits to book.”

Last Monday, lawyers, Civil Society Organisations (CSO) and some concerned members of public rose in condemnation of the attack on the female lawyers. They protested the development through a peaceful street march to the state’s police headquarters. The placard-carrying protesters, who dressed in black attires, deplored the police officers’ actions and asked police authorities to investigate and bring them to book.

They demanded the constitution of an independent investigation panel, not controlled by the police and whose membership should include the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Civil Society Organisations and internationally recognised independent observers to look into the matter.

The NBA also asked the Inspector General of Police and Police Service Commission to investigate the matter and sanction appropriately all those involved.

Mr. Kunle Edun, National Publicity Secretary, NBA, said information available to the Association “has confirmed that the officers of the Area Command, Enugu State that is supposed to be protecting citizens, again, took laws into their hands when they invaded, attacked and molested staff of WACOL at the NGO’s office in Enugu.

“WACOL, as a responsible corporate citizen and in line with its mandate, had duly reported the rape of a lady and furnished the full names of the suspects to the officers of the Area Command. The Police, in an exhibition of impunity, shame and lawlessness, turned against the victim and WACOL officials.

“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.”

Reacting to the development, Enugu State Commissioner of Police, Ahmad Abdurrahman called for calm, promising that discreet investigation would be carried out on the matter.

In a statement by the Police Public Relations Officer, Daniel Ndukwe, he explained that the scenes of the incident had already been visited, while parties involved, including WACOL representatives, parents, and lawyers of the rape victim and suspect had been interviewed by a team of detectives.

He said a panel of Enquiry, headed by Okey Ambrose, a Chief Superintendent of Police, had been constituted to “objectively look into the matter to ensure that justice prevails.”

Meanwhile, as WACOL and NBA battle the Police for brutalising the female lawyers, the rape incident that allegedly stoked the beating appears to have been settled, going by confessions of the two families involved.

The families, in a peace agreement made available to the media, said it was in the interest of the future of the duo, who are both students and
classmates.

The peace agreement, signed by the parents: Mr. Peter Ibenegbu and Surveyor John Emenike reads:

“After a peace meeting between the two families, held Sunday February 2, 2020, it was resolved that the two students be allowed to live their lives unfettered as friends to preserve their future. It was further resolved that the two families have made peace today and agreed to withdraw all cases from the police. We plead that WACOL and the Police respect the families’ decision in this peace process.”


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