Brutality: Desmond Utomwen Floors Police, GTB At Appeal Court


The Appeal Court, Abuja Division has affirmed the judgment of the High Court of Federal Capital Territory in a fundamental human rights enforcement suit filed against the Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) and the Nigerian Police Force by an Abuja based journalist and publisher of FreshNEWS Online Media, Desmond Utomwen.

Utomwen, a former staff of TheNEWS Magazine, had dragged the Bank and the Police to court over his molestation at the Area 3, Garki Abuja branch of GTB on 11th December, 2009.

He had gone to the bank to cover a protest by some Nigerians over allegations that officials of GTBank were involved in fraudulent withdrawals of large amounts via the bank’s Automated Teller Machines (ATM).

However, policemen attached to the bank and bank officials descended on Utomwen,   beat him till he became unconscious and then seized his identity card, N2,000, camera, and digital recorder.

As if the torture inflicted on Utomwen was not enough, he was dragged and detained at the Garki Police Station for several hours during which he was denied access to medical treatment.

Following the unwarranted brutality, Utomwen filed a fundamental rights enforcement suit in court and in a landmark judgment delivered on October 12, 2012, Justice Peter Kekemeke of the FCT High Court declared that the actions of the GTB and the police was a violation of Utomwen’s right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, right to own moveable and immoveable property.

The trial Judge held that by the action of GTB and the police violated the right to freedom of the press and expression as enshrined in sections 34, 39, and 44 of the constitution.

Justice Kekemeke accordingly, ordered the GTB and the Police to pay the sum of N100 million as damages for their wrongful act and to immediately return all the items seized from the journalist.

However, the Police and GTB Bank appealed the judgment of the FCT High Court.

Delivering judgment in the appeal on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, Justice Godswill Amadi of Court of Appeal, Abuja affirmed the verdict of the lower court, saying that the appellants did not state anything in the appeal to dispute the facts on which the lower court based its judgment.

The Appeal Court however reduced the monetary compensation from N100 million to N20 million.

Justice Amadi declared; “Honestly, the lower court did a great job in evaluation of the evidence and arrived at correct findings and conclusion on the breach of the fundamental human rights of the first respondent (Desmond Utomwen) by the Police at the behest and active instigation of the appellant”.

The Appellate Court also ruled that the right to protest is an inalienable right of the citizen and a newsworthy event deserving coverage by journalists.

The Appeal Court noted that from the entirety of the evidence, it was clear that the Police, upon invitation and active instigation by agents of GTBank unlawfully arrested, brutalized, and illegally detained Utomwen and forcefully seized his working tools as well as forcefully quelled a peaceful protest with brute force, thereby infringing on the rights of both the peaceful protesters and the innocent journalist from performing his civic and professional duties.

It also ruled that there was no justification in law for the brutalization, restriction, and seizure of the working tools of Utomwen just as it held that the Police and agents of the GTBank acted in in breach of personal liberty, freedom of speech, human dignity and freedom of press in the crass and debasing manner they ill-treated and brutalized the journalist in contravention of section 39 of the Constitution.

The Appeal Court Justice ruled; “I therefore without any hesitation dereplicate the action of the Nigerian Police in willingly lending themselves to be used by the GTBank to suppress a peaceful lawful protest for the sole purpose of turning it into riot to enable them descend on innocent protesters and journalist carrying out their legitimate duties of informing the public.

“I enjoin the Police to refrain from such unwarranted actions against the civil rights of the citizens of this country by attempting to criminalize every form of civil life of people of this country. This country, it must be stated belong to all the citizens including all the leaders, the led and all the security agencies- Police, DSS, EFCC and others.

“The attitude of security agencies in beating and disregarding the rights of the generality of the citizens as being adversary to the leaders and security agents, both maintained by tax payers monies must be discarded from now on.

“The standard of care expected from the Police in the discharge of its duties is an objective one as permitted by law. It is not a subjective one. It must not be left to their whims and caprices,” the Appeal Court Justice so ruled.

Counsel to Utomwen , Mr Ugochukwu Ezekiel Esq, later told journalists that the ruling is another strong warning to law enforcement agencies to desist from violating the human rights of Nigerians.

Ugochukwu hinted that he may appeal the reduction of the N100 million awarded to the journalist by the FCT High Court to N20 by the Appeal Court.

Also speaking, Utomwen, who is a co-founder of ‘Centre Against Brutality And Safety Of Journalists In Africa (CABSOJA)’, said the judgment of the Court of Appeal is another affirmation of the rights of journalists to carry out their work without molestation.

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