POTOMAS: Court Award N3 Million Damages Against Nigerian Navy

In Breaking News, Civic Space, Reports

By Patrick Obia

A Federal High Court sitting in Calabar, the Cross River State capital has awarded three million Naira damages against the Nigerian Navy over the violations of the rights of one Mr. Oto-Obong Peter.

Mr. Peter was, alongside several others arrested by naval personnel on May 24th 2020 at Potomas Hotel, Atimbo for allegedly carrying out cult activities.

And, Justice Rosemary Dugbo Oghoghorie who presided over the matter held that the actions of the Nigerian Navy on May 24, 2020 when it stormed the business premises of Mr. Peter and arrested several people and later handing them over to the police was a violation of their rights as investigations must precede arrests.

“This is to say generally, an arrest should not be made until the Police have concluded their investigation and immediately establish they acted reasonably to carry out their duties as obtained in the applicant and others arrested,” Justice Dugbo ruled.

She continued: “With the above facts and many others which have been obtained in the affidavit and counter affidavit, it will be just for this honorable court to hold that there was no reasonable suspicion that the applicant committed an offense which resulted in his arrest, detention and made to lay down on the floor and beaten by ten naval officers and ten other security agents; I believe the answer is in the negative.

“To this end, after due prosecution of facts, the documents and together the issue populated, all the issues in this case are resolved in favour of the applicant; the court therefore orders that the detention, torture, beating and maiming of the applicant and destruction of his property by the respondent is unlawful, unconstitutional and infringement of the applicant’s fundamental rights, human person, right to personal dignity, right to acquire property; the respondents are jointly and severally to pay the applicant the sum of three million Naira as damages for properties destroyed.”

The Background

In May 2020, reports emerged of the Nigerian Navy busting a cult initiation at Potomas hotel, Atimbo on the 24th day of the said month. The naval personnel allegedly stepped in, arrested dozens and later handed over to the Anti Cultism and Kidnapping Squad of the Cross River State command of the Nigerian Police Force on May 26th.

The second in command of the unit, DSP Igini Chukwumah received the suspects from the Navy Captain Ibrahim Geaska in the presence of the then Security Adviser, Mr. Ani Esin.

Captain Ibrahim Gwaska (R) of the NNS Victory hands over 42 suspected cultists to DSP Igini Chukwuma of the Police’s Anti Cultism and Kidnapping Squad (L) while the State Security Adviser South of the CRS Government, Ani Esin (M) watches on at the Headquarters of the NNS Victory in Calabar. 26/5/2020 (Credit: Opera News Hub)
Captain Ibrahim Gwaska (R) of the NNS Victory hands over 42 suspected cultists to DSP Igini Chukwuma of the Police’s Anti Cultism and Kidnapping Squad (L) while the State Security Adviser South of the CRS Government, Ani Esin (M) watches on at the Headquarters of the NNS Victory in Calabar. 26/5/2020 (Credit: Opera News Hub)

After days in detention, they were all released with police sources saying they could not establish any case against the suspects.

Mr. Peter who owns the hotel, was one of those beaten. He, alongside others, narrated their story to CrossRiverWatch.

A pregnant woman was allegedly flogged as well. Mr. Peter then proceeded to file a suit seeking NGN500 million in damages and unprovoked attacks.

Mr Otoobong Peter suffered various degrees of injuries allegedly inflicted on him by the Naval Personnel (Credit: Potomas Mgt)
Mr Otoobong Peter suffered various degrees of injuries allegedly inflicted on him by the Naval Personnel (Credit: Potomas Mgt)

In the motion on notice filed before the Court through his counsel, Mba Ukweni and Associate, Mr. Peter had sought the court to declare that his “detention, torture, beating and maiming,” as well as the, “destruction of his property by the Respondents is unlawful and unconstitutional and an infringement of the Applicants right to dignity of human person, right to personal liberty, right to ownership of property and right to freedom of movement.”

Plastic Chairs and Tables as well as crates of drinks were allegedly destroyed while 90 percent of assorted wines were carted away. (Credit: Potomas Mgt)
Plastic Chairs and Tables as well as crates of drinks were allegedly destroyed while 90 percent of assorted wines were carted away. (Credit: Potomas Mgt)

Last Hope Of The Common Man

One of the counsel to the applicant, Barr. Jacob Ukpai, told CrossRiverWatch that he was elated as the judgment shows the count remains the last hope of common man.

“Every lawyer will be happy to win a case no matter how little the damages but we have proven a point that the Army, the Navy or whatever cult don’t have the right to treat an ordinary man on the street the way they want unjustly.

“This judgment has also proven to us that the court is the last hope of the common man. So, that is what it is, we are happy.

“The damages awarded is far below what the applicant (client) lost but ultimately, the degradation to his human person has been settled by the court; the court has cleared his name. He is not a cultist or a criminal and then his business from this judgment will be kept on a higher pedestal because whosoever had a second thought as to that place will now know it is protected by the law.”

Also, a principal owner of potomas hotel and bar, Sage Roberto Orji said it is a victory for all and called on those who delight pleasure in infringing on people’s rights to desist.

“The applicant is justified and the court has cleared all the dirty image they have poured on us; that bad image has been cleared. The place is a responsible place and the applicant is not a cultist and we are happy about that.

“You can not look down on anybody on the street and think you can do anything and get away with it, that cannot happen because there is a law in Nigeria that sort out for a common man. I am so happy because we have gotten the judgment in our favor.”

Rooms were broken into, electronic gadgets and furniture destroyed while some cash was allegedly stolen... (Credit: Potomas Mgt)
Rooms were broken into, electronic gadgets and furniture destroyed while some cash was allegedly stolen… (Credit: Potomas Mgt)

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