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March 1, 2021

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How police detained businessman over civil matter

6 min read

Four armed police officers from Abia State stormed the Lagos home of a businessman last week, arrested him, and took him back to Umuahia, where he was detained for days over a civil matter.

Victor Ogbonna, the victim, was arrested last Wednesday for alleged ‘advance fee fraud’. He was initially detained at Ifako Police station, Lagos, before he was transported to the Abia State capital.

The businessman told PREMIUM TIMES that he was arrested based on a petition written by one Martins Echerobia, claiming that his (Mr Ogbonna’s) deceased brother owed him a debt and Mr Ogbonna refused to pay. He said this is contrary to what the police said when making an arrest.

“On February 10, four police officers with AK-47 came to my house, they used the gun to surround me and my car,” said Mr Ogbonna, 42.

“That was the Anti-Kidnapping unit from Abia state. After they put handcuffs on my hands, they collected my phones immediately, I could not make any call.

“They took me to the nearest police station, that is Ifako station. They did not even show me the petition somebody wrote against me. I was afraid, what offence did I commit to warrant police coming from Abia state and carry AK-47 to come and arrest me,” he said.

The incident happened just as a PREMIUM TIMES’ report detailed how the Nigeria Police Force’s continued dabbling into civil disputes is a clear violation of the country’s laws and court judgments.

A brother’s debt

Mr Ogbonna said police officers at Ifako brought out a book for him to write his statement which he declined because he did not know the offence he committed.

He said the police asked for his relationship with Mr Echerobia, and he explained that it was his late brother, Chukwudi Ogbonna, who owed him a debt.

“My brother died on March 19, 2020, because of the lockdown, I kept him at the mortuary and he was buried on August 8 after the lockdown. After the burial, Mr Eche came to our house and told me that my brother owed him some money.”

Mr Ogbonna said the petitioner claimed his brother owed him N780,000 but when he asked other siblings who were aware of the debt, they said it was only N500,000.

“We asked him to bring his bank statement and tell them the exact amount owed so that the family can pay. He said we should give him three days, but we did not see him, I called him, he didn’t pick up,” Mr Ogbonna said.

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He added that while coming back to Lagos, he took his late brother’s vehicle with him, which he changed the engine and the papers of the car.

Mr Ogbonna said the petitioner kept disturbing him despite that they met in Lagos and he told him to come to their village in Abia State where the entire family can decide on the debt repayment but he refused to visit.

“Around the first week of February, I received a call from someone who said he is a police officer and that he wants to see me on Monday by 10 a.m., in Umuahia. I told him that I am in Lagos and a businessman and I cannot be in Umuahia by Monday,” he said.

“I tried to explain that I cannot just go to Umuahia because of a call I received from someone I don’t know and if the police want to see me, it should be a formal notice.”

Mr Ogbonna said a few days after the call, his cousin, Ikenna Ukairu, called to inform him that someone wrote a petition against him and the police will be after him.

He said on February 10 four police officers from Abia State arrived at his residence to arrest him on the order of Remi Chukwuani, the officer-in-charge, Anti-Kidnapping unit.

He was taken to Umuahia where he was detained and denied access to his family members and lawyer up until February 14. His car (which belonged to his late brother) was also taken to Abia State, where it was confiscated by the police.

Mr Ogbonna’s family wrote a letter to the Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), a human rights advocacy group, over his detention.

Okechuckwu Nwanguma, the executive director of RULAAC, in a petition to Janet Agbede, the commissioner of police, Abia State, decried the detention of Mr Ogbonna over a civil matter and his denial to due process or access to lawyers.

Mr Nwanguma called on the commissioner to call the police officers to order and to save a citizen from victimisation, oppression and abuse of power by the officers.

“On Wednesday, February 10, 2021, RULAAC received information that some Police officers attached to the Anti-kidnapping Unit of the Abia State Police Command, led by Inspector Sylvester Ike came to Lagos in the early hours and arrested one Victor Ogbonna. The officers presented no warrant even when requested. They said they were sent by CSP Remi Chukwuani, the O/C Anti-kidnapping unit to arrest Victor.

“We were informed that OC CSP Remi Chukwuani was angry with the accused because he refused to report based on telephone invitation and had asked for a formal invitation for him to be sure it was an official invitation. He threatened to ‘deal with him’ and ordered his detention immediately upon arrival,” RULAAC said in a statement.

After the intervention of RULAAC for unlawful detention beyond the duration allowed by law, the police charged Mr Ogbonna to court on a three-count charge for “stealing of car, changing its engine, forging documents and threatening to kill Martins Echerobia, who owns the car.”

“They later changed the story, they said my late brother’s car was bought from Mr Echerobia on a higher purchase, which is not true. Because if you buy a car on a higher purchase, the original documents will not be released until you make full payment.

“They also said I forged the vehicle’s documents and threatened to kill Mr Echerobia. These are not true, they are no longer talking about the debt he said my late brother owed, now they are saying he is the owner of the car,” he narrated.

Police response

When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Geoffrey Ogbonna, the spokesperson for the Abia State police command, he said he was not aware of the matter.

“Since it was a case that the suspect was arrested in Lagos and brought to Abia on Thursday, so, they had only Friday to wade into the matter,” said Mr Ogbonna, a chief superintendent of police.

“Again, it may not be enough for them to conclude their investigations and giving him bail may jeopardise the investigation. It may not be possible for them to give him bail.”

Efforts to reach the Commissioner of Police on the matter were unsuccessful as her line did not connect.

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