In April 2020, Abdulazeez Adetola Halima, a 35-year-old entrepreneur, was brutalised by the police in Iwo, Osun State, Southwest Nigeria. She approached the court to enforce her right and on Tuesday the Federal High Court, Osogbo, ordered the police to pay her a sum of N5 million as damages.
Adetola is one of many Nigerians who have suffered abuse by the police but among few who may be compensated for their suffering. However, she wants her attackers prosecuted and reorientated to become better citizens.
Adetola narrated to HumAngle how her ordeal began on April 18, 2020, as seen in the viral video which circulated on social media at the time.
She said that she had gone out that afternoon to get some medicines to treat her two-year-old daughter of an ear infection in Iwo.
“The police officer came at me wielding a whip and asked me whether I lived here to which I responded, no.
“I was just about telling him my reason for being out during the lockdown but he didn’t allow me to finish my sentence before he started whipping me,” she said.
Adetola said she told the policeman that he could not treat her that way, especially as she was a woman. But the statement only further aggravated the situation, with the second policeman joining his colleague in brutalising her with a baton, she said.
She said her offence was leaving her home during the lockdown meant to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
At the time, President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered a lockdown, with everyone but essential workers expected to stay at home.
“Initially, after realising who I was, seeing that my family is quite prominent in Iwo, they began remarking that why didn’t I mention who I was in the car while we were on our way to the station.
“I had to ask them, why should I? So that they wouldn’t batter me? Does it matter who I am for me to be harassed or not?” Adetola asked.
The video had already gone viral and she had earlier posted her own pictures stating how she had been battered by the police. Her husband also reached out to the commissioner of police before the police began scrambling to pacify her.
“I told them right there and then, they needed to explain to me what I had done to warrant what happened.
“My husband decided and informed them that we would meet in court.”
Due to the COVID-19 restrictions at the time, the proceedings were delayed until June when the courts resumed.
During the intervening period, the police tried reaching out to her directly and through others, but not without threats.
“People tried calling me and also went through my family to slyly threaten me, saying the police have their way of avenging those who go against them. I assured them that despite the threats, I would see it through to the end,” Adetola said.
Although the commissioner of police instructed that the two policemen involved be arrested and with a court order of N5 million to be paid in damages, Adetola still doesn’t feel like justice has fully been served.
“More can be done because it’s not all about money. It’s about using those officers to set an example for other rogue policemen. They can’t go scot-free.
“What I expect is for these men to be arraigned criminally and let people know that what they did was wrong.
“I don’t support the dismissal of policemen because they turn around and become rogue agents in society.
“I’m all about rehabilitating and educating them. Most of them are thugs, political thugs recruited into the force probably because they served their political bosses well. They are rewarded by being given a slot. Some of them don’t understand the uniforms they are wearing.
“We should respect people and the offices we hold. We shouldn’t use them to threaten the lives of other people,” Adetola said.
Abiodun Sonaike, a partner at Lithos Legal Consult based in Osogbo, was one of the lawyers involved in Adetola’s case.
He told HumAngle how he came about representing her through one of the associates of his law firm in Abuja, Pelumi Olajengbesi & Co.
“It was actually his office who took over the matter but with the incident happening in Osun State, he had to look for someone competent to handle the case, which is how I came in and we represented Adetola,” he said.
The case which was taken pro bono by both offices, was filed in June last year after the lockdown restrictions were eased.
Sonaike said the police denied everything and said those responsible for brutalising her were not police officers but men wearing the police uniform.
“But based on video and picture evidence, it proved they actually were, ” he said.
The lawyer said he predicted the defence of the police and was prepared to counter it.
Sonaike said the evidence was key to the outcome of the case and was very carefully thought out.
“They (the police) filed a counter-affidavit which was strongly contested and the judge was convinced that it was the police who were responsible,” Sonaike said.
It took around seven months before a decision was reached by the court, which “wasn’t too long,” Sonaike said.
“When it comes to enforcing fundamental human rights matters, it doesn’t take very long. The court always gives it priority so that it will be attended to on time,” he said.
Sonaike expressed confidence that the police would pay the money to Adetola and added: “I can’t say it is an easy task to get the police to pay, but I can assure you that this money will be paid.”