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PERM SEC SUES ICPC OVER ROUGHHANDLING

By NBF News

By October this year, Dr. Edugie Abigail Abebe, a Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Transport, will be 60 years old. But this story is not about her birthday.

Rather, it is a chilling account of how she was roughhandled by operatives of the Independent Corrupt Practices (and Other related Offences) Commission [ICPC], who were said to have pulled her down from the sixth floor of her office in handcuffs. She has dragged the agency to court even as the operatives say she resisted arrest, prompting them to 'demobilise' her by handcuffing her.

Abebe, a medical doctor, who has served the country for 35 years, was dragged in handcuffs and hauled into a waiting Toyota Hilux van by anti-graft agents, who arrested her in her office.

Now, having been so humiliated, the grandmother is traumatised and is living in shock and pains resulting from her sprained wrist and the excessive application of force on her aging body by the ICPC personnel.

The painful aspect of the bizarre assault is that the alleged crime that led to her arrest and humiliation was said to have been committed long before Dr. Abebe was appointed Permanent Secretary.

The evil letter
The ICPC had earlier sent a letter to the Permanent Secretary dated June 2, 2010, inviting her to its office on Monday, June 7, 2010. In the letter, she was to assist the anti-graft agency in the ongoing investigation of award for the rehabilitation of Railway track and signal network contract Lagos to Jebba, to CCECC Nigeria Limited.

The letter reads:
'The Independent Corrupt Practices (and other related offences) Commission is conducting an investigation, which bothers on violation of the provisions of Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000. Of which it has become necessary to interview you and the Secretary of Tenders' Board Committee in respect of the award of contract for the rehabilitation of Railway Track and Signal Network (Contract I) Lagos to Jebba, to CCECC Nigeria Limited.

In this regard and pursuant to section 28(1)(a)&(b) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000, you are therefore requested to appear before Wellington Nkemadu of Special Duties Department, First Floor, Room 39, on Monday, 7th June, 2010, at the Commission's Headquarters, Plot 802, Constitution Avenue, Abuja, by 10:00 hours prompt for the purpose of being examined.

You are requested to produce the following documents: Pre-qualification papers of all the contractors that participated in the bid; Tender documents; Minutes of Bid clarification meeting; Minutes of Bid opening; Guidelines on procurement (if any) for the award of the contract; Observers report; Recorded procurement proceedings; Certified Duplicate copy of letter of award of contract and Technical analysis made to the Bureau for Public procurement.

Accept the assurances of the Honourable Chairman's highest regards, please.'

When the letter got to the Permanent Secretary, she minuted on it and directed the relevant authorities to forward all documents relating to the said contract to her and to report to her office on Monday, June 7, 2010, preparatory to her meeting with the ICPC.

The ambush
When she received the said letter on June 3, and minuted to the appropriate authorities to furnish her with the required documents, she thought she was done, but she was wrong. Few minutes after, she was informed that the ICPC operatives were insisting on seeing her personally. She quickly put a call to the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, informing him of the happenings in her office. It was too late, as she was arrested even before she could get across to her boss.

Traumatised
The incident has left the embattled Permanent Secretary emotionally and psychologically traumatised by what she described as 'inhuman and degrading treatments wrongly given to me most especially as they have threatened to continue to violate my legal and constitutional fundamental rights and to jeopardise my career as a civil servant who has served her country meritoriously in various capacities for about 35 years without blemish.'

Legal action
Now that the Permanent Secretary has filed a N5 billion suit against the ICPC and its officials, the anti-graft agency in its counter-affidavit explained its action was due to the fact that its officers were manhandled by the Permanent Secretary's staff.

The agency further told the court: 'When we wanted to take the applicant through the lift from the sixth floor to the ground floor, we discovered that her staff had already demobilised the lift system in the building to prevent her from being taken away and we had no option but to lead the applicant through the staircase.

On why she was handcuffed, leader of the operation, Nkemadu, explained that the applicant refused to comply and resisted arrest, saying that she was not moving an inch and immediately began to make telephone calls from her handset to persons we do not know.

'When I discovered that she was unwilling to comply by following us quietly to the office of the first respondent [ICPC] and was resisting arrest, while more of her staff were rushing to the scene and the atmosphere was becoming tense and degenerating into a mob situation, I had to restrain the applicant with handcuffs.

'But, by the time the applicant entered the vehicle, we resolved that it was no longer necessary to restrain the applicant and attempted to remove the restraint [cuffs] on her, but she refused, insisting that she wanted to get to the chairman of the ICPC in that position.'

In her application for an order for enforcement of her fundamental human rights, she is asking the court for a declaration that the invasion of her office was wrongful, forceful and public removal of her from her office on the sixth floor to the ground floor under handcuffs into a waiting Toyota van constituted a breach of her right to dignity, personal liberty and freedom.