OPEN LETTER TO HON. ATTORNEY GENERAL OF AKWA IBOM STATE
April 2nd, 2015
The Honourable Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice of Akwa Ibom State
Ministry of Justice
State Secretariat Complex
Akwa Ibom State
My Dear Attorney General, Mr. Uwemedimo Nwoko
RE: THE CURIOUS CASE OF ODUDU ALBERT UKPANAH
Congratulations on your appointment as the Honorable Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State
Recall that between the years 2014 and 2015 we have spoken to each other only twice. On both occasions, we spoke on phone. The first occasion, as I recall, was back in May 2014 when the young man Odudu Albert Ukpanah, was arrested and detained, at Police Headquarters, Ikot Akpan Abia, Uyo, on the allegation of murdering his father. Fate would have it that I was the lawyer his family contacted to secure his administrative bail from police custody. But because I was, and still am, practicing in Lagos, and the matter was rather urgent and required immediate legal intervention, my challenge then was which competent and trustworthy Uyo-based lawyer I could refer the brief. I did not have to think far, because you naturally came to mind, and for good reason. I then called you, the first time in years, to sound you out on the possibility of your standing in for that helpless young man.
I called you on this occasion because you have been for many an advocate of the masses. A Gani Fawehinmi of sorts. Indeed, growing up, I knew of no other lawyer that fitted this sensational mold in Akwa Ibom State, until you appeared on the scene in that fateful case in 1999 or thereabouts. The case, as I recall, was an extremely sensational and tensed one involving a murder allegation against a high-ranking member of society. I am sure you still recall the highwired drama that attended that case. The dramatis personae, at least the central character, was no less a person than the then-just-retired Chief of Air Staff (“CAS”), Air Marshall Nsikak Eduok. The alleged victim, a young peasant of sorts, recruited as a domestic staff of the CAS, was allegedly murdered within the CAS’ premises in Uyo. He was reportedly found hanging lifeless from his neck, strung to a ceiling. Due to the surrounding circumstances of this boy’s death, the deceased’s family cried foul to the high heavens, but there was none to help, or so it seemed, until providence brought you into the case, to right an alleged wrong. It was then said that the deceased’s family, being indigent, could barely afford your services but, as the folklore goes, you took up the brief pro bono, as a duty to society. But you were to pursue this case so inexorably and uncompromisingly, as though you were paid a fortune, until the deceased’s family, and indeed the society at-large, were satisfied that justice had been done.
You, Sir, thereafter became famous, at least in Akwa Ibom State, as the people’s hero, a defender of conscience and human rights crusader. I know that you proceeded to handle several other prominent and/or sensational cases, and in most instances pitched your tent with the oppressed against the oppressor, à la Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN.
Now, you recall that on the same day of your swearing-in as AG AKS I again called to congratulate you. This was the second occasion of our speaking to each other in years. I was extremely happy to see a cerebral and vibrant lawyer occupy such exalted office. Indeed, the entire Human Rights community, which I suppose is your primary constituency, rejoiced in your appointment and is hopeful for positive judicial reforms during your tenure. For whereas a man once demanded for where to stand to move the world, you Sir have now been given, not a mere foothold, but an entire apparatus of a State, as Chief Law Officer, to effect change. You now have the golden opportunity to acquit yourself in the eyes of the public as a man who still prefers social justice to personal gain, notwithstanding the change in status. This is how we once knew you, when you were a feisty human rights advocate, and this is what we will unremittingly demand of your tenure as AG AKS.
The other choice you have would be to consign the rich history of your selfless exertions for the masses as a human rights activist to the dustbin and settle down to enjoy Government patronage at the expense of the oppressed. For human nature being what it is, there is always a danger that power and wealth would corrupt even the most noble and well-intentioned men. Not long ago in this country, it was reported that a once renowned human rights activist and social critic, was asked after his appointment as a high ranking official in the PDP-led government why he was so uncharacteristically quiet on social and political issues since his appointment, and he is famously (or notoriously) quoted as responding that he could not “talk while eating.” While I cannot confirm the authenticity of this story, I believe the punch line in the anecdote serves for a good lesson for my subject here. I must necessarily take a cue therefrom and ask you, our onceupon-a-time social crusader and human rights activist: having found yourself in a government that shares the “National Cake” among its inner circle, can you still talk for the masses while eating?
