A Federal High Court in Lagos has fixed judgment for December 13, 2023, in a N50 million suit filed by The Guardian newspaper reporter, Mr. Eniola Daniel, against the Chairman of the Lagos State Taskforce on Environmental Sanitation and Special Offences, Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) Shola Jejeloye; as well as the Lagos State Government and Police authorities for the brutal assault unleashed on the journalist by policemen of the taskforce.
Eniola alleged that individuals hired by the taskforce, under the supervision of CSP Shola Jejeloye, subjected him to torture and brutality on February 28, 2021, while he was covering the demolition of shanties in the Oshodi area of Lagos.
The Originating Summons, filed on behalf of the journalist by human rights lawyers Ms. Chioma Nwaodike and Ms. Obioma Okonkwo, references various legal frameworks, including the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2019, the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The respondents named in the lawsuit include CSP Jejeloye, the Inspector-General of Police, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, and the Governor of Lagos State.
The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the physical assault, confiscation, and damage of Eniola’s equipment, including a Nikon Digital Camera, Sony Digital Voice Recorder, Bluetooth earphone, and mobile phones by police officers attached to the taskforce on February 28, 2021, violated his fundamental rights to dignity, freedom of expression, and protection from compulsory acquisition of property, as guaranteed by the Constitution and the African Charter.
Eniola also requested that the Court instruct the respondents to jointly and severally pay him N50 million in damages for the violation of his rights to human dignity, freedom of expression, and freedom from compulsory property acquisition.
In a 31-paragraph affidavit submitted to support the lawsuit, journalist recounted the events of February 28, 2021. He narrated how he was covering the demolition activities of the taskforce in Ladipo Market, Oshodi, and was physically assaulted by a thug working with the taskforce members, followed by the involvement of the police officers. He said despite identifying himself as a journalist and explaining his professional duties, the assault continued, resulting in the confiscation and damage of his equipment.
Eniola further described how the police officers threatened him with violence and even death. He said they confiscated and damaged his recording devices and placed him in a police van adding that CSP Jejeloye later ordered the destruction of any remaining evidence of the incident. After his release, Eniola received medical treatment; he provided medical reports and photographs as evidence of the brutality on him.
The Court, presided over by Justice Yellin Bogoro, had previously set hearing dates for April 20, 2023, and June 9, 2023. However, the court could not convene on these dates due to national assignments and other official engagements. The hearing was subsequently adjourned to October 26, 2023, with the agreement of the parties’ lawyers.
During the October 26, 2023 hearing, Eniola was represented by M. U. Arunsi, Esq., while CSP Shola Jejeloye and the Governor of Lagos State were represented by O. A. Arigbebu, Esq. The Lagos State Commissioner of Police and the Inspector-General of Police were not represented.
Arunsi reminded the court of the proceedings of November 29, 2022, in which the court ordered Hearing Notices to be served on the Lagos State Commissioner of Police and the Inspector-General of Police. He confirmed that this order had been duly executed and expressed his readiness to argue the case at the court’s convenience.
Both sides presented their arguments and adopted their respective processes filed. In their joint counter affidavit filed on March 31, 2022, counsel for CSP Shola Jejeloye and the Governor of Lagos State argued that the online reports and photographs attached to the case as evidence were computer-generated. They contended that these documents lacked a certificate of compliance and do not adhere to the provisions of Section 84 of the Evidence Act, 2011. Therefore, they prayed the court to discountenance and disregard the pieces of evidence.
In response to this, Arunsi submitted and pointed out that the argument put forth by the counsel for CSP Shola Jejeloye and the Governor of Lagos State was flawed and misplaced. He emphasized that their interpretation of Section 84 of the Evidence Act, 2011, was not applicable to the current case.
Arunsi clarified that Section 84 typically applies when parties introduce oral evidence and tender documents through witnesses, a common practice in suits initiated by way of Writ of Summons. However, in this particular case, the proceedings began through Originating Summons, and no party intended to call witnesses or tender documents through witnesses.
He stressed that the provisions of Section 84 come into play when issues related to the tendering of documentary evidence and admissibility of same, particularly in cases initiated by Writ of Summons arise. In such scenarios, witnesses are called upon to present and authenticate these documents in the witness box.
He argued that in the present case where the proceedings were initiated by Originating Summons, there is no room for leading evidence in chief and tendering of documentary evidence through witnesses. He said all the necessary evidence had been incorporated in the affidavits and counter-affidavits, which have been sworn on oath. He contended that all that is left for the Court in this regard, is to read and interpret the documents and analyze the affidavit and counter-affidavit facts as they are before it. He urged the court to discountenance the argument of CSP Shola Jejeloye and the Governor of Lagos State and grant the reliefs sought by Eniola. Justice Yellin Bogoro after listening to arguments and submissions of counsel on both sides adjourned the suit to December 13, 2023, for judgment