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An Open Letter to Adeyemi Ikuforiji, Speaker, Lagos State House Of Assembly

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Mr. Speaker
NOPRIN has been following with utmost concern the very unfortunate incident of October 29, 2010 whereby security guards attached to your convoy allegedly attacked, brutalized and grievously injured popular Nollywood Actress Ufuoma Ejenobor. Your security men also allegedly ransacked the victim's car and removed her valuable items. This incident happened while the victim was trapped in traffic along Ozumba Mbadiwe Way , Victoria Island , Lagos .

  The victim had through a letter dated 2/11/2010 protested to you, bringing to your attention the details of the raw deal she suffered in the hands of your security detail and demanding from you and your agents, the payment of the total sum of thirty five million naira only in compensation for all the losses of personal valuables and commercial goodwill, damages, physical assault, bodily injuries, public humiliation, and extreme psychological trauma. She gave a deadline of 'before the end of business by Friday the 5 th day of November 2010' for you and your agents to meet her demands.

  NOPRIN has also read, with utter disappointment, your response to the victim's letter through your Chief of Staff, Mr. Shegun Olusheshi at a press conference which he addressed on November 16, 2010 . Predictably, you denied all the allegations brought against you and your agents by Ejenobor including that your men ransacked her car and illegally seized and took away certain valuable items from her. You merely admitted that the policemen in your convoy 'attempted to question her for her conduct'. You further threatened that the Lagos House of Assembly will sue Ejenobor for allegedly forcing her way into your convoy and hitting your pilot vehicle from the rear. This, you asserted will be 'to teach her a lesson'. Significantly, your reaction came three weeks after the incident and after the victim wrote to you, through her lawyer demanding compensation. All the while there had been a barrage of media commentaries condemning your actions and inactions, and the unbecoming conduct of your security detail.

  Now, assuming that this lady actually forced her way into your convoy, will that warrant or justify the brutality that was visited on her by your security guards? If indeed, she committed an offence, as you alleged in your Press Conference, why did your aides not arrest and hand her over the police?

  Apart from the belatedness of your response, via the Pres Conference, the response itself sounded as puerile as similar responses from senior security officials and political office holders who have in the past been involved in similar unwarranted acts of brutality. In Nigeria , the lives of innocent and helpless Nigerians who happen to find themselves on the road at the same time when the convoys of public officials and senior security officers are passing are endangered! It is only the cases involving the few privileged ones who have voices that are mentioned in the media, and someone called to account. But the majority of cases involving the less privileged and voiceless Nigerians go unreported. Imagine how many ordinary Nigerians who go through this same- or even worse- ordeal on a daily basis!

  This dastardly and unjustifiable violence against Ufuoma Ejenobor is one more sad reminder of the recklessness and impunity with which security attachés of some senior security officials and a few governors frequently hound and shove fellow Nigerians out of the road, even in traffic, just to create easy passage for the convoy of their bosses. Often, they brutalise innocent citizens for obstructing their convoy. In most cases the victims have the right of way and are unable- under the prevailing circumstance- to quickly give way as the overzealous security aids would want them to.

  In the case of Reverend Father Eustace Okorie, who was on Sunday, August 8, 2010 dragged out of his car, stripped of his Soutane, brutalised and bundled into one of the vehicles in the convoy of Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State, his car was very close to a ditch, and any further move would have landed him into the ditch. Yet Governor Ohakim, acting like an emperor, had to order his security aides to 'deal with him' for refusing to clear for his convoy in a heavy traffic at Orie Akabo in Ikeduru LGA, Imo State on that fateful day . In this case, the Governor was compelled to apologise publicly to the catholic community after so much outpour of public indignation, and after a mass procession in Owerri by the Catholic Church faithful- all dressed in black.

  Prior to this- sometime in April 2008, security detail on the convoy of the self-same Governor Ikedi Ohakim came all the way from distant Owerri to Lagos and assaulted a woman identified as Mrs. Elizabeth Udoudoh in the presence of her two children. Ohakim's security guards accused the woman of obstructing the governor's convoy on a Lagos road.

  We recall a similar shameful incident of November 4, 2009 in Lagos in which six armed naval ratings attached to Rear Admiral Harry Arogundade of the Nigerian Navy descended on one Miss Uzoma Okere and mercilessly brutalised her in public for alleged failure 'to give way quickly' for a two-car convoy. We can go on and on…

  Mr. Speaker, we had thought that the hullabaloo, the national scandal, and the eventual legal consequences suffered by Arogundade and the Navy following their reprehensible act would have thought other public servants like you a lesson in decency and humility.

  Mr. Speaker, it was our expectation that such odious, uncouth and horrifying acts of brigandage by law enforcement personnel against citizens will end with the termination of military rule. It is sad that eleven years following the eventual restoration of democratic processes in Nigeria , after 16 unbroken years of military authoritarianism, acts of highhandedness and brutality by security agents against citizens still persist. This unfortunate propensity for violence by law enforcement personnel appears to be worse among security detail attached to the convoy of public office holders. Violence against women is unacceptable and we strongly condemn it.

