Uzoma Okere: N100 Million Reward for Military Brutality

After the April 2007 general elections in Nigeria, I watched some unsatisfied governorship candidates like Adams Oshiomohole of Edo State and Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State go to court and they came out victorious at the electoral tribunal. People applauded these judgments and even described them as “excellent judgments”, what is excellent or remarkable about such judgments? The judgments at the electoral tribunals are simply cases of “the more you look the less you understand”, the plaintiffs, defendants and arbiters in the electoral tribunals are all of the elite class, they speak the language of profit and loss behind the courtrooms. The plaintiffs and defendants are rich, powerful and greedy Nigerians who want to have the cakes and the knives in their domains.

Now, compare the above scenario with that of a poor, defenceless young lady, who was brutalized, beaten, pushed, pulled and dragged on the road and her blouse pulled off her by a naval rating, thereby exposing her nakedness, leaving her with only the brassiere. What was her offence? The road was too narrow; hence she could not pull off the road when she heard the blaring of siren from the convoy of a Naval Rear Admiral.

It is very rare to take such institutions or military formations to court and win the case, hence, for the judge, Justice Opeyemi Oke to award Ms. Uzoma Okere damages up to the tune of N100 million, is a case that deserves commendation. The judge did not stop at the monetary award, the officers and the Nigeria Navy were ordered to tender unreserved “apology” to the victim within one month of the judgment in four national newspapers, namely: THISDAY, The Guardian, The Nation and The Punch. The apology order was also extended to some electronic media namely: NTA, AIT, Raypower and Cool FM stations.

Certainly, no amount of monetary award can be given to Ms. Uzoma Okere to compensate for the actions of these four naval ratings and the Rear Admiral namely; C.I. Jeremaih, S.A. Kaniga, S.A. Bullem, Lieutenant Francis Okolaogu and Rear Admiral Arogundade, but this indeed should serve as warning to all those who believe that they can do anything and go scot-free, it is a warning sign to show that Nigeria is changing.

After all, what is the value of N100 million to this category of people (Rear Admiral)? To them N100 million is like giving pieces of cake to their children. If not, how can a 23 year old boy be flying around the world aimlessly; Yemen today – meeting with the Al Qaeda, London tomorrow – catching up with his classes and America the day after – attempting to blow up a plane when he supposed to be in school in London. He had so much money to play with at that early age, hence he lost control of his life; it is believed that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab lived in a $4 million (N620 million) apartment in Central London as a student, there are several millions of children who cannot afford to go to school here in Nigeria, yet these class of people can afford to go and waste the country’s money outside.

The court should ensure that its verdict is implemented to the fullest. The Nigeria Navy and its officers should pay up; the courts must not entertain any form of appeal from them. N100 million can make a lot of difference in the life of Ms. Uzoma Okere, she deserves it after the inhuman treatment meted on her.

This verdict is not victory for Ms. Okere only; this is victory for democracy, the rule of law, civil right groups and not to forget the Action Congress that also lent its voice. I must also not forget to applaud the Office of the Public Defender, Lagos State Ministry of Justice. This verdict goes to show the importance of this institution. By taking up the cause of the marginalized, defenceless, voiceless and downtrodden the Public Defenders have proved itself trust worthy in safeguarding the rights of civil society. I urge the Lagos State Government and the state House of Assembly to continue to support this sort of courageous democratic practices.

The Nigeria judiciary has taken the bold step to truly regain its lost glory. Before now the Nigerian Courts were not seen as the last hope of the common man, because some of the judges did not have the courage and integrity to oppose those who misused power and broke the law. Then, some of the judges were considered as not having adequate understanding of the law which they were expected to interpret. For democratic rule to survive in Nigeria, there must be a vibrant, dependable and trust worthy judiciary system. Going by the Uzoma Okere Vs Rear Admiral Arogundade and Nigeria Navy case, my verdict goes thus; the Nigeria judiciary has come alive.

McDonald Koiki,

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