I ask these questions because Akwa Ibom State has had an unenviable record of human rights abuses, at least from 2008 till date. And I say this without in the least discounting the relative positive strides recorded by the State Government in other areas, especially infrastructure development. Sadly, in spite of this silver lining, too many people have been murdered in the political circle in Akwa Ibom, and nobody is being held accountable for their deaths. And you must understand that given a choice, these people who have been murdered or assassinated would have preferred their lives to good roads, five-star hotels or even a beautiful stadium. This is because self-preservation is understandably the first and paramount law of nature and there really is no substitute to life or living. Human blood has never been and should never be a constituent ingredient for personal or societal development. Society must at all times be content with making do with cement, granite, tar, aluminum, bitumen et al, but never human blood, for its constructions.
Sadly, these crimes remain largely unsolved. Now, as AG AKS, the de jure and de facto Chief Law Officer of the State, these “cold case” files will be on your table. While you are at it, I will recommend to you a test case to work with, the facts of which you, no doubt, are already well aware: THE CURIOUS CASE OF ODUDU ALBERT UKPANAH. As earlier said, you were the first lawyer I called when I was briefed to handle this matter. But by then you were already holding a Government appointment and perhaps were being considered for the position of AG, which, I think, is why our discussion on this case could not progress. I find it to be such a dramatic twist of fate that you, whom I almost briefed to be the defense Counsel in this case, have in a roundabout manner become the prosecutor. Nonetheless, I continue to have absolute faith in your sense of fairness and justice regardless of your change of status.
Odudu Albert Ukpanah is a young Petroleum Engineer, who holds a degree from the prestigious Coventry University in the United Kingdom. You also know that he is presently rotting away at Ikot Ekpene Medium Security Prisons on a charge of murder of his father. Yes, he has been detained there for more than nine (9) months now, initially on the orders of a Magistrate who had no jurisdiction to hear the case at all, to say nothing of issuing orders. Meanwhile, Odudu is the only son of his parents. While his father, Chief Albert Ukpanah, a high-ranking PDP Chieftain in Akwa Ibom State, was assassinated in cold-blood in his home on March 12th, 2014, his mother is a sickly woman who is currently undergoing Chemotherapy for cancer. She is also ill with Parkinson and Arthritis. As you would imagine, every new day is a rare gift for such a sickly woman. Her time is ticking. Yet her only son, who should be tending to her at this moment, is presently incarcerated by the State for no reason. FOR NO REASON, I said!!!
For the records, we all know that Chief Albert Ukpanah, in his lifetime, was a vociferous opponent of Chief Godswill Akpabio’s Senatorial ambition. He was more favorably disposed to a candidate from any of the Local Governments comprising the “Abak 5” sub-region, for the sake of equity. The news is that he was also opposed to Chief Godswill Akpabio’s ambition to singlehandedly install his preferred candidate as successor to the office of Governor of the State. Lest we forget, Chief Ukpanah had immense clout in Akwa Ibom State politics. He is said to have wielded immense influence and control over, and earned the loyalty of many of, the delegates who were to ultimately decide the fate of aspirants during the last PDP primaries in the State.
For this very reason, Chief Ukpanah could have been, to any given aspirant, either a powerful friend or a dangerous enemy, depending on whether he supported your ambition or was opposed to it. Notably, few weeks to the PDP primaries, he was murdered. According to the Police Investigation Report filed in Court by the erstwhile Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State in support of the murder charge pending against Odudu Ukpanah, it was a politically motivated murder! But Odudu is not a politician.
It really was an interesting and almost comical turn of event that Odudu Ukpanah was summarily arrested and detained in Ikot Akpan Abia on May 27th, 2014 by the Police, on allegation of murdering his father. This was barely three (3) days after Chief Ukpanah’s burial.
In my humble opinion, this was the very first injustice done to this young man. How, in a sane society, do you arrest and detain a person on suspicion of committing such a drastic offense when (1) the suspicion is not reasonable by any standard and (2) the suspicion is without a shred of evidence whatsoever. As you know, Section 36 of the Constitution clearly states that a person can only be deprived of his fundamental right to liberty upon a reasonable suspicion of having committed the alleged offense. The suspicion must firstly be reasonable, otherwise the arrest and detention would be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has held, in a plethora of cases, that it is not only wrong, but also grossly and manifestly unjust, to make an arrest before searching for evidence incriminating a suspect. To be doubly sure of this principle, I would have to refer to the dictum of Uwaifo JSC in Fawehinmi v. Inspector-General of Police  All NLR 357 at 374, par. F where His Lordship said:
“I think I can say this that in a proper investigation procedure, it is
unlawful to arrest until there is sufficient evidence upon which to
charge and caution a suspect. IT IS COMPLETELY WRONG TO
ARREST, LET ALONE TO CAUTION A SUSPECT, BEFORE THEY
LOOK FOR EVIDENCE IMPLICATING HIM” (Underlining and Upper
Case Furnished for emphasis)
This position was also reiterated by the Court of Appeal, per Omage JCA, in Ekanem v. A. I.
