SPINAL CORD INJURY:CAN AN INJURED ROBBERY SUSPECT SUE HIS VICTIM FOR COMPENSATION?
A robbery suspect, Kenny Turbo (not real names) was caught while trying to burgle a house of an expatriate couple in Apapa, Lagos early this year. He claimed to have begged the couple to forgive him before the female expatriate allegedly pushed him from the window of their three-storey building. He broke his spinal cord in the process.
Turbo is insisting the police must prosecute his victims for his spinal cord injury which may result in possible permanent disability. In fact, he is even blaming the force for foot-dragging on the prosecution. He accused the police of taking sides with his 'attackers'.
Crimewatch cornered the suspect in the office of Lagos Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Samuel Jinadu, a Deputy Superintendent, at Ikeja headquarters of the command.
We published Turbo's story on May 26, 2011. Because of his unusual demand for compensation, we went to town to seek the views of lawyers, doctors, activists and other members of the society. Excerpts:
BAR. BENJAMIN AREKAMEH, Activist
The suspect has no case as he went to the expatriate's home uninvited and for unlawful purpose and they had the right to do what they did to him under self-defence. In view of the fact that if the expatriates had not defended themselves by pushing him down, it is likely he would have harmed them.
The suspect has no justifiable reasons to enter a man's house uninvited, talk less of looting the house.
The suspect has gone to the house with an intention to rob and would have been armed to kill, inflict injury or to intimidate his victims. He had gone there with criminal intention and the owner of the house should protect his life, others and property in whichever way he chose to do it. If it is by pushing the suspect down we have no problems with him.' Turbo should explain whether he had appointment with the house owner or his purpose of entering their home through illegal means.
He would not get justice anyway except the expatriates who should be regarded as the victims chose not to pursue the case. I will advise that even if the expatriates refused to pursue the case, the police should not release him, but try him to serve as a deterrent to others. I am saying authoritatively that Turbo will not get justice as he went to the house with criminal intentions.
To go to equity, you must go with clean hands. If the suspect is claiming that because the expatriates have no right to deal with a criminal-minded person who infringes on their fundamental human right, he is joking.
However, I will want the police to grant the suspect's relations access to him as he would need their assistance. But the family should know it is not the duty of the police to treat him but are just giving the family members the opportunity of treating him.
PETER NNAJIEGO, Legal practitioner
What was the suspect doing in the expatriates' house? The suspect was alleged to have burgled the apartment.
What was he doing in another man's house, what was his mission to the house, was he a member of the family?
The man is an alleged robber who would have been shot in the process. He should count himself lucky. He has no right claiming for compensation and requesting for the arrest of the expatriates.
He is lucky that they did not kill him. What kind of compensation is he looking for, he needs not be compensated at all. But for the spinal cord injury, the police should take him to the hospital for proper medication, after which he would be prosecuted according to the law.
RACHAEL KALU, school proprietress
I am blaming the expatriates for allegedly pushing the suspect down from the window resulting in his spinal cord injury. The suspect admitted that he entered their house but denied being armed and since he pleaded with the couple to forgive him and let him go, the wife should not have pushed him through the window. May be the suspect is hungry and was looking for food to eat.
The couple took the law into their hands, why is the law made, is it because the man is a black man, things are not done this way. If this matter is not properly addressed, the rich will continue to oppress the poor.
The expatriates should have handed him over to the police and not allegedly giving him the jungle justice. They should be responsible for his hospital bills. The government should see that he is well treated and assisted by training him in a suitable trade for the handicap to enable him be useful again.
BENSON NDAKARA, Legal practitioner
The demand of the suspect is laughable. Why should he be calling for the arrest of the expatriates?
What type of compensation is he demanding for. He has forgotten that he who must go to equity must go with clean hands. He went there to rob and could be killed in the process.
The man was even lucky that he was not killed. The police should allow him access to a medical doctor and later he should be prosecuted for attempted robbery.
CHIEF MORAH EKWUNOH, Barrister and legal consultant
I doubt if the alleged thief will win in the court because it requires proof. Being the only person with the couple it will be a case of his against two oats. Oat from the husband and oat from the wife.
The two combined are stronger .it depends on the preponderance of evidence that can be used in deciding the case.
The weight of evidence will be against him. If you add the weight of evidence from the couple and weigh them against his own, vis-Ã -vis the provision of the Evidence Act Section 92 Subsection (1) of the Evidence Laws of the Federation 2004, the whole will combine and whittle down the prospects of success. Section 92 Subsection (1) enjoins courts to decide the weight to be ascribed to a piece of evidence by looking at the circumstances surrounding the evidence.
