A Federal High Court sitting in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State capital, has ordered the state police command to release a former chairman of the Ikwo local government area in the state, Chief Moses Onyema Nwekoyo, and Nwabueze Alegu, who have been in detention for weeks over alleged conspiracy, forgery, and advance fee fraud.
On October 28, 2023, the state police command paraded Nwabueze Alegu and Moses Onyema Nwekoyo for allegedly defrauding one Emmanuel Ede Nnaji from Enugu State of the sum of N54 million.
The State Police Public Relations Officer, SP Onome Onovwakpoyeya, told journalists that Nwabueze, his wife Chinyere, and Nwekoyo committed conspiracy, forgery, and advance fee fraud by selling people’s land.
“This is a case of conspiracy/forgery of title document and advance fee fraud, reported through a written petition against the suspects, Alegu Chinyere, Alegu Nwabueze, and Moses Onyema.
“Forged title documents were recovered from them; they defrauded Mr Emmanuel Nnaji Ede of Enugu, and the sum of fifty-four million naira (N54,000.000) and twenty-one million, three hundred and ninety thousand naira (N21,390,000) was recovered from Alegu Nwabueze’s bank account”, she stated.
But Alegu and Nwekoyo denied any involvement in land fraud, saying that they genuinely transacted land business with relevant documents and described allegations against them as untrue.
Since October 28, the duo has been in police custody, prompting their lawyer, Bar. Godffery Chika Ogbuinya, to approach a federal high court sitting in Abakaliki, the state capital, for enforcement of their fundamental human rights in suit no. FHC/AI/CS/197/2023.
The State Commissioner of Police, Mrs Augustina Ogbodo, SP Fabian Iloabanafor, Inspector Cghukwudi Okpara, the IPO on the matter, Emmanuel Ede Nnaji, Obinna Agu, and Chief Celestine Okah are the defendants in the suit.
The court, presided over by Justice H. A. Nganjiwa, in an ex parte order, ordered the police command to unconditionally release Chief Moses Onyema Nwekoyo and Nwabueze Alegu forthwith from detention facilities pending the determination of the substantive suit.
“That an order is made that the Respondents grant the applicant bail on such terms and conditions as they deem fit or charge him to the appropriate court with competent jurisdiction for whatever offence he has committed, if any.
“Alternatively, it is hereby ordered that the respondents produce the applicant before this court on the next adjourned date to come and show cause why the applicant should not be released on bail.
“That the matter be adjourned to November 22, 2023, for hearing”, the ex parte order, a copy of which was obtained by the New Telegraph on November 16, 2023, stated.
Addressing journalists in Abakaliki, counsel to Chief Moses Onyema Nwekoyo and Nwabueze Alegu accused the police command of disobeying the court order by not releasing the suspects or charging them to court.
He said, “This is over a matter pending at the federal high court in Abakaliki, wherein the Commissioner of Police in the state and the O/C in charge of Monitoring and Surveillance arrested Onyema Nwekoyo and Nwabuze Alegu and kept them in detention facilities for close to 50 days now, as against their fundamental human rights, whereby the law says that within 48 hours, a suspect arrested by the police should be charged to court.
“We have a state high court, we have a magistrate court, and we have a federal high court, and they have refused to charge these named persons for an alleged offence of forgery, ordinary forgery, which has not been proved by any court.
“We have gone there over and over; they collected N850,000 from Mrs Chinyere Alegu, the wife of Nwabueze, collected N1 million from Onyema Nwekoyo as administrative bail, and further re-arrested him. He has been kept in their detention facility for 50 days now.
“On the 17th of this month, I went to court to enforce their rights, and the court graciously granted an application and ordered their unconditional release. To date, the police have blatantly neglected to release these people as against the court order.
“The court also said if the police refused to release them, they should produce them before the court on Wednesday, and that is the 22nd of this month.
“The reason why Nigerian youths went to protest against Endsars is still going on in Ebonyi State. A situation where innocent citizens of Ebonyi State are arrested and kept in detention for days without allowing their relatives to see them is against the law.
“They are trampling on human rights; they are trampling on people’s rights, violating people’s rights, and fragrantly abusing them, and we are calling on the authorities to obey the law of the land; they are not above the law of the land.
