Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Latest on Nigerian humanist Leo Igwe's legal fight

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In a news story in our current issue, we report on worrying news from Nigeria, where fearless humanist campaigner Leo Igwe recently arrested. To provide context, I'll start by reproducing that news story:
"Disturbing news from Nigeria. On 5 January, Leo Igwe, head of the Nigerian humanists and IHEU representative in West Africa, was arrested along with his father in a dawn raid by Nigerian police and held without charge. He has subsequently been released but as we go to press we hear that his brother Uche is in custody, held by the notorious State Security Services. Details are sketchy but the arrests appear to be politically motivated. Accompanying police on the first raid was Dr Edward Uwa, a university lecturer who has been accused of raping ten-year-old Daberechi Anongam. The Igwe family have been prominent in the campaign to try and bring Uwa to book, and it seems that the arrests could be retaliation for this."
As he has stated on the IHEU website, Igwe and several of his family members were charged according to a petition by Uwa, which alleged that they "conspired, murdered and attempted to conceal the murder of one Mr. Aloysius Chukwu who died in September last year. According to family sources, Mr. Chukwu died in a local hospital after a brief illness."

We have just now received an update on the situation from Igwe, which reads as follows:
Yesterday, I was at the police station in Umuahaia and met with the officers handling the case of fictitious murder charge brought against me and my family members.

For the third time the complainant Ethelbert Ugwu did not bring the witnesses. Instead, he turned up with a lawyer who helped him package his lies and excuses. Earlier he claimed that the witnesses couldn't report at the station because some of the suspects went and threatened them after their release!

Later he said some of the suspects had bribed the witnesses. They told him to bring the witnesses by Thursday so that they could wrap up their investigation.

Before leaving the station, we met with the Deputy Commissioner of Police(DC), James Ogbonna. One of the officers told me the complainant knew the DC very well. So I was not surprised when as we entered the office of the DC and I was introduced, he started harassing me. He said, "Look very soon we will charge you to court." He asked the police officers investigating the case to hurry up and charge the matter to court. I was calm and didn't utter a word because I didn't expect that stupid remark from him and obviously he spoke like one who had been settled (bribed) by the complainant. When we left the office, I went straight to the police officers handling the investigation and registered my concern and disappointment. I told them I never expected the DC to make such a pronouncement over a case that was under investigation. But the officers laughed and told me not to worry or panic, because according to them, what the DC made was a 'political statement'. A political statement indeed! Well I told them I would include the DC's statement in my report to human rights groups. But they pleaded with me not to do so. It was shocking to see how police officers trample and toy with the dignity of people; with truth, justice and fairness just because they have been paid to do so. And this is particularly the case when you present yourself as an ordinary person without any 'connections' or you don't join those 'innocent' people who come around to settle them shaking, begging and panicking in order not to be made 'guilty'. I was outraged and dumbfounded by the lack of integrity and professionalism in the way police officers go about their work. (In fact one of them told me that he would be leaving very soon to join the EFCC!! [Economic and Financial Crimes Commission])

In Nigeria, malicious petitioners work hand in hand with the police. Police officers treat them as 'customers' because they bring business. Petitions are avenues police officers use to generate income for themselves. Police officers are mobilized by petitioners before they can effect any arrests. And they turn around to extort money from their suspects in the name of bail.

Corruption in the Nigeria Police will not stop, criminality in the society will not reduce, justice will remain elusive until police officers stop extorting money from complainants and suspects for arrest, bail, detention and investigation. Like in other cases of malicious petitions, the police officers and the petitioner will ensure that the investigation drags on and on. They will continue to invent different alibi to toss the suspects around and get them to continue to live in fear of either being prosecuted or being rearrested by the police.

But this time around all 'the suspects' plan to take it further than this. We will work and campaign to ensure that somebody is charged-the suspects if there is any evidence of offence or the complainant for misinforming the police.

Very soon we shall be asking you to help us get the police authorities in Nigeria to act."
We will bring you more details on this story when they emerge. A good place to keep up with this is on the Think Humanism forum.