If you look at the circumstances of this one from a confessed thief who claimed he was pushed down by a woman, probably the owner of the house will not have so much weight ascribed to it because the court will look at it as evidence of an alleged confessed criminal with defiant behavioural background which by extension of logic compel the court into believing more of the evidence of the couple.
But If there is proof by way of corroboration by another piece of evidence either from a third party or from the couple, for sure, the thief is entitled to award of compensatory damages, for rendering him paralysed. In this case the constitutional provisions as enshrined in Section 33 Subsection (1) relating to right to life will avail and protect him. Section 35 Subsection (1) of the same 1999 constitution as amended will also avail him relating to protection of his life and his liberty which the resultant paralyses has denied.
Besides, Section 36 Subsection 5 of the same Constitution presumes him innocent until otherwise pronounced guilty by due constituted court of law. Even if a court of law finds him guilty in relation to his criminal actions in the house of the couples, the act of pushing him from a three-storey building cannot serve as execution of judgment of court, assuming he was executed.
What the woman has done did not serve as an execution of judgment because it has a procedure.
The problem of the young man had its foundation on proof. To defend life and property have to be examined against the background of danger posed by the intruder. If for instance, the intruder is armed, even if he is killed, the law will understand.
But if for instance before the couple came from their outing, the intruder had got himself drunk from champaigne he met in the house and was in a state of stupor, killing or harming or pushing him from a three-storey building cannot be justified in law. Similarly as the man raised his hands up and was not armed, and he pleaded, pushing him has no justification.
OLIVER EZE, Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria,
The question is presumed for a matter of fact that the alleged thief was pushed. Because the man claimed he was pushed. We do not know what the woman's own side is. When you say you are climbing down a three-storey building, are you on a ladder or are you a wall gecko? A man without a ladder can drop. The issue of whether he was pushed or not, will come if the woman agrees.
The suspected thief has no right to be in the couple's bedroom. So, they will use a reasonable force to eject him. Whether he is on the wall or anywhere does not matter. He is an architect of his own misfortune. For taking the risk to steal in a three-story building, he must accept his fate. Public policy does not justify any form of criminality. Several people have lost their lives trying to steal less valuable items without entering people's bedrooms.
Many have been lynched and set ablaze at public places. The alleged thief should not be taken for his words. The man will not win the case in court and he will never recover any damages. When he went to steal, he knew it was risky. He must accept what he gets out of it. He alleged he was pushed because he was not armed. If he was probably armed he would have showed no mercy on the couple.
So, I do not see him getting any compensation. All the couple need do is to say we did not push him. So, he does not stand any chance. He has no witness to the pushing. Even if there is a witness to the pushing, all you need say is that you did it on self- defence. He invaded their privacy. The thief should shut up because he is the architect of his own misfortune. He abandoned his transport business and decided to steal. He should know that it was a dangerous adventure. He does not stand a chance. God cannot allow it.
Even in the law of Moses, thieves were usually stoned to death. The law of Moses is in the Old Testament.
RAYMOND TEDUJAIYE, Journalist and Public Affairs Analyst
The suspect has no case and should be ashamed of himself, rather than seeking for compensation and arrest of his attackers, he should be begging for mercy. The suspect deserved no mercy as he allegedly invaded the victim's residence without their invitation. To invade somebody's home is a criminal act.
Since he came to rob, he would have been aggressive and would have succeeded in killing his victims if they had not outsmarted him. Even God would exonerate the victims as the Bible has said that the thief comes to steal, destroy and kill. The police should not release him but to prosecute him and punish him accordingly, unless it has been proven otherwise that he is innocent.
As regards his medical cares, the family should be responsible for the hospital bill.
MR. FRANK OSHANUGOR, Editor-in-Chief, Security Express magazine
The suspect should thank God that he did not lose his life as the victims were acting on self-defence.
The suspect had gone to his victim's house to rob and not to pay a visit. 'so, he is on his own, whatever happened to him, he should face it squarely.'
Demanding for the arrest and prosecution of his victims who he described as attackers is laughable and uncalled for. The suspect has no right to demand for compensation as he enjoyed the grace of God by surviving the accident as he would have died in the process.
SUNNY OGBODAGA, Sociologist
The guy is a suspected robber, irrespective of the fact that that he claimed he was not armed, he has gone to the house to rob. So, what sort of justice was he calling for. His behavioural tendencies were nothing short of aberration. He was not expected to get normal treatment from the owners of the house. As a suspected thief, he knew the resultant effect of a crime so, let him carry his cross.
He should be given the opportunity for medical attention but he or his relations should be responsible for the medical bills after which he should be tried in court. The judgment of the court should determine what will happen to him. For the expatriates, they should not be held liable for any wrongdoing as they acted in self-defence.
That they are foreigners does not mean they should be intimidated by a common criminal.