- P. (2008) 5 NWLR (Pt. 1079) 97 at 111 paras. D – E when His Lordship also stated
“In the applicant’s claim, which requires a declaration as to his right of
claim to unlawful arrest and detention though the constitution provides
for arrest on reasonable suspicion. SUCH SUSPICION DOES NOT AMOUNT
TO DETENTION IN ANTICIPATION OF A CHARGE OF MURDER WHERE
THERE IS NO REASONABLE SUSPICION ON WHICH A CHARGE MAY BE
MADE AGAINST THE PERSON. IT IS ANTICIPATED THAT AS IN A CASE OF
A CRIME, SUCH SUSPICION REFERRED TO MUST BE ONE BEYOND
REASONABLE DOUBT. SEE SECTION 139 EVIDENCE ACT. (Underlining and
Uppercase for emphasis)
In Odudu’s case, the reverse has been the case. He was hurriedly arrested, detained, charged before a Court that had no jurisdiction, then remanded till date in Prison custody, without a shred of evidence linking him to his father’s death. In fact, all the circumstantial evidence in this case seems to point away from Odudu, rather than to him. Now, speaking of a Court without jurisdiction, it should be noted that few days after Odudu’s arrest and detention at the Police Station, he was bundled before a Magistrate’s Court in Abak, on a Murder Charge. Now we all know that the Magistrate’s Courts in Akwa Ibom State do not have juridiction in murder cases, but still Odudu Ukpanah was first arraigned before a Magistrates Court, which in turn ordered his remand in prison. I understand that even when his lawyers tried to raise objection to the Court’s jurisdiction, the presiding Magistrate is reported to have curtly shut down the lawyer and proceeded to order his remand in Ikot Ekpene Prisons regardless. Whatever the Supreme Court of Nigeria has variously said regarding the unconstitutionality of a “holding charge” was obviously lost on the Magistrate on this particular occasion. For some reason, His Worship would have none of it. While I would not say that the entire arraignment seemed starkly scripted, I honestly think it left too much to be desired.
The real drama however unfolded when your predecessor, Mr. Ekpeyong Ntekim, did a yeoman’s job of hurriedly piecing together an unbelievably poor and scandalously self-defeating “Information” upon which Odudu was eventually charged before the High Court for the murder of his father. To really understand just how scandalous this document emanating from the office of an Attorney General was, one only has to look at the “Proof of Evidence” supporting the socalled “Information.” Firstly, the Criminal Procedure Rules of Akwa Ibom State clearly states that no charge is to be filed against an accused person unless investigation has been concluded in the case. This is quite understandable because the law expects that the State must have obtained prima facie evidence against such a suspect before arresting and arraigning him before a Court. At least the Supreme Court said so in Fawehinmi v. Inspector-General of Police quoted above.
But not so in Odudu Ukpanah’s case. In the accompanying Police Investigation Report filed by the Attorney General as part of the State’s Proof of Evidence to show Odudu’s culpability in his father’s death, it is clearly stated by the investigating police officer (“IPO”) that investigations were still ongoing in the case and that the Police needed more time to conclude same and unravel the real killers of Chief Ukpanah. As a matter of fact, as at the date of filing the “Information” against Odudu, the State Security Service were said to still be analyzing the call log from the phone of the deceased and had not yet handed in their findings. Yet in spite of this admission of inconclusive investigations, the then Attorney General still proceeded to file a charge against Odudu on which basis this young man, a United Kingdom trained Petroleum Engineer, is still behind bars till this very day. As a comic relief, I hear this same Mr. Ekpeyong Ntekim recently attempted to vie for the office of Governor of Akwa Ibom State. Quite an unbelievable effrontery he has. I can only thank God, for the sake of the State, that he was never given the chance.
Moving on, is it not terribly embarrassing that in the Police Report filed by the then Attorney General as part of the Proof of Evidence to prove Odudu’s guilt, the police officer who investigated Chief Ukpanah’s assassination concluded that from his investigations so far, he was convinced that the murder was politically motivated and that he needed more time to unveil the real killers of Chief Ukpanah? It is simply beyond belief that an Attorney General would file and seek to rely on such finding in the Police Report as evidence to prove that the murder was otherwise than a politically motivated murder, even if he was under pressure to do so. Indeed, the PDP-led Akwa Ibom State Government’s handling of this matter is so shoddy and bungling that even the most impassive onlooker would know that something is amiss. Imagine that all the witnesses on whose testimony the Attorney General seeks to rely to prove Odudu’s guilt are all Odudu’s neighbors who responded to Odudu’s desperate cry for help in the dead of the night, after he found his father lying dead in a pool of blood. Curiously, in all their written statements to the Police, none of them has said anything remotely incriminating of Odudu or even contradictory to Odudu’s own statement to the Police. In fact, Odudu himself reportedly took these witnesses to the Police Station to give their own accounts of what transpired that fateful night, to corroborate his accounts. But by some ironic twist and in what seems like a poorly rehearsed prosecutorial charade, we now have would-be defense witnesses who have been conscripted by the prosecution but are nonetheless insistent on testifying in favor of the accused.
