Vanguard (Lagos)

7 November 2012

Nigeria: How Police Detained Kids, Mother Over Alleged Theft By Husband

AUGUST 7, 2012 will forever remain indelible in the minds of the family of Hyacinth Okwute of Asaba in Delta State. On that memorable day, a team of policemen from the Delta State Police Command stormed the residence of Okwute and arrested no fewer than eight persons including children, their mother and a pregnant woman over an alleged theft of the sum of N13. 8 million from the boot of a car that belongs to the State Commissioner for Environment, Mr. Frank Omare.

Crime Alert was reliably told that Okwute, a domestic staff in the employment of the commissioner along with four of his colleagues, were accused of stealing the commissioner's money and disappearing with their loot.

The President-General of the Environmental and Human Rights Justice Committee (EHRJC), Mr. Benjamin Iluobe, a Benin-based legal practitioner and counsel to the Okwute family who narrated how the incident happened said , "On the 8th day of August, 2012, the Personal Assistant to the Commissioner for Environment, Delta State, Sammy Ayiwie, in company of four armed police officers, went to the house of one Hyacinth Okwute who is our client's younger brother and who was working for the Commissioner for Environment, Delta State as a cook and arrested his under-aged children, wife and other members of the family.

The children and other persons who were arrested by the police and detained before they were released and subsequently re-arrested on the alleged orders of the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba are;- Sophia Hyacinth Okwute, 7, Kelvin Hyacinth Okwute, 5, Dominion Hyacinth Okwute, 2 and Nonso Hyacinth Okwute, 5. Others include; Calista Cletus, 15, a cousin and Chinyere Hyacinth Okwute, his wife, Mrs Aladi Friday (wife of Hyacinth's younger brother) and Mrs. Lilian John (wife of Hyacinth's elder brother).

The suspects were alleged to have been arrested and detained by the Police in a questionable manner until Hyacinth Okwute, the alleged perpetrator of the crime was found. The abducted children were said to have been kept in a room inside a house allegedly owned by the commissioner before they were released following media outcry on the way and manner they were arrested and incarcerated by the police.

Mr. Iluobe, in a petition to the Chairman, Police Service Commission and titled, "SERIES OF BAIT ARREST BY THE DELTA STATE POLICE COMMAND:- A CALL FOR INVESTIGATION AND IMMEDIATE REMOVAL OF THE POLICE COMMISSIONER, DELTA STATE POLICE COMMAND", said that his client informed him that the reason for their arrest was because Hyacinth Okwute allegedly stole the sum of N13.8million belonging to the Commissioner for Environment, Delta State.

Besides, Iruobe said he was told by his client that on the order of the Delta State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, Mrs. Chinyere Hyacinth, Mrs. Aladi Friday, Mrs. Lilian John and Miss Calista Hyacinth were detained at the police cell in Asaba till the 10th day of August, 2012 , while the under aged children, Miss Sophia Hyacinth, Master Kelvin Hyacinth, Master Nonso Nnachukwu Hyacinth and Master Dominion Hyacinth were taken to the house of the Commissioner for Environment where they were allegedly maltreated and starved till the 14th day of August, 2012. He added that following media outcry on the arrest of the children and the women in lieu of Hyacinth Okwute, the Commissioner of Police and the Environment Commissioner later released them.

The Human Rights activist said that again, on the 29th of August, 2012, the Commissioner of Police, Delta State ordered a fresh arrest and detention of Mrs. Chinyere Hyacinth, Mrs. Aladi Friday and Mrs. Lilian John pending when Hyacinth Okwute would submit himself to the police.

"Our client said since the said Hyacinth Okwute was alleged to have stolen the money, no member of his family has seen him to confirm the story. He said they are uncomfortable with the story and are confused as to what had happened to him or what the commissioner for Environment must have done with him.

Our client further told us that on the 20th day of September, 2012, the Commissioner of Police, Delta State, sent police officers to his house at No. 31C, Ogbeagwezie Street, Asaba Delta State to arrest him as a bait to get his brother, Hyacinth Okwute. He said he was not at home at the time and that the police officers entered his room and removed valuables including documents and three of his photographs and threatened to declare him wanted for an offence he did not commit."

In a 27-paragraph affidavit in support of the application by the applicants against the Delta State Commissioner of Environment, Delta State Police Commissioner and five others at an Asaba High Court, Mr. Cletus Okwute, younger brother to Hyacinth Okwute, said that the applicants were deceived by the Personal Assistant to the Commissioner for Environment, one Sammy Ayiwie who came to inform them that the Commissioner wanted to see them and that there was a problem to be resolved. He deposed that Ayiwie who is the third Respondent in the suit claimed that the children were also needed.

Wife of Hyacinth Okwute, Mrs. Chinyere Hyacinth while corroborating what was contained in the affidavit explained that they were taken to the Police Headquarters and from there, they took the children from them just as she added that while at the police detention for three days, they were not given food or even allowed to have their bath.

"For my children, the police did not tell us where they kept them all those days. At first, they claimed they were at the Ministry of Women Affairs. We went there, but we did not see them. We called them on phone, they said they were at the Welfare Office; we went there, again, we did not see them , but when the children appeared after they were released to the family, they put the record straight by saying that they were kept in one of the rooms at the Commissioner's quarters, Government House, Asaba with little or no care."

The applicants are seeking among other reliefs, an order of the court for the enforcement of their fundamental rights under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a declaration that the arrest, and subsequent detention of the 5th to the 8th applicants from the 8th day of August 2012 to the 14th day of August, 2012 in the premises/houses, offices and within the premises of the 1st and 7th Respondents by the 2nd and 3rd respondents, is a breach of their constitutional rights and that such detention and arrest is unconstitutional, unlawful and therefore actionable.

The applicants want the court to declare that the arrest and the subsequent detention of the 1st to 4th applicants by the 2nd to 3rd respondents is a breach of their constitutional rights provisions and that such detention and arrest is unconstitutional, unlawful and therefore actionable. The applicants are asking for general, aggravated and exemplary damages for the sum of N2billion against the respondents jointly and severally as reparation for the unconstitutional and unlawful act.

Attempt made to reach the Commissioner for Environment, Frank Omare for his own side of the story failed as he would not pick several telephone calls put across to him. Delta State Police Command Public Relations Officer, Mr. Charles Muoka could not be reached also. However, , a police source in Asaba confirmed the story saying that the matter was being investigated.

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