Court awards N100,000,000.00 in Favour of Brutalized TheNews Magazine Reporter Against Police and GTBank official.
The High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, sitting at Apo, Abuja, per Hon. Justice U.P Kekemeke, on the 4th day of October, 2012 handed down judgment in favour of Desmond Utomwen of TheNews Magazine and member of Nigerian Union of Journalists to the tune of N100,000,000.00 (One Hundred Million Naira) in damages.
This judgment came after a long legal tussle between Desmond Utomwen, on the one side, and Guaranty Trust Bank and Nigeria Police Force, on the other side.
Nigerians will recall that at mid-day of Friday, December 11, 2009, men of the Nigerian Police Force in collaboration with staff of Guaranty Trust Bank Plc brutalized and beat to a pulp a Senior Correspondence of TheNews Magazine, Desmond Utomwen, while trying to cover a protest at Area 3, Abuja, over the massive fraudulent withdrawals via ATM said to have been made by the Bank officials.
After several demands to the Bank and Police for a thorough investigation and compensation, the journalist through the Solicitor, Ugochukwu Ezekiel, Esq, of Festus Keyamo Chambers, approached the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, seeking the following reliefs:
1. A DECLARATION that the attack, heating with guns, beating to unconsciousness, bundling into Police vehicle and detention for many hours without access to medical treatment of the 1st Applicant by the 1st to 6th Respondents who are agents of the 7th to 9th Respondents on the 11th day of December, 2009 is inhuman and degrading and amounts to a violation of the Applicant’s right as enshrined in Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
2. A DECLARATION that the forceful collection of One Digital Camera, one Digital Recorder, TheNEWS magazine official Identity card, Cash of =N=2,000.00(Two thousand naira) all belonging to the 1st Applicant by the 1st to 6th Respondents who are agents of the 7th to 9th Respondents on the 11th day of December, 2009 amounts to forceful acquisition of the Applicant’s property and a violation of the 1st Applicant right to own moveable property as enshrined in Section 44 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
3. A DECLARATION that the obstruction of the Applicant from receiving and publishing information about the peaceful protest of 11th day of December, 2009 at Area 3, Garki, Abuja by the 1st to 6th Respondents who are agents of the 7th to 9th Respondents is a violation of the 1st Applicant’s right to freedom of expression and the press as enshrined in Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
4. AN ORDER OF MANDATORY INJUNCTION Compelling the Respondents jointly and severally to immediately release to the 1st Applicant the underlisted items collected forcefully from him on the 11th day of December, 2009 by the 1st to 6th Respondents who are agents of the 7th to 9th Respondents. The items are:
(a) one canon digital camera worth =N=250,000.00
(b) one digital recorder worth =N=50, 000.00
(c) one TheNEWS Magazine Official identity card belonging to Desmond Utomwen.
(d) Cash of =N=2,000.00 (Two thousand naira) only.
Alternatively: Immediate payment of the sum of =N=302,000.00 to the 1st Applicant being total cost of the items and cash forcefully seized from him on the 11th day of December, 2009 by the 1st to 6th Respondents who are agents of the 7th to 9th Respondents.
5. AN ORDER OF MANDATORY INJUNCTION Compelling the Respondents jointly and severally to immediately pay to the Applicants the sum of =N=200,000,000.00(Two hundred million naira) only being general damages for the wrongful violation of the 1st Applicant’s right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, right to own moveable and immoveable property and right to freedom of the press and expression as enshrined in sections 34, 39, and 44 of the 1999 constitution and for the physical and psychological pain, public ridicule, medical bills and loss of earning.
6. The cost of this action accessed at =N=2,000,000.00 (Two million naira) only. This sparked a fierce legal battle that saw two Judges sitting over the matter before the matter finally came to Hon. Justice Kekemeke who heard final arguments on the matter on the 12th day of July, 2012.
In his judgment, the learned trial Judge agreed with Counsel to the Applicants that the actions of the
Respondents amounts to a violation of the reporter’s right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, right to own moveable and immoveable property and right to freedom of the press and expression as enshrined in sections 34, 39, and 44 of the 1999 constitution. The Court ordered the Bank and the Police to pay the sum of #100,000,000.00 (One Hundred Million Naira) as special damages for their wrongful act and to immediately return all the items seized from the traumatized journalist.
The decision is remarkable in three basic aspects:
(a) It has once more reinstated the fundamental rights of journalists to source and disseminate information to the public without fear of intimidation or harassment from those who feel the truthfulness of the information may affect their image.
(b) This decision is the first major decision on the provision of the new Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules that professional organizations and activists can successfully sue on behalf of their members or clients whose rights have been breached.
(c) It shows the zeal and readiness of the judiciary to protect the rights of members of the fourth estate. The courage of Hon. Justice Kekemeke must be commended. He showed uprightness, rare judicial zeal and hard work in this epochal decision.
The efforts and doggedness of the Nigerian Union of journalists in pursuing this matter deserves
We do hope that the Bank and the Police will do the needful by obeying the order of Court.
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