Babatunde Titilola and Temitope Aina
A human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Femi Falana, has called on the Nigeria Police to conduct proper investigations into the case of brutality against lawyers in Lagos State.
Falana made the call on Thursday during a peaceful protest organised by members of the Nigerian Bar Association, Lagos, against the unlawful arrest and detention of a lawyer, Olumide Sonupe, by the police in the state.
The lawyers who are members of about five branches of the NBA marched from its Ikeja secretariat, while displaying banners, to the Command headquarters where the state Commissioner of Police, Adegoke Fayoade, addressed them.
This is coming hours after the CP had ordered the removal of the Divisional Police Officer of Moshalashi Police Station, Austin Arase, who ordered Sonupe’s detention, as reported by PUNCH Metro on January 4.
PUNCH Metro had reported that the 36-year-old Sonupe was hospitalised after he was said to have been detained by the police while seeking the bail of his client at the Moshalashi Police Station in the Alimosho area of the state on December 30, 2023.
It was learnt that the lawyer’s health deteriorated upon his release from the police station on January 1, 2024, after spending two nights with his client in the cell.
PUNCH Metro gathered that the incident happened when Sonupe went to the station on December 30 to seek the bail of his client, a carpenter, who had been detained for an alleged breach of contract.
The lawyer told PUNCH Metro that a woman police officer had accused him of speaking with his client by his cell without the presence of an officer.
He said while trying to clear the misunderstanding and appeal to the officers on the N30,000 bail sum demanded for his client, the DPO, Arase, came in and ordered that he should be locked up, accusing him of disrespecting the officers.
The lawyer stated that he was also accused of assaulting an officer and eventually spent two nights in the cell.
He was said to have ended up at the hospital after his release due to medical emergencies.
Following PUNCH Metro report, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Benjamin Hundeyin, in a release obtained by our correspondent on Tuesday, disclosed that the CP had ordered the removal of the DPO who ordered the lawyer’s detention.
The release further stated that the CP had immediately ordered a probe into the matter upon the publication of the story, while noting that the police would continue to work together with the members of the NBA.
Falana who spoke during the protest on Thursday, said the NBA was ready to defend the rights of lawyers, while stating that the association had filed a report and that an investigation was ongoing.
He said, “The five branches of the Nigerian Bar Association have come to protest police brutality on the Nigeria Police. We are making a case through him about the brutalisation of lawyers and indeed other citizens.
“The NBA wants a full investigation of the incident. We are pleased to know that the Commissioner of Police has said an investigation is ongoing and besides the report, the NBA is filing a report to protect the human rights of our colleagues.”
Speaking with PUNCH Metro, the chairman of the NBA Ikeja branch, Seyi Olawumi, said the protest was to condemn the increased rate of harassment that lawyers suffer in the hands of the police.
“It is a peaceful protest against police brutality of our members who go into police stations for the service of their clients,” he added.
Sonupe, who was accompanied by family, friends, and colleagues, said the only thing that mattered to him was to see that justice was served, while calling on the police to be thorough with their investigations.
The CP, while addressing the aggrieved lawyers, said the incident was unfortunate and promised that such issues would be avoided.
Fayoade said, “I have ordered that the DPO be removed and I have issued a departmental query to the affected DPO. This will go a long way in affecting his departmental progress. We have not in any way stopped lawyers from visiting our cell. Under my mandate, magistrates will be allowed to visit the police stations.
“The issue of what happened to the lawyer is quite unfortunate and we will not tolerate it. When such a situation comes up, I do not think the lawyer is meant to have an altercation with the police officer. Police officers are meant to respect lawyers and lawyers are meant to respect police officers.”
On many occasions, citizens have accused the police of illegal arrest and detention as they do not attempt to arraign them to court. Some of these victims, according to reports, filed fundamental rights enforcement cases against the police for violating their human rights.
In April 2023, the NBA condemned the police for the illegal arrest and detention of its lawyers, Jerry Aondo, Dr Sobere Nelson, and Odum Eyiba, on March 31, 2023.
On December 23, 2023, The PUNCH published a report on the sad tales of victims who accused the police of indiscriminate arrest and illegal detention. Some of those victims were either forced to plead guilty to a crime they never committed or asked to pay exorbitant bail fees.