After he was allegedly stripped and beaten by the police on the orders Ikeje Asogwa, his boss, for Permanent Secretary, Enugu State Universal Basic Education Board (ENSUBEB), Onagu Ogbodo, seeks justice before the Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutality and Extra-Judicial Killings, writes MIKE UBANI. .
The Enugu State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutality and Extra-Judicial Killings, will on February 18, 2021, begin hearing on the petition filed by former Permanent Secretary, Enugu State Universal Basic Education Board (ENSUBEB), Onagu Ogbodo, alleging police cruelty against him at the behest of Ikeje Asogwa, the board’s executive chairman.
The panel was set up by the State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, to look into cases of police brutality and human rights abuses following the #ENDSARS protests across the country in October of last year.
When the matter came up on January 21, 2021, Asogwa, the first respondent in the case, was not present in court.
His counsel, Emeka Asogwa, said his client was yet to be invited officially to appear before the panel, though he had earlier filed a reply and a preliminary objection to the petition.
The Panel Chairman, Justice Kingsley Udeh (retd), ruled that since the petition had been served on Ikeje Asogwa – and having filed a reply and preliminary objection to the petition, the panel is not obliged to send an official invitation to him.
The two policemen (2nd and 3rd respondents) who alongside the board chairman allegedly stripped Ogbodo in public glare – beat him mercilessly, were represented by C. E. Nwodo, and R. O. Mogboh, respectively.
In the11-page petition obtained by The AUTHORITY, Ogbodo through his lawyer Ifeanyi Okoli, alleged that the two policemen, acting on the instruction of Ikeje Asogwa, stripped him, and beat him thoroughly inside the board’s premises.
He urged the Panel to compel Ikeje Asogwa, to tender an unreserved letter of apology to him for the “brutal physical attack and police brutalization on November 28, 2017 at ENSUBEB premises.”
Other reliefs sought by Ogbodo in the petition dated November 17, 2020, include:-
“an order or recommendation for immediate removal of Chief Ikeje Asogwa as Chairman, Enugu State Universal Basic Education Board (ENSUBEB) by the State Governor for lack of requisite qualification as required by law, and as a disciplinary sanction for the brutal physical attack and police brutalization … which amounts to a deplorable misconduct incompatible with public service ethics and decorum;
“an order or recommendation for identification and immediate dismissal of the four (4) policemen in the police escort team of Chief Ikeje Asogwa, led by Sgt. Samuel Henshaw, whom he used to carry out the brutal physical attack and police brutalization on him … on the said day which amounts to a deplorable misconduct incompatible with conduct and duties of police officers as enshrined in the Police Act and other extant laws regulating conduct of policemen;
“an order or recommendation against Chief Ikeje Asogwa, Enugu State Government, and the Nigeria Police Force, jointly and severally, for the immediate payment of the sum of N500.000.000(five hundred million naira) as compensation … for the brutal physical attack and police brutalization …by Chief Asogwa, and his police escort team;
“an order or recommendation against the Enugu State Government for immediate payment of my gratuity and any outstanding retirement benefits.”
Ogbodo, who was then permanent Secretary (ENSUBEB) had no premonition that danger lurked ahead when he set out to work on that fateful Tuesday of February 28, 2017.
The AUTHORITY recalls that he was in high spirit when he drove inside the premises of ENSUBEB on Independence Layout, Enugu, the Enugu State capital to commence the day’s job.
According to the petitioner, as he ambled his way through ENSUBEB reception to access the building housing his office, the Chairman of ENSUBEB, Chief Ikeje Asogwa, emerged from nowhere, and in a thunderous voice, ordered him (Ogbodo) “to stop there.” He acquiesced.
That was the beginning of his tribulation, which according to many residents of the Coal City, is uncommon, and even strange, in the annals of the state.
The petitioner told the Panel that as soon as he stopped, Chief Asogwa “slapped him, kicked him, punched him severally” whilst he watched helplessly with no rescuer on sight…as he was surrounded by “four armed policemen who normally accompany Chief Asogwa.”
As if that was not enough, Chief Asogwa, according to the petitioner, ordered the four armed policemen to “beat him, kick him, and to hit him with the butts of their guns.”
At the same time, Chief Asogwa busied himself “pummeling, as well as tearing my clothes in an effort to strip me, and humiliate me.
“These dastardly attacks happened in the premises of ENSUBEB in the public glare between the hours of 8.00 a.m and 8.45 a.m.
“During the attack, some of the early arrivals amongst the few staff who witnessed the incident were afraid to come to my rescue over the brutality being masterminded by their CEO.
