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 the students’ demonstrated in the institution on June 12, 2013 against oppressive policies.
It would be recalled that 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 a male student of the Department of Zoology of the school by name Kingsley Udoette, who was ostensibly hit by a stray bullet fired by the police since there is no iota of evidence that any other person aside the policemen used arms during the duration of the crisis.
Following the provocative murder of Kingsley Udoette, the peaceful protest turned violent, leading to the destruction of some structures and facilities of the institution. This led to the closure of the university. The police then embarked on a reckless and arbitrary arrest of 44 innocent students that they were able to lay their lawless hands on from their off campus hostel along Udi Street in Uyo and on the road.
Upon the reopening of the school, each engineering student of University of Uyo was made to pay the sum of N10,000 while other students paid N7,500 as surcharge for the damaged properties. Despite the death of a student and the payment of surcharge by students, the Prof. Comfort Ekpo-led management of the school still 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, even when they knew that only the state High Court have the jurisdiction over these offences.
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  6 NWLR (Pt. 299) 333. The apex court in that case had declared the practice unconstitutional.
Following the remand order, 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 a mental illness while in prison. His condition deteriorated after his release from custody which led to the suspension of his studies.
Not satisfied, the Akwa Ibom State Government preferred charges against the students in the High Court. Finally, the judiciary has risen to its historic responsibility as the last hope of the common man, the shield of the oppressed and the guardian of the rights of the citizens.
The Learned trial Judge, Hon. Justice Joy Unwana, a fearless and reputable judge, in ruling on the application to quash the charges filed by lawyers to 40 of the 44 students discharged and acquitted the 40 students on charges of conspiracy, unlawful assembly, arson, and murder on 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 9 police officers who testified as with witnesses, non 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 non 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 that 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.
University of Uyo management has lost its conscience and have crossed all known boundaries of decency in its desperate but failed attempt to downplay the very core issues of oppression, corruption and bad policies which led to the student protest.
As the Learned Judge said obiter; they will have their reward.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org