Patrick Okoroafor: Released From Prison After 17yrs Of Arbitrary Human Rights Abuses
“I am very happy to be free after 17 years of unjust incarceration. And I'm also very happy to be reunited with my family after such a very long time,” seemingly said Patrick Okoroafor, who walked free on 30 April 2012, after 17 years in prison, and being sentenced to death at the age of 16.
Justice is bought in Nigeria. The rich and those connected to the authorities are outlaws. Many Nigerians have been wary of the human rights system in the country before democracy was restored in Nigeria in 1999, and to-date. There are so many un-investigated cases and culprits who go unpunished daily. The families of those brought to book often go extra-miles to ensure that their relations evade justice. Extrajudicial killings by the Nigeria Police are rife, sometimes ascribed to “stray bullets”. There are usually daily incidences of murder and disappearances of persons without trace.
Patrick Okoroafor is one among many Nigerians who have experienced optimum unethical human rights abuse in Nigeria. In May 1995, he was arrested for robbery and kidnapping and was later arraigned. He swore to his innocence and insisted that he did not commit the crime(s) he was being accused of. He was 14yrs old when the ugly incident happened. On May 30, 1997, the police later charged him and six others with robbery (he was age 16 then) and was sentenced to death along with six others.
Many human rights organizations are worried about this ugly incidence. The attitudes of past Military Governments and their inability to observe human rights as a member of the Commonwealth were evil and irresponsible. A decision taken by the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization at its 271st session in March 1998 initiated a Commission of Inquiry into abuses of labour rights in Nigeria under the procedure set out in article 26, paragraph 4, of the Constitution of the International Labour Organization. The decision of that inquiry was that Nigeria should remain suspended from the Commonwealth.
In its 2009 report: "Killing At Will: Extrajudicial Executions and Other Unlawful Killings By The Police in Nigeria”, Amnesty International documented 29 cases and chronicled numerous number of victims of extrajudicial executions who were never allowed to appear before a judge and those of enforced disappearances.
“Disregard for human rights is prevalent within the police force. Detainees are often denied their legal rights to see a lawyer. Many have to pay for food, medical care and huge sums of money to avoid being tortured or maltreated. In many cases, detainees wait for weeks or months in police custody to be charged and brought before a court,” said the report.
There was a call for the Nigerian government to amend its domestic laws and abrogate lethal force and embrace those permitted by international human rights law and standards. For Amnesty International, the government has to take a pro-active role in ensuring that relatives of victims of extrajudicial executions, other unlawful killings and enforced disappearances have access to justice.
Not only was Patrick a minor, he experienced torture in the custody. He was dehumanized – hanged, beaten and his teeth pulled out with pliers by the Police. “Patrick only went to the police station because the police wanted to inspect a car our mother had bought from one of the suspects. That was how they arrested him,” his brother cried.
International and local organizations decried the incidence as it offends rules already outlined by The Commission on Human Rights, stating that all Member States have an obligation to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedom as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and as elaborated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights and other applicable human rights instruments. It would be recalled that Nigeria is a signatory to, inter alia, the International Covenants on Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The previous resolutions of the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights on the subject, most recently, Assembly Resolution 52/144 of 12 December 1997 and Commission Resolution 1997/53 of 15 April 1997 condemned all such violations.
Grave violations of human rights and freedom in Nigeria, are of serious concern to Human rights organizations. They have continued to warn the Nigerian authorities to refrain from arbitrary detention and follow due process of the law. These organizations warn that a number of Nigerians have been tried in camera and without access to a lawyer of their own choice.
Some of these hostile and legally flawed trials were the alleged coup attempts and the infamous 'Ogoni 9' which led to the arbitrary execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his associates. Many are still in a life-threatening prison conditions and at the point of death. A case in point was the Shehu Yar'Adua saga while in detention. The Nigerian authorities had refused him a visit by the Special Rapporteur. The Special Rapporteur was furious and observed that “with the absence of representative government in Nigeria, it will lead to violations of human rights and freedom which is contrary to the popular support for democratic government as evidenced in the 1993 elections”.
The abnormalities experienced during the military era appear to have reared their ugly heads in the democratic dispensation. For example, while a High Court of Imo State, in May 2000, allowed Patrick to file a petition to have the charges dropped and also to grant his release, he remained in detention even after the High Court had ruled in his favour. A letter he wrote to Governor Achike Udenwa of Imo State in November 2001, detailing his ordeal met its waterloo in March 2002. Patrick complained against his unfair treatment and pleaded for his freedom. His plea was rejected.
“On May 29, 2009 the Governor of Imo State considered an appeal by Patrick and his family and reduced Patrick's sentence to 10 years in prison. However, the Attorney General stated that his sentence was to commence on May 29, 2009, disregarding the 14 years Patrick had already spent in detention. Patrick remained in Aba prison located in Abia State,” said Amnesty International's report of 2009.
“His current sentence amounts to indefinite detention and violates international human rights standards. The organization considers his continued imprisonment to be the product of injustice and a form of arbitrary detention,” said a report. “Patrick Okoroafor's long stay in prison has had serious health consequences as he suffers from severe asthma. The prison, says Patrick Okoroafor, is 'poorly ventilated and compacted. We are 64 people in the cell. It is really overcrowded…We have no modern toilet system, no provision for bathrooms in the cells, absence of enough beddings and mosquito nets.”
Human rights and other abuses are high in Nigeria. People are displaced on a daily basis. In 2006, Nigeria was named one of the three worst violators of housing rights by the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions. A report had it that church members at Makoko slum in Lagos, searched for their properties among the rubble of their demolished church.
Since 2000, more than four million people have been forcibly evicted from their homes in different parts of Nigeria. Mentioning those who are already marginalized is a taboo to the authorities. Clean water, sanitation, adequate health care or education is a luxury to people who had lived for years without these necessities. On World Habitat Day 2009, Amnesty International called for the end to forced evictions in Nigeria. “A forced eviction is the removal of people against their will from the homes or land they occupy without legal protections and other safeguards.”
In 2003, it was reported that over 800,000 people have been removed from their homes in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. Between May and July 2008 forced evictions took place on a weekly basis in Lagos, with some communities facing their third forced eviction. In April 2005, bulldozers demolished houses, churches, and medical clinics in the community of Makoko, Lagos. About 3,000 people lost their homes.
Port Harcourt waterfronts demolition is not different. Victims claimed that they were not given prior notice; neither were they consulted on the planned evictions nor given alternative housing. Some of them, including children, were beaten and injured by law enforcement officials while others had all their belongings destroyed.
Amnesty International was concerned about the health of Patrick Okoroafor, and called on the Nigerian government to release him immediately and unconditionally. For the human rights organization, Patrick Okoroafor shouldn't have been sentenced to death in the first place, because he was under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged crime(s) for which he was convicted.
It was not hoped that Patrick Okoroafor would regain his freedom, but he however said in May 2012 after his release, “After Amnesty began its call for my release from prison, and after reading some of the thousands of letters, cards and messages sent to me by Amnesty supporters, I began to hope that I would soon be free.”
Odimegwu Onwumere, Poet/Author, Media/Writing Consultant and Motivator, is the Founder of Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA), Rivers State. Tel: +2348032552855. Email: [email protected]