“It was some courageous passersby who scaled the ENSUBEB fence (as the ENSUBEB gate was already locked by the security on the directive of Chief Asogwa) to save me from being lynched to death by Chief Asogwa and his police escorts,” said the petitioner.
The petitioner further informed the Panel that some good Samaritans, who watched the horrific attack by Asogwa and his gang, later informed the authorities at the nearby Government House Enugu, about the despicable act going on that morning at ENSUBEB.
He also said that after he had been “rescued and retrieved his phone from his assailants, he called Governor Ugwuanyi who was out of the state, on a trip to Abuja.”
According to Ogbodo, Governor Ugwuanyi assured him that he will dispatch the Deputy Governor, Mrs. Cecilia Ezeilo, the then Secretary to the State Government, Dr. G. O. C. Ajah, and the Chief of Staff, Dr. F. S. A. Uzor, “to go to ENSUBEB, and handle the crisis on his behalf, pending his return to the state later that day.”
He further informed the Panel that the governor’s representatives, including the then Head of Service, Chidi Ezema, arrived ENSUBEB forty minutes later, and interviewed him and Asogwa separately on the circumstances surrounding Asogwa’s brutal attack against him.
According to the petitioner, he and Asogwa met with Governor Ugwuanyi at Government House, that same day by about 8.00 p.m. to discuss the same issue.
He disclosed that the meeting was attended by the Deputy Governor, Mrs. Cecilia Ezeilo, the then Secretary to the State Government, Dr. G. O. C. Ajah, and the Chief of Staff, Dr. F. S. A. Uzor.
And after the two parties (Asogwa and Ogbodo) had made their presentations, Governor Ugwuanyi reportedly “asked the parties to go home and maintain the status quo in our establishment, the ENSUBEB…”
The AUTHORITY recalls that Chief Asogwa’s ‘beastly’ behavior elicited widespread condemnation. Not a few called on Governor Ugwuanyi to remove Asogwa from office.
For instance, the Organized Labour (Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) Enugu State chapters, by a letter dated November 30, 2017, jointly issued a 14-day ultimatum to Governor Ugwuanyi, to remove Chief Asogwa from office, “or they will down tools statewide.”
“Brutalizing of a civil servant by Mr. Ikeje Asogwa with the aid of thugs and policemen is desecration of the public service, and it is totally unacceptable and un-condonable to the Organised Labour, and to the Enugu State Civil/Public Servants,” the letter said.
On its part, the Enugu Association USA Inc. (the umbrella association of Enugu State indigenes resident at the United States of America, who coincidentally were holding their 19th Annual Convention in Enugu during that period, publicly had to withdraw an award that was due to Chief Asogwa in the presence of Governor Ugwuanyi who was their special guest of honour at the event.
Also, the Enugu East Senatorial Zone Traditional Rulers Council, made up of about 90 traditional rulers, and whose leader is HRH Igwe Julius Nnaji, of Nike and Enugu urban, publicly expressed their disappointment over Chief Asogwa’s terrible behavior, and called on the governor to rein him “before he causes more damage to the government.”
Furthermore, Chief M. O. E. Eneh (Ph.D), a public affairs analyst resident in New Jersey US, wrote a public letter to Governor Ugwuanyi, urging him “to do something to prove who is actually in charge of Enugu State.”
Ogbodo in his petition, expressed surprise and disappointment that Governor Ugwuanyi had maintained absolute silence since the ugly incident took place despite the groundswell of condemnation of Chief Asogwa’s brutal attack on him.
The petitioner informed the Panel that rather than reprimand or remove Chief Asogwa from office in line with public opinion, Governor Ugwuanyi “publicly rewarded him with another additional high profile appointment as the secretary of the Governor’s Re-election Campaign Committee for 2019.”
That was not all. The petitioner also informed the Panel that Governor Ugwuanyi re-appointed Chief Asogwa as chairman of ENSUBEB, “against all expectations of the State and its citizenry given Asogwa’s lack of the relevant educational qualifications and experiences…”
The petitioner is further surprised to observe that the Enugu State Government has not up till date approved the payment of his gratuity since his retirement in 2018, while some other Permanent Secretaries who retired after him had been paid.
The petitioner urged the Panel not to sweep the “heinous crime” committed by Chief Asogwa under the carpet, describing it as “the Mother of All Police Brutalities.”
He added that to ignore the petition would “seem as if the Enugu State Government encourages Police brutality on its citizen.”
Chief Asogwa, former managing director of Enugu State Housing Development Corporation, and ex-State Chairman, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is said to have a history of “thuggish behavior, and disdain for due process…”
When hearing begins on February 18, 2021, Asogwa may likely urge the panel to strike out the petition on the ground that matter is beyond its jurisdiction.