Meanwhile, I recall that when Odudu’s lawyers applied for his bail, the then Attorney General promptly filed a Counter Affidavit opposing same. In this Counter Affidavit, the Attorney General alleged, for the first time, that Odudu killed his father in concert with one of his neighbors. But it turned out that this hapless neighbor mentioned in the Counter-Affidavit, as an accomplice or accessory to murder, was nothing more than a Good Samaritan who went to assist, as many others did, upon hearing Odudu’s alarm. Interestingly, this side of the State’s story was never borne out in their so-called Information upon which Odudu was charged, neither was it even alluded to in the Police Investigation Report or other documents in the Proof of Evidence. It came up, for the first time, during the bail proceedings. Can you imagine that?
Eventually, I understand that the Police were constrained to invite this unfortunate Samaritan for questioning and promptly released him when they found nothing incriminating about or against him. Meanwhile, the supposed other accomplice, Odudu, continues to rot in jail. What really is going on?
I must also mention that while this matter has been pending at the High Court, we have been extremely concerned with the tactics employed by officers of your offices to interminably delay its hearing. I was personally present in Court on at least one occasion where Odudu was bundled from prison to Court manacled and heavily guarded for a proceeding or the other, only for lawyers from the Ministry of Justice to tumble unprepared into Court with specious claims of having just seen the file for the first time or having forgotten the file in Chambers, just to have the case further adjourned and Odudu bundled back to Prison. This happened more than once, if my memory serves me well.
Clearly, Odudu Ukpanah’s case is without precedence in the history of Akwa Ibom State, and perhaps Nigeria. Thanks to the PDP-led Government in Akwa Ibom State Government, we now have Odudu Ukpanah holding the singular but unenviable honor of being the only political prisoner in a democratic dispensation, in the recent history of the entire country. These are things we only hear of, but pray never to experience, in despotic and tyrannical regimes, but never in a democracy.
I keep wondering why this young man is being put through this sort of ordeal. In my wonderment, personal calls have been made to highly placed individuals to intervene in this matter to no avail. I believe that Chief Ukpanah is dead and gone, and can no longer cause hurt to anybody’s political ambition. Let the “sins” of the father not be visited on the son, I pray you, because whatever point was intended through the savage murder of Chief Ukpanah by the mastermind(s), has been resoundingly and dreadfully acknowledged by the citizenry. Chief Ukpanah’s blood, spilt on the day of his murder, was red enough. There is really no further need to exterminate Chief Ukpanah’s male lineage to emphasize an already moot point. That, to my mind, would be overkill.
So there you are, Sir, the Honorable Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State. There is your first test case to deal with. What do you plan to do about this matter, Sir? Surely, you will not seek to perpetuate or continue the injustices of your predecessor against this defenseless victim of State oppression. This might be difficult to reconcile considering your rich background as a human rights activist. I trust you are a better man than that. To my mind, it would certainly be very honorable of you to immediately withdraw, or advise your boss to withdraw, the spurious charge against this young man and let Odudu rejoin his family to mourn their father in peace. Really, should he not regain his freedom to spend what little time is left with his sick mother, just in case she does not pull through her debilitating illnesses? Is this entire episode not wholly unjust, and sadly so?
In encouraging you to do the right thing in the circumstances, I would finally admonish you to heed the instructive words of the frighteningly apposite scriptures in Job 31: 21 – 23, as follows:
“If I have raised my hand against the fatherless, knowing that I had
influence in court, then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let it be broken
off at the joint. For I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his
splendor I could not do such things.” (New International Version)
My dear Attorney General, if I could not persuade you with legal authorities to do the right thing in this case, I have now cited from the Holy Writ, the pre-eminent fountain of all just and righteous laws by which we ourselves will be judged, to further appeal to your conscience.
Because after all said and done I still hope that for conscience sake you can and would speak up for the oppressed, as you once used to. This might prove a bit tricky, but I am sure you can manage it, Sir.
Fidel Sylvanus Albert
Barrister and Solicitor of the OPEN LETTER TO HON. ATTORNEY GENERAL OF AKWA IBOM STATE
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