After close to 1 and a half years, Uzoma Okere, the young lady who was infamously dragged out of her car, stripped of her clothing and beaten on a busy Lagos street in November 2008 for not moving her car quickly enough out of the way for some officials of the Nigerian navy, was given the justice she so richly deserved.
Delay tactics from the defendants' lawyers notwithstanding, on Wednesday, January 27 Justice Opeyemi Oke of the Lagos High Court awarded N100 million damages to Ms. Okere and Mr. Abdullahi Abdulazeez (a passenger in her car who was also physically assaulted by the ratings) and ordered that a public apology be made to them through the media. She found Rare Admiral Harry Arogundade, four naval ratings, and the Nigerian Navy guilty of violating the rights of the applicant to dignity.
When delivering her verdict in the case, Justice Oke noted that there are three issues for determination by the court:
1. The court was to determine whether the applicants succeeded in establishing that their fundamental rights was infringed upon;
2. Whether the 1st and 6th defendants (Mr. Arogundade and the Nigerian Navy) are liable for infringing on the rights of the applicants;
3. If the applicants are entitled to the reliefs being sought by them.
The footage shot of the event by a witness from the nearby PriceWaterHouse office building was invaluable in proving the 1st point, as it was obvious from the recording that Ms. Okere and Mr. Abdulazeez did indeed have their rights violated.
According to the article in NEXT, she stated:
"I saw 4 officers in naval uniform, two were holding guns; the 1st applicant was being dragged on the road by the two officers; the applicant became naked from waist to her chest with only her black brazier on." She resolved that the applicant's right was indeed violated.
"She was beaten, pushed, pulled, dragged and made naked with her upper anatomy exposed to all sort of eyes; her private property became the object of a cinema for those who witnessed the unfortunate and disgraceful incident." she said.
Pertaining to the naval ratings that perpetrated the act, Justice Oke said "the officers can be described as barbaric in uniform, who have no respect for womanhood, they have no fear of God. It has got to a time when such officers may have to undergo psychiatric test before being employed."
In determining the 2nd issue i.e. if the 1st and 6th respondents are liable, the judge noted that an employee is the agent of his employer, and such is liable for the wrong doing of his employee.
When summing up, Justice Oke had a wish:
"Blessed shall be the day when civilians will see uniformed men, armed or unarmed officers, and feel secured without any anxiety for their lives. Blessed shall be the day when uniformed men will treat civilians on the road with respect and come to the realisation that they are citizens of the country who are to be protected," declared Justice Oke.
I pray for that day too, because for too long, the uniform has been used by many who wear it to oppress and take advantage of the very citizens these people are meant to protect.
I am happy that justice was served in this case, though it is painful still to know that these ratings and Mr. Arogundade are still serving in the Navy. I Nigeria still has a very lax attitude towards implementing punishment to wrong-doers. This continues to send the message that injustice, corruption, oppression and all manner of violations of the law are permitted by the very institutions that are supposed to be the enforcers of law and order.
Yesterday I saw a police convoy of 2 cars belligerently barge their way through the tedious traffic on Ozumba Mbadiwe. Are they in anymore of a hurry or traffic-averse than the rest of us? Or are they merely abusing the power that their uniform has given them? I think so.
Watch the footage
Violence against women in Nigeria