The Appeal Court in Abuja has affirmed the judgment of the High Court of Federal Capital Territory in a fundamental human rights enforcement suit filed against the Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) and the Nigerian Police Force by an Abuja-based journalist and publisher of FreshNEWS online media, Desmond Utomwen.
Utomwen, a former staff of TheNEWS magazine, had dragged the bank and the Police to court over his molestation at the Area 3, Garki Abuja branch of GTB on December 11, 2009.
The journalist had gone to the bank to cover a protest by some Nigerians over allegations that officials of GTBank were involved in fraudulent withdrawals of large amounts via the bank’s Automated Teller Machines (ATM).
However, policemen attached to the bank and bank officials had descended on him, beat him till he became unconscious and then seized his identity card, N2,000, camera, and digital recorder.
The journalist was subsequently detained at the Garki Police Station for several hours during which he was denied access to medical treatment.
The reporter consequently filed a fundamental rights enforcement suit in court.
In a landmark judgment delivered on 12 October, 2012, Justice Peter Kekemeke of FCT High Court declared that the actions of the GTB and the Police was a violation of the reporter’s right.
The judge held that by their action, the respondents violated the right to freedom of the press and expression as enshrined in Sections 34, 39, and 44 of the Constitution.
Justice Kekemeke also ordered the bank and the Police to pay the sum of N100 million as damages for their wrongful act and to immediately return all the items seized from the journalist.
However, the Police and GTB Bank had appealed the judgment.
Delivering judgment in the appeal on Tuesday, Justice Godswill Amadi of Court of Appeal, Abuja, affirmed the verdict of the lower court.
According to the judge, the appellants did not state anything in the appeal to dispute the facts on which the lower court based its judgment.
the Appellate Court held that the right to protest is an inalienable right of the citizen and a newsworthy event deserving coverage by journalists.
He however reduced the monetary compensation from N100 million to N20 million.
He said: “Honestly, the lower court did a great job in evaluation of the evidence and arrived at correct findings and conclusion on the breach of the fundamental human rights of the first respondent (Desmond Utomwen) by the Police at the behest and active instigation of the appellant.”
Utomwen’s lawyer, Mr Ugochukwu Ezekiel, told journalists that the ruling is another strong warning to law enforcement agencies to desist from violating the human rights of Nigerians.
He added that his client may appeal the reduction of the N100 million awarded by the FCT High Court to N20 million by the Appeal Court.