By Jonathan Ugbal
The Command of the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Victory may have navigated unfavorable waters when its troops decided to invade the premises of Potomas Hotel in Atimbo, Akpabuyo local government area of Cross River state on the 24th day of May 2020 as the owner, OtoObong Peter has filed a fundamental rights suit against them in the Calabar division of the Federal High Court.
Mr. Peter is claiming damages running into hundreds of millions of Naira after he claimed he was arrested, tortured, sustained bodily injury and the destruction of his business premises which has left him in distress.
Findings by CrossRiverWatch also reveals that the events of May 24, also led to the death of a pregnant woman.
A motion on notice sighted by this reporter shows that Mr. Peter is seeking the court to declare that his “detention, torture, beating and maiming,’ as wells the “destruction of the his property by the Respondents is unlawful and unconstitutional and an infringement of the Applicants tight to dignity of human person, right to personal liberty, right to ownership of property and right to freedom of movement.”
The Nigerian Navy, the Flag Officer Commanding the Eastern Naval Command, the Commander of NNS Victory, Captain Ibrahim Gwaska and Lieutenant Commander B. M Atagher are listed as first to fifth respondents respectively.
He is also seeking the court to declare that, “the wanton destruction of the Applicants property and carting away of his money and goods by the Respondents is unlawful.” Furthermore, he is seeking an order “directing the Respondents to jointly and severally pay to the Applicant, the sum of Five million Six hundred and Twenty Five thousand Naira (NGN5,625,000) only, being cost of the items destroyed” as well as, an order “directing the Respondent to jointly and severally pay to the Applicant the sum of Five hundred million Naira (NGN500,000,000) as general damages for infringing in the Applicants right to dignity of human person, right to personal liberty, right to freedom of movement and right to ownership of property.”
Mr. Peter is also praying the Court to order a “10 percent post judgment interest per month on the judgment sum till same is finally defrayed by the Respondents.”
How It Started…
The Navy had on Sunday May 24, 2020 stormed the premises of the Potomas at Atimbo arresting dozens of people. Dozens of naval personnel were involved in the operation with several shots fired. The reason will be unknown till May 26, 2020 when they called a press conference and paraded 42 suspected ‘cultists’ at the headquarters of the NNS Victory in Calabar.
Rear Admiral Vincent Okeke, said the suspects were arrested on Sunday May 24 through an intelligence report by concerned persons. Okeke, represented by Captain Ibrahim Gwaska (fourth Respondent), said the informants tipped off the navy standby team that the suspects were gathered in Akpabuyo local government area of the state for initiation and other nefarious activities. According to him, intelligence gathering revealed that it was evidently clear that there was going to be a clash between the Klans and Black Axe confraternities.
“We are here to do a routine handover of 42 suspects to the Cross River Government representative, in a swift move, the base responded through a tip off and cordoned the area in Akpabuyo. In that raid, we arrested 61 suspected cultists. On arrival, preliminary investigations were been conducted and having concluded the investigation, 42 out of the arrested 61 persons were confirmed to be cultists accordingly. It is on this regard that we will be handing over the suspects to the state government and officials of the Anti-Cultism and Kidnapping Unit for onward investigation and prosecution,” he said.
My Torture, Detention Unwarranted And Unprovoked – Peter
But, Mr. Peter in his affidavit setting out facts on which his court application is predicated said that the Navy’s attack on him, his detention, torture and destruction of property was “unwarranted and unprovoked,” especially as huge sums running into hundreds of thousands and drinks were carted away.
He said the events which began at about 6:30PM saw about 50 Naval personnel storming his business premises and shooting “randomly on the PVC ceiling and the roof of the bar section and the lodging section of my business premises.” At 7:30, he said some of them “further broke into the bar section where expensive wines and assorted spirits were displayed for sale. The Naval personnel systematically carted away about 90 percent of the drinks valued at NGN850,000 only, destroyed about five percent (NGN75,000) and left about five percent on the shelf where they were usually displayed for sale.”
Also, he stated that about 16 personnel “broke into the lodging section of my business which is made up of 16 self-contain apartments,” and upon gaining entry, destroyed all the doors valued at NGN3 million as well as most of the electronic gadgets and furniture valued at NGN1.2 million. About a dozen customers were also arrested.
He further alleged that his personnel room was broken into and hundreds of thousands of Naira being the proceeds from his business between Friday, May 22nd and Sunday, May 24th was carted away.
The personnel “broke into the backyard section of my business premises and destroyed most of my plastic chairs, tables and crates of various assorted drinks which are usually kept there,” Peter asserted.
He said he was then marched with some of his customers to the front door at about 8:15PM where they were forced to roll on muddy water while it was raining till 12:30AM on May 25th. While that happened, he said he was “subjected to untold hardship,” as the personnel beat them with whips, the butt of their guns and boots which left him with “various degrees of injuries.” He said he was only released when he summoned courage to inform the leader of the team that he was the owner of the business premises.
And, The Lawyers Step In…
Peter said he reached his solicitors, Mba E. Ukweni and Associates on May 26 and also reported the matter at the Divisional Police Station in Akpabuyo where he was referred to the Police Clinic in Calabar and issued a medical form. His solicitors reportedly wrote the Commander, NNS Victory on May 27 informing him of the activities of his personnel. And, the commander invited Mr. Peter to his official residence at the Naval Barracks in Atimbo on May 29.
“I went there in company of my wife Mrs. Jenny Otoobong Sam and my fried Sage Roberto. On reaching there, I narrated all that happened on the night of 24th May,” Peter said. According to him, the Commander acknowledged that he ordered the operation but did not know the personnel destroyed his properties and promised to get to “the root of the matter.”
However, the commander is said to have responded to his solicitors’ letter on June 5, acknowledging that the Nigerian Navy authorized the said operation.
Back To Suspected Acts Of Cultism…
Findings by this reporter revealed that of the 42 people handed over to the Anti Cultism and Kidnapping Squad of the Nigerian Police command in Cross River State, none was prosecuted as the Police is said to have discovered no incriminating evidence. Police sources said the unit tried reaching the Navy for further information several times but to no avail and could not keep the suspects in custody in perpetuity.
The Police and the Navy have been reached for comments.
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