Court slams N5m fine on police over reckless use of power

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Justice Inyang Eden Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja on Wednesday imposed a fine of N5 million against the Nigeria Police Force over the reckless use of statutory power against a Nigerian citizen.

The amount is to be paid to an Abuja based investor, Hyacinth Soonen Abera, whose bank account with Zenith Bank was frozen for several months by police while acting as a debt collector without an order of the court.

Justice Ekwo, apart from ordering the police to pay the fine of N5 million as compensation and exemplary damages to the victim of the reckless use of statutory power, also ordered Zenith Bank to immediately unfreeze the account with number 1006911956.

In a judgment in a fundamental rights enforcement suit instituted against four defendants, the judge held that the police acted ultra vires by acting as a debt collector in a purely commercial transaction between two parties.

The four defendants are Oludele Aderibigbe, DSP Yomi Musa, Inspector General of Police IGP and the Nigeria Police Force NPF as 1st to 4th defendants respectively.

The judge held that it was wrong of the police to have subjected the plaintiff to a series of threats of arrest and detention in a simple pure commercial transaction and placing restriction orders on his bank account without any recourse to the rule of law.

The plaintiff had sued the defendants claiming that his fundamental rights to freedom of liberty and human dignity were violated and breached by police with persistent threats of arrest and detention on the instigation of the first defendant and the subsequent freezing order placed on his Zenith Bank account.

He claimed, among others, that the first defendant entered into an agreement with his company, Hysolat Limited to build a four-bedroom house for him in the Durumi area of Abuja at a cost of N30 million to be paid in instalments within 11 months.

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He claimed that at the end of the 11 months when N30 million ought to have been fully paid, only a paltry sum of N5 million was paid prompting the termination of the contract.

He further claimed that rather than looking for remedy, the 1st defendant resorted to the use of police against him and that without hearing from him, the police caused Zenith Bank to freeze his bank account without any order of court.

The plaintiff averred that he and his family were subjected to untold hardships especially hunger due to unlawful freezing of his account and demanded N50 million compensation in addition to order of court to unfreeze the account.

Justice Ekwo in the judgment agreed that police acted outside the 1999 Constitution and Police Act in turning itself into a debt collector in a commercial transaction and in carrying out bank account freezing without court order.

The judge subsequently ordered the police to pay the plaintiff N5 million and Zenith Bank immediately unfreeze the account.

A purported order of an Abuja Magistrate Court to police to investigate the plaintiff was voided and set aside on the ground that the magistrate court has no jurisdiction in the matter since it was not a landlord and tenant issue.

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