Court orders ‘trial within trial’ in alleged torture of journalist, signing of N2m cheque at gunpoint

Justice Rosemary Oghoghorie of the Federal High Court, Calabar, on Tuesday, November 30th, ordered a “trial within trial”, over an allegation raised by an Akwa Ibom State-based journalist, Edet Okpo, that he was severely tortured by an Investigating Police Officer, ASP Iwa Igbaji of zone 6 police command, Calabar.

In the suit number FHC/CA/51C/2020 brought against him by Commodore Duja Emmanuel Effedua (rtd), Rector of Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, in a matter between Inspector General of Police versus Edet Okpo, the defendant further alleged that in the course of effecting his arrest over a purported criminal defamatory article, against the rector, which the Police refused to show him, the IPO alongside another officer, dictated an already prepared statement under duress for him to write in the car and that at gun point after, the two police officers had forced him to UBA to withdraw the sum of two million naira from his account.

This according to the Journalist, happened after his arrest and eventual seizure of his phone, on July 17, 2020, at the Akwa Ibom State Command.

The investigating police officers took time to go through his phone and saw his account, forced him out of the station and gave him the phone to call his wife to locate them with a UBA cheque book for withdrawal.

He told the court that the policemen after collecting the said amount of money, refused to reflect in the alleged statement of the defendant, rather, they insisted that he must agree before their superiors that the two million naira was a bribe to frustrate their investigation.

At this point, Justice Oghoghorie halted the main trial and insisted that she wanted to establish the veracity of the claim of the defendant, that he made statement under duress and signed his bank cheque at gun point.

She ordered that one of the witnesses, the wife of the defendant, be brought in all the way from Akwa Ibom State, the next day as she wanted to handle the matter expeditiously.

The witness confirmed that when she was eventually allowed to see her husband at the Ikot Akpan Abia police headquarters in Akwa Ibom State, she saw her husband who was having health challenge with bruises all over his body.

She said she was traumatized when she saw the condition of her husband, but that she summoned the courage to find out what happened.

“My husband told me the two men you saw in the car yesterday when you brought a cheque book to me, were police officers. He said they forced him to write an already prepared statement after they had forced him to the bank and made a withdrawal. When my husband called me to bring the UBA cheque book, I could hear from the background threatening voices which made me become scared.

“When I arrived with the cheque, I met my husband at a road junction in Uyo alongside two plainclothes armed men. When I tried to enquire they warned me to stay away and ordered my husband to zoom away which he obeyed them.”

The IPO, ASP Iwa Agbaji denied that they were with guns, adding that he never forced him to write the cheque with the intention to bribe the police.

He said the wife of the defendant actually brought a cheque book, met them on the road where they were on a mission to effect arrest before they joined him to the bank, adding that after he collected the money from the defendant, they went back to the State Command of the Nigeria Police, Akwa Ibom State.

“My Lord, it is the ethics of the police not to allow their personnel to bear arms as they move from one state to another. It is on getting to the state, they will report to the police authorities who will assign officers to accompany them to effect any arrests. It is not also true that we torture him.”

Prosecuting counsels and counsels for the Defendant, Barristers Alex A. Ewa and Solomon A. Awerikure as well as Chief Fidelis Onyebueke and Solomon Ukpe respected the judge’s decision to conduct the “trial within trial”.

Justice Oghoghorie thereafter adjourned for further hearing on the matter to 26 January 2022.

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