Acquittal Of University Of Uyo Students: A Victory Over Tyranny And Gross Human Rights Violation

October 24, 2014.


By: Inibehe Effiong

On Wednesday, October 22, 2014, an Uyo High Court presided over by Hon. Justice Joy Unwana of Court 7 discharged and acquitted 40 of the 44 innocent students of the University of Uyo who were arbitrarily arrested, incarcerated and arraigned in connection with students’ demonstration in the institution on June 12, 2013 against oppressive policies.

The management of the institution had invited anti-riot policemen to brutally suppress what was clearly a peaceful protest by students. The police in the most unprofessional manner exuded maximum force by firing live bullets which resulted in the death of Kingsley Udoette, a student of the Department of Zoology.

Kingsley was ostensibly hit by a stray bullet fired by the police.

Following the provocative murder of Kingsley Udoette, the peaceful protest turned violent, leading to the destruction of some structures and facilities in the institution. Aftermath of this led to the closure of the university and the police embarked on arbitrary arrest of 44 innocent students.

Upon the reopening of the school, each Engineering student of University of Uyo was mandated to pay the sum of N10,000 while students in other departments paid N7,500 for the damaged properties. The school management did not stop at that; rather than probe the death of Kingsley, they colluded with the police and the Akwa Ibom State Government to subject the 44 arrested students to a very frivolous and senseless criminal prosecution.

In a primitive show of force, the police, in a gestapo manner took the 44 students before an Uyo Chief Magistrate Court presided over by Chief Magistrate Lawrence S. Udonwa, on trump-up charges of murder, arson among others.

The Chief Magistrate declined jurisdiction in the matter; but instead of discharging the students accordingly, surprisingly made a committal order remanding the students in the Uyo Prisons pending the decision and advice of the State Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) under the cover of the notorious practice of ‘Holding Charge’- a practice which was deprecated by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the much cited case of Enwere versus Commissioner of Police [1993] 6 NWLR (Pt. 299) 333. The apex court in that case had declared the practice unconstitutional.

The 44 affected students were incarcerated in prison custody for several months over what they knew nothing about. Their poor parents and guardians spent hundreds of thousands of naira for the services of lawyers except for the few that we were able to secure pro bono (free) legal services for. One of the students developed mental illness while in prison; his condition deteriorated after his release from custody that he had to halt his studies.

Not satisfied, the Akwa Ibom State Government preferred charges against the students in the High Court.

The Judge, Hon. Justice Joy Unwana, a fearless and reputable judge, in his ruling discharged and acquitted the 40 students the ground that no prima facie case has been made out against them by the prosecution as the prosecution could not establish any link between the accused persons and the commission of the crime.

In respect of the four remaining students whose lawyers had failed to file the motion to quash the vexatious charges, the court gave them yet another opportunity to do so.

Of the nine police officers who testified as witnesses, none of them could identify any of the accused persons as having taken part in the alleged crimes. It was disclosed from the witnesses’ evidence that the police did not even enter inside the school premises (the scene of the crime).

The Judge queried how they could have identified the culprits? He found from evidence before the court that most (if not all) of the accused persons were arrested at various locations in Ikpa road, Ikot Ekpene road, and Udi street etc, all in Uyo, and that none was arrested at the scene of the crime.

The court noted that no Nigerian citizen should be subjected through the rigours of a trial except prima facie case can be established against him; and in order to establish a prima facie case, the information must not only disclose the offence charged, but must also disclose the circumstances upon which it can be justly inferred that the accused could have committed the offence, and that suspicion, no matter how strong, cannot ground a conviction.

In support of this trite principle of law, His Lordship cited with approval the Supreme Court cases of; Ikomi V State, Abacha V State, Suleiman V State, FRN V Nwabara, State V Ikemson).

As an obiter, the Learned Judge condemned the action of the police and the DPP.  He stated that the practice in which the police arrest people indiscriminately whenever a crime is committed portends disaster to criminal justice  administration in Nigeria and that the State DPP being aware of this went ahead to arraign the accused persons. He concluded by saying that anything done by man to his fellow man must have its reward either in this world or in the world to come.

I am delighted that the judiciary has once again issued a strong message to the Nigerian state and its lawless institutions. The University of Uyo management have sinned not just against those poor students but against God and nature. It is very shameful that an academic institution could condescend so low and exude such contempt for the rights of Nigerians with atavistic impunity.

Is it not most imbecilic that the police and the Akwa Ibom State Government could charge 44 people for shooting and killing one person (Kingsley Udoette) with one bullet? This is a clear case were the killers are looking for the killers. The blood of Kingsley Udoette continues to cry for justice.

Instead of indulging in wasteful and pointless organization of periodic hypocritical solemn assemblies, the University of Uyo management should adhere to the dictates of truth and justice. The university can start with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the June 12, 2013 crisis in the school.

The current state of the Nigerian Police Force is irreformable. What we need now in this country is not cosmetic police reforms but an entirely new police service. We need a Judicial Commission of Enquiry into cases of extra-judicial murders and other human rights abuses by the police.

I congratulate the 40 acquitted students for their epochal victory over their oppressors. However, I must note the conspiratorial silence of the civil society, the human rights community and the main stream media on this case. Selective activism and advocacy is itself a form of dictatorship.

We appreciate the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), and the Joint Action Front (JAF) for their solidarity and the few lawyers, activists, journalists and media organizations that stood by us during this struggle.

Inibehe Effiong is a Human Rights Activist.

He led the Free UNIUYO 44 Campaign.

He can be reached via +2348065142135 or [email protected]