The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) probing cases of police brutality in Abuja has asked Victor Giwa, the lawyer representing the family of Edward Leera, a youth who was extrajudicially murdered by three policemen attached to the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) ‘D’ Division, Itam, in Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State, to serve the three indicted policemen a final address to explain their role in the murder.
The 11-man panel headed by Justice Suleiman Galadima (rtd) gave the policemen, namely David Agbo, Martin Samuel and Essein Edet, a seven-day ultimatum, from October 18, to respond to the written address and also prepare to appear before the panel on November 1.
On August 6, FIJ published a report on how these policemen secretly withdrew a total of N417,000 from Leera’s account between November 4, 2019, and October 7, 2020, before torturing him to death within the same year.
The report also established that Abba Kyari, the former head of IRT, ignored multiple recommendations for the erring officers to be sacked after disobeying court rulings that Leera be released.
When the NHRC panel resumed sitting after a seven-month break, Galadima was shocked to find out that the defendants were represented by independent lawyers that were not from the Nigeria Police Force.
James Idachaba, the leading counsel for the Inspector-General of Police and the Akwa Ibom Commissioner of Police at the hearing raised suspicions when he refused to represent the three policemen who were still in active service.
Although the force is not bound by law to provide counsel for their tried officers, it is a norm to do so, especially if the accused officer is still in active service.
“That is why the police usually set up orderly room trials to investigate any allegation against their officer before they appear in court or any external panel,” a legal expert said.
“If they find such officer guilty, they will dismiss first and then allow him/her to face his prosecution with full rights to a personal lawyer. In the case that the officer is not guilty, they may find a lawyer for such an officer within the force.”
“Other times, the accused officer may be allowed to get an independent lawyer so the police as an institution can maintain fairness in the case.”
However, Confidence, the deceased’s elder brother, who filed the petition before the NHRC panel, told FIJ that “of all the eight cases heard that day, it was only in our own case that Idachaba refused to defend the police officers, yet these men are still serving”.
“It showed the police are trying to exonerate themselves from the case,” he said.
Neither the three policemen nor Gabriel Orom Okpata, their lawyer, was present at the sitting. A source close to the force revealed that Leera’s case has been “giving the Nigeria Police and the panel a headache following FIJ’s report”.
“It is now difficult to cover it up because it is in the media,” he said. “In fact, it is currently being taken as a high-profile case with outstanding evidence that indicts the police.”
When FIJ sought Okpata’s comments, he said he would wait to be summoned by the panel before granting a proper interview on the matter.
However, FIJ confirmed that the three police officers received the 16-page written address by the panel on October 19, although it is unclear whether or not they have informed their lawyer about it.
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