“The CP and O/C monitoring and surveillance are not above the law; they have to obey the law and order of the court and unconditionally release Moses Onyema Nwekoyo and Nwabueze Alegu”.
He threatened that if, after Wednesday this week, the police command fails to release or produce the suspects, he will initiate a contempt proceeding against the police.
“Failure to do this, we are going to initiate a contempt proceeding against the police. After Wednesday, if they fail to release them or produce them before the court, we will file a contempt proceeding and send the CP and the O/C monitoring and surveillance for disobeying the order of the court.
“If they are not hiding anything, why have they refused to charge these people in court? That’s the fundamental question begging for an answer now. Why are they shying away from charging them in court? You arrested a person and said that the person had committed an offence; you charged that person to court, but you refused to do so or release them.
“We are calling on the IGP to order the CP to release these people and also conform to the law of the land. The law says that within 48 hours, you need to charge these people to court, but now they are keeping them for almost 50 days, as against the 48 hours stipulated by the law.
“So, we are appealing to the IGP to prevail on the CP here to abide by the tenets of our law; that’s our humble appeal. We wrote to the IGP monitoring team, and they came here for the transfer, and the IGP approved the transfer.
“The team came here to take over the file; the CP said that she has an interest in this case and she cannot release the file. She also went ahead and told the IGP monitoring team that she had concluded an investigation and that she was going to charge this matter to court two weeks ago. Two weeks have gone by and counting yet she has refused to charge the matter to court and refused to hand over the case file.”
On what the suspects are being detained for by the police, Ogbuinya said, “What actually led to this unlawful arrest and detention was that Hon. Onyema Moses Nwekoyo was approached by his friend, one Emmanuel Ede, the CEO of Elohim Aluminium Company, and requested that he should get him land in Abakaliki here for him to extend the branch of his company here in Ebonyi State.
“That request was granted, and Hon.Nwekoyo contacted an agent, who finally got land that fit the location Emmanuel Ede wanted. They gave him the power of attorney of the land, and Hon. Onyema Nwekoyo Moses started inquiring and finally got the person who owned that land, which was Mrs Chinyere Alegu.
“The contract was sealed. Onyema Nwekoyo introduced the CEO of Elohim Aluminium to the owner of the land, which is Mrs. Chinyere Alegu, and her husband, Nwabueze, and the transaction was successful.
“Then, Emmanuel Ede, the CEO of Elohim Aluminium, went into the land and started fencing. The elder brother of Chienyere Alegu by name, Obinna Agu, stormed the land and started destroying the perimeter fencing they were doing.
“From there, they wrote a petition to DPO Central Police Station (CPS), Abakaliki. When the DPO looked at the case, he said, Oh, this is a land matter, and police don’t delve into land matters. Besides, the parties that are involved are family members; they should go home and settle.
“Consequent upon that, they now went home for settlement. But after a week’s interval, they went back to continue the work. The same Obinna came to disrupt the work. Then, Emmanuel Ede, the CEO of Elohim Aluminium, is now called the CP, who is incidentally from the same village as him.
“It was the CP who transferred the case to the O/C monitoring team, which is also from the same village as the buyer. So, that’s how this matter came up, and they now came up and started alleging that there was fraud and forgery.
“In the course of my coming into this matter, I made the O/C monitoring and surveillance to understand that he is thriving into two illegalities. One is that the Act that established police does not give them the power or the right to investigate title to land; it is not the power of the police to investigate who owns the land.
“Secondly, the idea that the police went to the account of Nwabueze and transferred the sum of millions of naira, they forcefully transferred this money from the account of Nwabueze to an unknown Alhaji at Ogbe Hausa here, wherein they went there and collected the money.
“That is the height of illegality. There was no court order to that effect, and they have no such right to do that without a court order. The police are not debt recovery agents.
“Assuming that they are saying that they want to retrieve the money from the man who bought the land, we are saying that the police are not a recovery agent. There are a plethora of Supreme Court authorities that say the police are not debt recovery agents.
“We have filed an enforcement of fundamental human rights proceeding, and one of the prayers we ask the court is that the court should order them to refund that money they forcefully and illegally collected from Nwabueze’s account. That’s one of the reliefs we have asked the court”.
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