NGOZI OJEOGWO, Sociologist
The request of Turbor shows that he may have forgotten the fact that he entered the expatriates house uninvited.. He has forgotten the fact that he got injury during the attack on him did not remove the truth that he went to rob in the house. If he had met the woman alone in the house, he may have raped her.
As a sociologist, I believe the woman may have acted out of instinct when he pushed him. She may have equally acted in self-defence.
The woman out of fear may have gone hysterical and would not have been in her senses when she pushed him down. The woman is justified by her action. The expatriates should be allowed to enjoy their freedom to privacy because their privacy had been invaded by Turbo. For his medical bills, he should cater for it and after which he should be made to face the law.
DR. SAMUEL JAMES, Medical doctor
Well, people no longer want to struggle through genuine means to acquire wealth and the society has welcome money no matter the source. That is why people will be bold to enter people's home uninvited. But be that as it may, the expatriates had no right whatsoever to push him down after he had surrendered to them.
The victims should have honourably handed him over to the police for prosecution. By carrying out jungle justice on him was uncalled for since the suspect had been intimidated by pleading for mercy.
The woman who allegedly pushed him down has no moral justification doing that. She had already passed a death sentence on him, hence, she pushed him down. Her intention was to kill him. You see, the action of the woman was not instinctively done. It was a well orchestrated plan by the woman to deal with a Nigerian, otherwise, as a woman, she should have been scared.
What the woman has done so far is tantamount to killing the suspect. He is now a vegetable and still in detention under the mercy of the police, who may not have given him access to good medical treatment. My experience with spinal cord injury showed that you don't handle the patient like a normal person. There are specific and special ways to handle such patient. I feel for him as he may not be lucky because, he needs a lot of money and special attention. He may need to be flown abroad,
My opinion, I think since he has not been proven guilty, the police should allow him access to serious medical attention by professionals.
A.G JANE, Journalist
It was in self-defence that he was pushed off the window. What happened to him happened because his cup was full to the brim and overflowing. He should know that gone are the days when a thief strolled his way into God's kingdom. Therefore, in terms of compensation, he should not dream his life away. He who has ears should hear.
CHARLES ADIMABUA, Sociologist
The suspect is funny or should I say that the police need to examine his head. He may have gone paranoid. How on earth could a robber be demanding for justice. He should be thanking God that he was not beaten to death.
I think, it is better for him to keep his mouth shut than for him to be exposing himself and family. Where I came from, a thief is not supposed to live. He is talking rubbish. A thief is a disgrace. The government and the police should deal square with him to serve as deterrent to others. My appeal is that he should be allowed access to medical doctor, if he survives, he should face the law.
Meanwhile, Turbo's friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed fears that he may die for lack of medical care. He claimed that the last time he went to see him in the cell, the suspect was groaning in excruciating pains. 'It is dangerous for him to have stayed over two months in the cell with spinal cord injury without a medical doctor attending to him. I saw a female nurse administering drugs on him.'
He wants the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Yakubu Alkali, to allow Turbo be treated in a government hospital after which he may be tried in the law court. A human right activist and a university lecturer, Dr Tony Nwaezeigwe condemned the attitude of the expatriates. He said that since the suspect has surrendered to the couple who had already demystified him psychologically, they should have handed him over to the police rather than taking laws into their hands.
Nwaezeigwe wants human rights lawyers to take over the case of Turbo, who he said has right to live. 'He should also be treated and protected by the government until he is proven guilty by a competent court.'
Foremost lawyer and former president of West African Bar Association (WABA), Femi Falana, has promised he may take over the matter, saying that he would sue the expatriates for damages.
Falana said no one should be treated like a criminal until he is proven so by the court. He said the expatriates should have handed the suspect over to the police rather than meting out jungle justice on him.
He said he may take over the legal battle, declaring that he may incur compensation for the suspect.
Crimewatch investigation revealed that the suspect had been lying critically ill in the cell of the State Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), Ikeja, Lagos.
The police source said: 'He is now a suspect facing another robbery charge outside from the one he committed on the expatriates home.' The source said the suspect was pushed down by the expatriate while he was attacking them. 'The male expatriate is presently receiving treatment from the knife cut he received from the suspect. He was stabbed on his eyes, he is now partially blind.'
The source further stated that the force would have no alternative than to prosecute him for armed robbery.
Police spokesman, Jinadu confirmed that the suspect is still in the cell. He said: 'Yes, he broke his spinal cord but we are giving him treatment. We did not leave him to die we are making sure he survives before prosecuting him.'
He debunked the claim by the suspect that he was callously pushed down by the expatriate. 'The suspect was struggling with the expatriate and he even stabbed the man on his eyes before he fell down in the process of struggling to escape.'