Alleged Extortion: Police Turn Case Against Right Activist, 29 Others in Delta

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BEVERLY HILLS, February 12, (THEWILL) - Policemen allegedly accused of extorting commercial motorcycles popularly known as Okada riders in Effurun, near Warri, Delta State have turned around to charge their accusers on a six-count charge  of conspiracy, unlawful assembly, riotous assembly as well as damaging building at Ebremede Police Station.

About 29 of the motorcyclists including a human right lawyer who had protested against the unethical practice by the police at Ebrumede Police Division, Uvwie Local Government Area of the State were on Tuesday arraigned at the Effurun Chief Magistrate Court 1, presided over by O.

Human right lawyer, Omes Ogedegbe, was among the suspects hurriedly arraigned by the police who had on Monday tear-gassed and arrested several protesters who were at the Ebrumede Police Division, apparently to draw the attention of the Divisional Officer in charge to the extortion.

The lawyer is said to have accompanied several protesters to the police station to   complain about incessant police extortion of motorbike riders along the Alegbo/Ogbolokposo route in Uvwie Council Area since the Delta State  Government placed a ban on Okada plying some routes in major cities in the state.

Giving a graphic details of   the arrest, detention and subsequent arraignment, Coordinator of the Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative, (IPDI), Comrade Austin Ozobo, who claimed to have witnessed the incident on Monday, said that the policemen shot and tear-gassed the protesters before they could reached the police station.

He said that the lawyer fainted as a result of the impact of the inhaled teargas  and was rushed to a nearby clinic where the police subsequently came in a commando-style and seized him ostensibly to frighten him for daring to lead the protest against the police extortion.

Ozobo said: "We were to complain to the DPO following his men's seizure of over 100 bikes for refusal to yield to police extortion on the Alegbo/Ogbolokposo route in Uvwie which the bike riders have been plying since the state ban on some routes in major cities.

"The DPO was absent so we went back on (Monday) at about 1.

30pm to ask him to put a stop to the extortion and release the bikes they impounded.

"We were still a distance from the Ebrumede Station when the police cornered and dispersed the crowd with tear gas and gunshots.

"In the process, a police officer shot tear gas directly into Ogedegbe's face.

Sensing danger, the activist then advised the protesters to retreat while still determined to proceed to the DPO with a few others.

"But before they could get to the station, he collapsed and was rushed to the nearby Purity Hospital.

He was still receiving medical attention when men of the Ebrumede Police station came and took him away from the hospital bed.

" Ozobo said that the arrest, detention and subsequent arraignment of the  human right lawyers was politically motivated.

Responding to the development,  National Coordinator of Forum for Justice and Human Rights Defence, FJHD, Oghenejabor Ikimi, a lawyer, said, "This again underscores the continual brutality by armed uniformed men on Nigerian citizens, coming few days after armed naval men allegedly attacked victims at an Effurun Hotel.

"We call on the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, to investigate this case himself as it is very cruel and demonstrates the height of insensitivity of the police to brutalise and arrest a lawyer on legal duty to enforce right of his client.

In the same vein, the Delta State Chairman, Committee for Defense of Human Rights, (CDHR), Benefit Orugbo, a lawyer, said, "It is insensitive for the police to assault a lawyer who is on legitimate duty.

"We expect the Police to be more civil in the manner they handle civilians.

We call on the hierarchy to fish out the police who did this dastardly act, they should be brought to face the law.

"We are hoping to see a refined Nigeria Police and not these daily brutalities being meted out to innocent and harmless citizens.

It is regrettable and condemnable in its entirety.
" Meanwhile, attempt by the police to send the suspects to prison custody failed on Tuesday as over 15 lawyers who volunteered to defend the accused lawyer and others objected to count 6 which turned out to be a holding  charge  allegedly planted by the police to punish the suspects.

Count 6 states that 'The accused and others now at large, being riotously assembled, did unlawfully begin to damage building and structures within the Ebrumede Police Station premises and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 76 of the Criminal Code Cap C21 Vol.

1 laws of Delta state of Nigeria, 2006.
' Ikimi who led other lawyers in court in defence of the accused had objected to the count because under a holden charge, all the accused were to be remanded in Federal Prison, Okere, Warri and the file duplicated and sent to DPP for advice.

The objection followed alleged claims by Ikimi that  the count 6 was allegedly smuggled into the charge  sheet by the Police to punish the accused persons and as such urged the court to inspect the case file to ascertain whether the extra judicial statement of the accused persons and the police investigation report supported the said count.

After hearing from S.
V Irabor, Esq.
, (ASP) Prosecuting Police Counsel, the court ruled that the statements taken from the accused persons and police investigation report did not support the said count 6 and as such the court further directed the Police to go and amend the said charge while the accused persons are remanded in the custody of the Police.

The Delta State Police Command has confirmed the arrest and detention of the human right lawyers and 29 others arrested after a failed protest over alleged police extortion and incessant harassment of commercial motorcyclist in Effurun, near Warri .

The State Police Public Relations Officer, Celestina Kalu, a Deputy Superintendent of Police,  in a statement on Tuesday said the lawyer and 29 others are in police net for alleged act capable of breaching the peace.

In a statement obtained by  THEWILL, the Police Command said :'On 6/2/2014  at about 1015hrs, a yet to be identified motorcyclist operating at DSC round about, Effurun, one of the areas where operation of Commercial motorcycle (okada) is banned by the State government, sighted police patrol team from Ebrumede Division and abandoned his motorcycle with Reg.

DT 6983 WC and escaped.
"Consequently, the motorcycle was recovered to the police station .

"Thereafter, one Barrister Omemiroro Ogedegbe 'm' (AKA Omems) of  No.

92 Alegbo/Okoribi road, before Christ Militant Church, Effurun approached the station to solicit for the release of the motorcycle, but he was advised to produce the rider to enable the release.

"However, on 10/2/2014, the said lawyer mobilised other commercial motorcyclists from the neighbouring communities to the police station in an attempt to forcefully remove the motorcycle.

"Thirty suspects including the said lawyer have been arrested and twenty- two motorcycles were impounded .

"Meanwhile, the suspects who were charged to court were later returned to the station on the order of the court to enable the police perfect their investigation before re-arraigning them.

"The Command wishes to warn youths in the state not to allow any person, no matter his or her status in the society to use them for any criminal acts, as any person arrested for any criminal involvement will face the full wrath of the law".