Miss Ibangha Goodness is a legal practitioner working with a non-governmental organisation based in Enugu, Women Aid Collective. On January 30, 2020, four police officers from Abakpa Police Area Command allegedly invaded her office and brutalised her. Goodness was reportedly collapsed following the alleged assault. She tells RAPHAEL EDE about her experience
On January 30, 2020, I was on the way to my office when I got a call from someone called Okinla Shieye, saying he was the area commander of Abakpa Police Station. He said he wanted me to produce the victim of a rape case that we had reported to the station earlier. I told him the victim was not with me and that we had already petitioned the station. I added that the victim had made her statement. So, if they wanted to get the victim, they should get the information she had already given to them but he insisted that I should be the one to bring down the victim to the station.
In the interest of goodwill, I said I would call her but wasn’t promising to bring the victim there. Since they refused to call the victim, I would call the victim to get to know why she wasn’t going to the station or whether she was at home but I also told him that prior to that time – the last time I spoke to the victim, she said she wasn’t feeling well.
So, did you call the victim as promised?
Yes. I called the victim and asked her; she said she would get to the station before the end of that day. I told her to do so and that the police officers were already asking about her. I made it clear to the area commander that I didn’t have any personal interest in the case and my legal obligation ended when I brought the victim and formally wrote a petition, signed by the head of legal unit of WACOL, which is my organisation.
So, I had no personal interest whatsoever in that case. So after I got to the office, I got to work. I was working on a project upstairs and as work ethics require that you will keep your phone off while working, I went down the stairs to get my modem, only for me to be attacked. That part of our office is always very dark so I didn’t see the person at first. That part is also a restricted area. I was trying to get light to see if I would be able to recognise the person.
As I was trying to get into the communication room, the attacker, who incidentally is police officer, started shouting that he caught me! I was still trying to comprehend or understand what offence I had committed or what I had done. Then I saw three other officers, who were pulling and dragging me. They were hitting and trying to get me out of the office. And as I was asking them what I did, they just kept telling me that they would deal with me. After so much hitting and pulling, one of them who wanted to punch me hit my colleague in the eye instead.
They kicked the door and it forcefully hit me in the face. One of them hit my waist with his elbow. At that point, I became weak. They pulled my clothes, revealing my underwear. They dragged me to their car and took me to their office.
What happened at their office?
When we got to their station, they started accusing me of many things and calling me all manner of names. They would remove their baseball caps and hit me with them. They called a prostitute, slut and other names; they said other terrible things to me. Then they invited the parents of the person accused to have raped someone. The perpetrator’s father threatened that he would get me disbarred from the Nigerian Bar Association. He said I was a prostitute and a slut; one of the officers told me that I was so cheap that even if he was to pay for sex, he was not going to pay if he saw me. He said that our (WACOL) executive director was using me to destroy the image and political career of the perpetrator’s father and that the man was bent on dealing with us.
When I started feeling very thirsty, I asked for water and told them I needed medical attention. At that point, I was very exhausted because of everything that happened. I said I wasn’t feeling well and was very weak, but one of the officers told me that I wouldn’t be the first lawyer to die in custody, that she had seen a lawyer die in custody. The officer said it wouldn’t be new and that I should not make it look strange. The next thing I knew, I saw myself on hospital bed with doctors, nurses and other paramedics around.
Were you formally invited to the police station and you refused?
No. Nobody formally invited me to the station; let’s be clear on that.
How did you get involved with the rape incident that led to this?
On January 30, 2020, our executive director called to tell me to go to the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus, to see a rape victim there. I took a taxi to the place, got across to the victim and from there, we went to the police station to report the case. Subsequently, the police arrested the perpetrator and the victim made a statement at the station. Normally, in making a statement at the police station, you are required to put down your address and phone numbers. I think the victim even provided her two phone numbers to the police.
For every petition we write to the police, using our letterhead, we always write that this is what we have seen so far and we are asking the police to look into it and deal with the matter accordingly. In legal terms, we call this an express referral that this is not within our jurisdiction because criminal issue is not for us to prosecute. Even if we are ever to prosecute a criminal issue, it will be with the fiat granted by the Attorney General. So, we already handed over the matter to the police, whose responsibility it is to pursue such criminal matters. So that was what happened at that time.
Even while we were at the station and all these things were going on, the victim went to the hospital to get a medical report ready. The police already were already asking the victim if the intercourse was consensual or without consent. The police were also telling the victim that the perpetrator’s parents wanted to pay her medical bill and that she should consider settling the matter out of court. They said she should not go to court or take the matter any further. The police made a lot of other comments to the victim in an attempt to dissuade her from going further with the case and also to emotionally destabilise her, so she would not have any grounds to ask for justice.
How did the police try to dampen the victim’s spirits?
One of the comments they made was that since she was up to 21 years old, she should not see sex as a big deal. They asked her if it was the first time she had sex. They also told her that the guy said they had been friends for a while, so she should not be saying she was raped if the guy said they had been friends. Of course, the lady said she had never had any canal knowledge of the boy and did not consent the sex. She told them expressly that she did not consent and was begging and pleading with him not to go ahead with his action but he raped her. She said even after she was raped, he threatened to deal with her. But the police were bent on making her to stop her plan to seek prosecution and I really did not understand why.
Since this incident happened, have those policemen reached out to you to apologise?
I haven’t got any apology from any police officer and I haven’t seen any either after the incident.
Do you know if the police have set up a panel to investigate the matter?
I just found out about the report of the investigation this morning. I have not even gone through it.
Do you think you will get justice?
One thing I am sure of is that the principles of natural justice don’t allow someone to be a judge in their own matter. No matter how fair the person tends to be, you can’t be the judge in your own matter. So if justice should be done, it should be seen to be done. Then, an independent panel should be set up and I don’t even know if the panel will be independent enough to ensure justice in this circumstance.
Did you not make any submission to the panel during the course of the investigation?
I told you earlier that my phone was taken away from me. So, I don’t know if they made any attempt to get to me because I was not with any phone or any means of communication at that time.
Who took your phone from you?
In my office, when they were trying to make me go with them, a police officer collected my phone. It was much later that my office retrieved the phone from the police.
What is your demand in this matter?
I demand that justice should be done. The police overstepped their boundaries when they came to our office to do what they did on January 30. I believe in truth and one of the things that that drive me is never to allow silence prevail.
For a long time, a lot of things have been going wrong and we have been keeping quiet about it. We don’t talk and let these things lie, probably because it hasn’t happened to us directly. So I demand that this matter should be looked into and investigated by an independent body. Any party that is wrong or seen to have committed wrong should be brought to justice. So justice should prevail. We are not going to keep quiet again or let silence prevail. I’m not just talking about the brutalisation, I’m talking about everything they did to my office, me and the rape victim.
If a rape victim sees something like this, it will cause the culture of silence to prevail because other victims will say even somebody who was bold to speak out and her lawyer were treated badly.
It was not just a slap on my face, but a slap on the face of the organisation I work for. It was a slap on the faces of the partners of my organisation, and it was a slap on the face of the Nigerian Bar Association because I am a lawyer that is authorised to practise in Nigeria. So I should not have been treated the way I was treated. I’m supposed to be a princess in the temple of justice, so you cannot just walk into a temple and treat her princess like that. So, justice should be done in the circumstance and those officers must be brought to justice and the matter should be properly investigated so that it does not set a dangerous precedent. We should let officers know that they cannot just do as they like because they have guns.
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