A Federal High Court in Abuja on Wednesday ordered the Nigeria Police Force to pay a fine of N18 million for illegally selling off three fuel tanker trailers belonging to three fuel tanker owners.
Dauda Jibril, Vwede Akpohonor and William Onos, had in 2007 sued the Inspector-General of Police over the unlawful selling off their tanker trailers by the police during the pendency of a suit.
Delivering judgment, Justice Gabriel Kolawole held that the police were “reckless, fraudulent and dishonest with the shoddy and shameful manner the vehicles of the plaintiffs were secretly disposed of.’’
Kolawole said that the vehicles were sold in spite of a pending suit and dismissed the police claim that the trailers were abandoned by alleged pipeline vandals while siphoning petroleum products in Delta.
He held that police acted in bad faith when the then trial judge, Justice Babs Kuewumi, ordered that the vehicles be released on bonds to their owners, but they defied the order.
The judge said that the police claim of obtaining an Abuja Chief Magistrates’ Court order authorising the sale was a nullity because the court had been ceased of power to do so.
The Magistrates’ Court, he said, had struck out the criminal charge against the plaintiffs and discharged them forthwith.
He said: “The unlawful and criminal sales of the three fuel tankers belonging to the plaintiffs cannot be cured by order of the magistrate court because it lacked power to issue such order.
“Worse still, there is no cogent evidence by police to defeat the claims of the plaintiffs who have proved their respective case against the first defendant (police) on the illegal, unlawful and irregular sales of their vehicles.”
Kolawole held that the plaintiffs were put on trial on allegations of pipeline vandalism, but the criminal charges were struck out by a magistrate court for lack of diligent prosecution.
He said that the verdict of the magistrate court was not appealed, and the police ought to have released the vehicles to them having failed to establish a criminal case against them.
Kolawole also dismissed the claim by Police that the case of the plaintiffs was statute barred under the Public Officers Protection Act having been filed more than three months after the cause of action.
He said that the police as an institution could not be protected by any law court over such a reckless action.
The judge, however, declined to grant general damages to the plaintiffs due to their inability to present evidence before the court.
The plaintiffs had, through their counsel, Mr Kamin Asunogie, claimed N11.4 million as the cost of the vehicles as at the time they were sold off.
They had also claimed an additional N6 million as special damages caused them by the action of police, which were both granted.
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