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Abuse: Court Awards N500,000 Against Enugu Sanitation Agency

FROM IGNATIUS OKPARA, Enugu – A Federal High Court sitting in Enugu has awarded the sum of 500, 000 against the Enugu State Waste Management Authority (ESWAMA) over human Rights abuse of a female Enugu resident.

The presiding judge, Justice D.V. Agishi, had in her verdict on Tuesday, found ESWAMA liable of torture, humiliation, dehumanization and unlawful detention of Miss. Nma Ukonu.

Miss Ukonu, a Programme Officer with a non-governmental organization, “South Saharan Social Development Organisation SSSDO, had through her counsel Olu Omotayo Esq. filed a suit against ESWAMA and its director Mrs. Chinyere Ogaukwu, her assistant Mr. Nnamani in Suit No. FHC/ EN/ M/ 133/2012.

Her counsel, Omotayo, had on her behalf prayed the Honorable Court for the following reliefs:

“A declaration that the act of the 1st and 2nd respondent and other agents of the 3rd respondent in inflicting grievous bodily injuries on the applicant by hitting the applicant with unidentified objects and fistic blows on the head and all over her body when they forcefully took the applicant away from her office, “South Saharan Social Development Organisation”, No. 55, Chime Avenue, Enugu 29th August, 2012.

“On the ground that her office had not paid certain fee to the 3rd respondent constitutes a flagrant violation of the applicants’ fundamental rights guaranteed under sections 34 and 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and Articles 5 & 6 of the African Charter on Human & Peoples Rights, (Ratification and Enforcement Act) Cap. A9 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and is therefore illegal, unconstitutional, null and void.

“A declaration that the arrest and detention of the applicant for over 8, hours by the 1st and 2nd respondents and other agents of the 3rd respondent at the 3rd respondents premises at No. 7, Ridgeway, GRA, State Secretariat complex, Enugu without her committing any offence known to law, thereby subjecting the applicant to physical and psychological torture, constitutes a flagrant violation of the applicants’ fundamental rights, guaranteed under section 34 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and Article 5, of the African Charter on Human & Peoples Rights, (Ratification and Enforcement Act) Cap A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and is therefore illegal, unconstitutional, null and void.

“A N50 Million Naira being exemplary, punitive, aggravated, special and general damages against the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Respondents for their infringement of the applicants’ constitutional and fundamental rights”.

Nma Ukonu, had stated in the affidavit in support of her case that: “on the 29th August 2012, while she was at the office around 10 a.m, Nnamani came in company of 3 men who were also staff of the ESWAMA.

“Nnamani and his 3 colleagues asked her for the ‘waste management fee receipt’ of two preceding years and the current year.

“She told them that the organization is a non-governmental organization and that the Programme Manager of the Organisation, Mrs. Franca Nwoye was not on seat as she was the one in possession of documents relating to everything in respect of the office.

“She further informed them that the organization normally pays service charge yearly to the managers of the property.

“They insisted that they will take her along to ESWAMA office.

“When she refused and before she could say anything the 4 men descended on her, kicked her and hit her with fistic blows and unidentified objects all over her body and thereafter started pushing her towards the main road where they parked their bus and she was dragged into the bus.

“She was subjected to humiliation and dragged on the road like a common criminal without committing any offence known to law.

“And was later taken with other people she met in the bus to ESWAMA office at 7 Ridgeway, GRA, State Secretariat Complex, Enugu.

“Where she was detained alongside with other people inside a big enclosure within ESWAMA premises for almost 8 hours.

“That when the Programme Manager of the Organisation, Mrs. Franca Nwoye came to the ESWAMA office, Nnamani demanded that the organization should pay the sum of N56 thousand naira before Miss Nma would be released.

“That she was later released on that same day around 4p.m after Mrs. Nwoye had paid the sum of N56 thousand naira of which 3 receipts acknowledging the payment of N51 thousand naira only were issued by the ESWAMA officials”.

In her judgement, Justice Agishi agreed that although ESWAMA officials are agents and workers of the Enugu-State government, it did not justify their actions in slapping, kicking, dragging and further ordering the detention of the applicant on the ground that the organization she works with has not paid waste management fee.

The Court further held that the argument of the lawyer to ESWAMA, that the agency was acting under Section 28(1) of ESWAMA Law, Cap 75, of the Revised Law of Enugu State 2004, cannot justify the infringement.

The Court further held that the Fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution are sacrosanct and cannot be curtailed except as contained in the constitution.

The Court held that the acts of deprivation, torture, intimidation and unlawful detention and inhuman treatment meted on Miss Nma, without her committing any offence known to the law constitutes a grave violation of her fundamental rights.

The Court also referred to the case NKPA V. NKPUME (2001) 6 NWLR (PT. 710) 543, at P.560, paras F-H. and re echoed what the Court of Appeal stated in the case that “the Courts will frown upon any manifestation of arbitrary power assumed by anyone over the life or the property of another even if that other is suspected of having breached some law or regulation”.

The Court, therefore, held that Miss. Nma is entitled to damages and awarded damages of Five hundred thousand Naira (N500,000 Naira) against ESWAMA and its’ two officials joined in the suit.

 

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