  We note that the failure by the police leadership and police oversight agencies to bring to account, through appropriate disciplinary measures, police officers involved in such barbarism and unconscionable use of brute force reinforces impunity. This type of action by policemen is totally unacceptable and condemnable. Men in uniform are expected to be officers and gentlemen at all times, no matter the provocation. Assaulting a defenceless citizen falls short of this standard.

  The case of Ufuoma bears many resemblances with Uzoma Okere's. Okere was battered by the naval ratings in broad daylight and stripped naked while Rear Admiral Arogundade, unperturbed as it were, sat inside his car and watched the horrid act. He failed to intervene on time to stop his boys from manhandling the defenceless lady. This was exactly what you did in the case of Ufuoma . Now, it is very disheartening that while this drama played out, you failed to intervene, but sat quietly in the comfort and splendor of your official vehicle, while an innocent and defenseless lady, who could have been one of those you are supposed to be representing, was being manhandled by your security detail. This makes you complicit.

  Also, like Okere's, Ufuoma's case has, for the umpteenth time, tainted Nigeria's image abroad and portrayed the country as a place where human rights are brazenly abused especially by security agents and those in positions of authority. This is evidenced by the widespread outrage that was generated by both incidents. Video tapes of the two incidents also circulated on the internet.

  Again, as in Okere's case where Arogundade's convoy appeared behind her, with blaring sirens to clear traffic, your convoy also appeared behind Ufuoma, blaring sirens at a time that the Lagos State Governor banned the use of sirens as a matter of policy in Lagos State .

  The late President, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, the Senate Committee on Navy and the naval authorities ordered that the brutality on Okere should be investigated. The Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola also condemned the reprehensible act, and, as has been said, banned the use of sirens in the state, obviously to forestall such hideous occurrence. Of course Ms Okere sought and secured legal redress. We encourage Ufuoma to do the same. And she has the full support of NOPRIN.

  NOPRIN condemns this act of unprovoked and unjustifiable aggression against Ufuoma by security personnel attached to you. These security men are public officers who are paid with tax payers' money to serve and protect them. NOPRIN also condemns the ransacking of the victim's car and the theft of several of her valuable property. NOPRIN deplores your insensitive response to the unfortunate incident. Your initial disposition appeared to be to simply ignore the victim's cry; but you were forced-belatedly though, to offer a drab and unconvincing response via a press conference where your Chief of Staff attempted to hoodwink the unwary with a 'cock and bull' account of how the incident happened. It was sheer afterthought.

  Rather than address the issues raised and articulated in the letter addressed to you, dated 2/11/2010 , you chose to peddle lies in a cover-up bid. In fact, you added insult to injury by describing the victim as a 'public nuisance' who was in search of 'cheap publicity'. What more publicity could a woman whose face is regular on television be seeking!

  t is alarming that this type of brutish and overzealous behavior by security personnel- which was rife during the dark and better-forgotten- days of military dictatorship could be witnessed in a democratic dispensation.

  Your response to the victim's outcry is rather disappointing. First, your response was belated- coming three weeks after the incident, and induced by persistent public outrage. Second, your response was puerile- a sheer lousy attempt to deny, cover-up and portray the victim as a 'public nuisance' who is seeking 'cheap publicity'. Your entire response is, for want of a better expression, inane and diversionary. Why did it take you a clear three weeks after the incident to reply through a press conference addressed by your Chief of Staff?  It took you a whole of three weeks to cook up lies, rather than humbly admit and apologise for your wrongdoing and the excesses and wild behaviour of your security personnel and compensate the victim adequately!

  We have heard from witnesses and watched the video clip of the incident; the evidences of the culpability of your security men are overwhelming. Your response reflects your arrogance and portrays you as unsuitable for the prestigious public office you occupy. It portrays your as lacking in integrity and humility. It was the same posture that Arogundade and the Navy assumed after the naval ratings assaulted Ms. Okere, until the courts found them guilty and humbled them with an order to pay 100 million naira in compensation.

  Mr. Speaker, it is shocking that this recent disgraceful episode is associated with a man who occupies the office of the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly. Legislators are- or ought to be- the representatives of the people. The legislature is the arm of government that is closest to and representative of the people. It is to the legislature that the people should run to when oppressed by the executive. But when the legislature turns around to be the arm oppressing the people, then it would amount to a betrayal and breach of faith with the people they ought to represent.

  The Lagos State Government under Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN) is generally perceived as a people-friendly, rule of law-minded, accountable and civilized government. It is therefore a shame that you, the Speaker and your security agents will now come to taint the good record of Lagos State Government through the barbaric actions of your security aides and your attempt to justify such barbarism or obfuscate the facts of it.

  Mr. Speaker should be reminded of the old wisdom which says that 'Pride goes before a fall!' You are hereby advised to save public funds rather than engage in empty grandstanding with your threat of a law suit against the victim of a crime in which you are complicit. You should avoid dragging the Lagos State House of Assembly into this show of shame. It is cheaper and more honourable for you to admit the culpability of your security agents, apologise to the victim and discuss with her for possible compensations.   We hope that you will toe this path of honour.

  Yours sincerely,   Okechukwu Nwanguma
  Program/Advocacy Coordinator