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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Lawyers, rights activists, seek justice for man attacked by Anambra Anti-touts officials



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By Chuks Eke
Some legal practitioners and Hunan rights activists have urged Anambra State governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo to ensure that members of the state Special Anti-Touts Squad that use pestle to brutalise and cripple an Onitsha-based businessman, Wilfred Ezike, a.k.a Mgbilimgba, face justice.
This is just as pro-democracy group, Campaign for Democracy and the Human Rights Liberty Access and Peace Defenders’ Foundation also condemned the torture of Mgbiligba, by men of the Special Anti tout Squad of Anambra State.
Mgbilimgba, who is also a chieftain of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA the ruling party in Anambra, was seen in a viral video currently circulating on the social media since last week, where men of the Anti-Touts squad were beating and maiming him with short pestles and matchetes over a yet-to-be-disclosed matter.
The incident was said to have happened at the underground cell of the Anti-touts operatives located at Upper Iweka, in Onitsha, on Tuesday.
In the horrible viral video, which has continued to receive wild condemnations across the state, showed the anti-touts officials continuously hitting the man with a short pestle while questioning him over the yet-to-be known matter. The officials were filming him as they continued to brutalised his ankles and knees with the short pestles and matchetes.
The rights groups while reacting to the development, also criticised the state governor, for his continuous silence over the matter, describing it as “inhumane” and “barbaric” the treatment given to the man by the State Special Anti-Touts Squad operatives.
In separate interviews with our correspondent on Tuesday, a human rights lawyer based in Onitsha and former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association(Nnewi branch), John Udeh, said the Anti-touts operatives violated the part of the constitution which declared absolute prohibition of torture or any form of brutality by security operatives.
Udeh said, “I saw the video, it was very horrible and inhumane how the public officials who are being paid with tax payers money were brutalising the young man and also filming the process. The acts exhibited by the SASA men in that video were highly condemnable, no matter the offence of the victim, the rightful thing to do was to hand him over to the certified law enforcement agencies like the police or DSS for investigation and possible prosecution. SASA does not have the powers to detain ‘suspects’.
“And for the fact that the state governor has continued to keep mum over the viral horrible video leaves so much to be desired. There is nobody that saw that video that was not touched. The brutality in that video was out of this world, it shows how wicked and inhumane those recruited into that operations are.
“The state government must react by exposing and punishing the erring officers that is the only way to demonstrate that they are not accomplices in the act of brutality against the people. Although, the commissioner for homeland affairs issued a statement the following day that video was released, it’s been over a week now, nothing has been done and the officers are walking freely while the victim is hospitalised.”
Another rights lawyer, based in Onitsha, Clement Ataghi, said, “Such brutality expressed by the Anti-touts officials in that video requires drastic reaction by the state government. No matter the offence of the person, he should have been handed to law enforcement officers like the police. It is condemnable that up to a week, the pepertrators have not been fished out.
“Nigeria’s Constitution prohibits torture, and the Anti-Torture Act imposes a penalty of up to 25 years imprisonment for perpetrators. There are legal safeguards against arbitrary arrest, torture, brutality and detention. Our constitution also declares the absolute prohibition of torture, including the Convention against Torture (CAT) that places an obligation on states to take effective measures to prevent acts of torture in their jurisdiction.
“For the fact that the state government has allowed such horrible act of brutality by the SASA operatives and nothing is being done to the pepertrators shows that the state governor has a high disregard for human rights and human rights abuses have continued to fester in this administration through various state government agencies, it is just a pity.”
Another rights lawyer, Ifeoma Okeh, said in establishing SASA, the state governor did not give officers the liberty to indulge in such brutality and violations of human rights as seen on that viral video.
“The fact that relevant authorities including the police have continued to keep mum over the development shows how they have prioritised human rights and the rights of citizens. What those operatives did in that video was highly condemnable and the pepertrators must be brought to book to restore confidence in the system. They should not be authorised to carry dangerous weapons,” she added.
However, in their separate reactions via a statement issued on Tuesday, by the Chairman of Campaign for Democracy and Executive Director of HURIDE, Chief Uzor A. Uzor, said, although they were not holding brief for “Mgbiligba”, the incident portends grave danger for democracy not only in Anambra State but the entire country.
Uzor said Soludo cannot exonerate himself from the “barbaric and uncivilized” way of using short pestle to torture the victim over “trumped-up allegation” that he is a suspected criminal.
He said “If he is a criminal, the security operatives should do their job by arresting him and arraigning him in a law court instead of the Anti-touts operatives taking laws into their hands by crudely torturing him
“The torture of Mgbiligba by Soludo’s anti-tout group vitiates the credibility of Anambra State under Soludo as a civilised state. Even if Mgbiligba had committed any crime as they alleged, there are civilised and legal ways of handling him than this crude torture.
“What Soludo’s anti-tout group did amounted to taking laws into their hands by using brute force, what they did was telling people that “might is right”. We urge Soludo to immediately order the arrest and arraignment of the perpetrators involved in this obnoxious act to serve as a deterrent to others in future.”
However, when contacted on the latest development, on Tuesday, the Anambra State Police command spokesman, SP Tochukwu Ikenga, said he saw the viral video, where the man was being brutalised but the matter has not being brought before the police.
The state Commissioner for Homeland Affairs, Chikodi Anarah, who also reacted in a statement,  said, “We are investigating the matter and will punish the erring SASA operatives.
“I have been alerted to a viral video on the arrest and manhandling of one Wilfred Ezike, also known as Mgbiligba by SASA operatives. I really feel bad that an incident of that nature took place. I have felt bad all through the day since somebody posted the video to me.
“Our government is law-abiding, and that is why we must fish out the SASA operatives involved in the incident under reference and punish them accordingly.
“It is also true that we are resolute to stamp out ‘Agberos’, but that must happen within the confines of the laws of the land. Interestingly, people have been commenting and reacting. This shows life in an organised democracy.
“Some of them allege various levels of atrocities committed by Wilfred Ezike for which he ought to have been more severely manhandled and brought to book, while counter-narratives insist that he should not be manhandled at all. For me, and the government of Anambra State, nothing justifies brutality, and that is why we will punish the erring operatives.”
Newsmen had reported that the Anambra State governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, inaugurated the state Anti-touts Squad in 2023 to tackle the increasing spate of touting in the state.

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