Kano State attorney-general has been ordered by the Court of Appeal to pay the sum of N60, 000,000.00 (Sixty Million Naira) as compensation to one Muhammad Abubakar for unlawful detention for nine years without trial.
Justice Oludotun Adebola Adefope-Okojie, J.C.A. who presided over the matter said it was wrong for the Kano high court that tried the case in the first instance to have refused to heed to most of the reliefs sort by the appellant despite the avalanche of denials that the plaintiff suffered in detention.
The court also ordered the office of the attorney-general to tender a public apology to the appellant in a newspaper that is well circulated in Kano State.
Counsel to the appellant, Usman Umar Fari, had initially filed a fundamental human rights enforcement action at a Kano State High Court against the attorney-general of Kano State and state police commissioner seeking a declaration that the arrest, detention and torture of his client by the respondents without trial for nine years constituted a violation of his human rights.
Fari also sought for an order to award his client N6, 360, 000.00 (Six Million, Three Hundred and Sixty Naira Only) as specific damage, representing what he lost in earnings for nine years. He sort for an order to also award him N100, 000, 000.00 as general and exemplary damages.
He asked the court to discharge and release his client from prison custody unconditionally, while demanding public apology from the defendants.
The Kano High Court agreed to declare the detention of Muhammad as unlawful and granted the request to release him from prison detention, but declined to grant all other reliefs bothering on compensations.
However, the Court of Appeal expressed dissatisfaction with the refusal of the Kano High Court to award damages, and went ahead to award N60 million as general and exemplary damages, even though the court also skipped the relief for specific damage.
Justice Oludotun Adebola Adefope-Okojie, J.C.A. in the case; ABUBAKAR V. A.G KANO STATE & ANOR delivered a scathing judgement in which she expounded on the evils of unlawful detentions. The judgement read in part:
“These facts are that before his arrest and detention by the Respondent, he was a butcher at Yan Awaki Abattoir, Kano. He also attended classes in the evening as a final year student at Kofar Nassarawa Adult Education Center in Kano Municipal Local Government Area of Kano State.
Sometime in January 2003 while at his place of business at the abattoir, a man who was not known to him, with some police men, invited him to Fagge Divisional Police Headquarters, on the ground that some people confiscated his money and the same was distributed at the place of the Appellant’s business. He denied, at the Police Station, any knowledge of the man or of committing any offence.
The Police nevertheless dragged him to an interrogation room and beat him up with a stick. They continued this beating thrice a day for 13 days, He was subsequently handcuffed and driven from Fagge Police Divisional Headquarters to the 2nd Respondent’s Command Headquarters in Kano, where he was detained and beaten for 7 days.
He remained in the unhygienic cell for 7 days, following which he was taken to Kano Central Prison where he was further detained, in an unsanitary and filthy environment, in a cell with at least 130 other inmates sharing a single toilet. There was little ventilation and it was hell on earth during the hot season, with three of them taking their bath at the same time, lacking any privacy. He suffered hardship, trauma and economic losses for 9 (nine) years.
As a result of his unjustified arrest and incarceration, he was unable to write his Senior Secondary School Certificate. Had he done so he would have been a final year degree student at a University of his choice. He lost a daily income of at least N2,000 per day, at a rate of N60,000 per month, being N720,000 per year, totaling N6,360,000.00 (Six Million, Three Hundred and Sixty Thousand Naira) from February 2003 to December 2011 when he was released, during which period his business collapsed.
He accused the Respondents of refusing to file a charge against him or requesting for legal advice in respect of his release. He alleged that thousands of offenders arrested after him were charged to Court or were discharged on the 1st Respondent’s legal advice. In spite of numerous prison visits by the Respondents inquiring about long awaiting trial inmates, his case was never entertained neither was he arraigned. His health also suffered during this period. His Counsel went to the Chief Magistrate’s Court No. 7, Gidan Murtala Kano to apply for the Record of Proceedings and First Information Report in respect of his case but found out that there was no record or First Information Report in respect of his case. In consequence, his Solicitor wrote a letter dated 5/5/2011 to the Director Public Prosecutions, bringing this fact to his attention. There was however no response from the DPP who refused to take any action, in consequence of which the instant application was brought.
Exhibited to the application were legal advices to the Police in respect ofallegations against fellow inmates, showing prompt response by the DPP to request for advice. Also exhibited were charges in Court in respect of some other inmates, for various offences, some for robbery, others for rape, some for culpable homicide, all showing their prompt arraignment. As alleged by him, he was never arraigned in Court neither was any legal advice sought in respect of him. None of these depositions were countered.
The duty placed on an adversary, I hold, is to controvert facts in his opponent’s affidavit. His failure to do this, as aforesaid, renders these facts as established. See Long John v. Blakk (1998) 6 NWLR Part 555 Page 524 at 547 Para H per Iguh JSC.
The beatings inflicted on the Appellant at the Police Station amount to acts of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, I hold. Contrary to the submission of the Respondents, counsel, it is unnecessary for the Appellant to show medical evidence of his torture or injuries to be entitled to compensation, once the Court is satisfied that his right has been infringed.
The detention of a person in prison custody for a period of 9 (nine) years, without any record that he has even been arrested or detained, is an abhorrent demonstration of man’s inhumanity to man. It is indeed a very callous and wicked act. It should not be condoned by any authority, let alone agents of Government and certainly not by the 1st Respondent, the Attorney-General.
How do you compensate a man for losing the better part of his youth in such a horrendous manner, in the conditions as obtain in our prisons, with not so much as an arraignment in Court?
By this act, the Appellant’s bid for an education has been truncated, throwing him into the uneducated teeming mass. Will the Respondents give him back his right to be educated? What if the Appellant had died in detention, would there even have been a record that he was ever arrested? He would simply have become a statistic of an inmate that died in detention!
I really cannot effectively describe the wickedness perpetrated against this Appellant. It is against this kind of gross abuse that the Constitution, which is almost being rendered of no effect, prescribes a limit beyond which a citizen can be kept in custody without being charged to Court. This has been flagrantly violated in the Appellant’s case.
While I do not hold the lower Court to be in error to have failed to grant all the monetary claims sought by the Appellant, I hold that it was in error to have failed to award compensation to the Appellant and the grant of an order for public apology. I accordingly resolve the 1st issue for determination partly in favour of the Appellant.
In assessing the compensation to be paid to the Appellant, consideration shall be had of the losses incurred by the Appellant during the period of incarceration as well as the interruption of his academic program. The Court shall also take into consideration the grievous violation of his constitutional rights in such an egregious manner by the Respondents.
Under the powers conferred on this Court under Section 15 of the Court of Appeal Act 2004, an award is made in the following terms in the Appellant’s favour, against the Respondents:
- The Respondents shall pay the sum of N60, 000,000.00 (Sixty Million Naira) as compensation to the Appellant for his unlawful detention from February 2003 to 31st December 2011.
- The Respondents shall tender a public apology to the Appellant by publishing the same in one of the News Papers circulating in Kano State.
This should sound as a note of warning, that the liberty and the constitutional right of any citizen of this country must never be violated by any authority.
There was nothing barring the Court below from making adequate monetary compensation to the Appellant in a claim for violation of fundamental rights.”
Mr Fari told Judicialsketch.com on Thursday that he views the judgement of the appeal court as commendable and a worthy deterrent against impunity, but hinted that he is considering a further appeal to ensure that his client gets what he really deserved in specific damage.