Justice for Stripped Warri Hotel Workers
In our wildest imagination, some thoughts might not come into play, or aren’t meant to. But that doesn’t mean we can’t witness the unimaginable in our climate.
Some time ago, news went viral of a certain unreleased melodrama that took place in Delta State, specifically in Warri, Nigeria. So far, many have yet to assimilate the event as a reality.
According to the report, on Friday 18and September 2020, four hotel staff in the aforementioned ancient city – namely Gloria Oguzie (F), Victor Ephraim (M), Roselyn Okiemute (F) and Precious Achibong (F) – were arrested by the police for allegedly stealing N5,000.
The defendants, who were three women and a man, are believed to have been employees of an accommodation establishment called Signatious Hotel in the oil-rich city of Nigeria.
The arrest, which was ordered by the establishment’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mr. Kenneth Gbagi – a former Nigerian Minister of State for Education – was the consequence of the alleged theft witnessed by said owner the day before of September. 17, 2020.
It should be noted that the defendants were completely undressed and photographed inside the hotel – according to the boss’s instructions – before handing them over to the officers of the Ebrumede police station. This implies that the police took the beleaguered staff away completely naked.
It was further learned that the hotel management forcefully made withdrawals from the bank accounts of the defendants, using their ATM cards, probably also on the instructions of the boss, before the police takes in a waiting van.
They were remanded in the said police station and consequently charged before a magistrate court in Effurun, also in Warri, after four days of detention. At this point, one wonders if the incident really happened.
In a five-count charge, the police accused the suspects of “connivance among themselves to steal money ranging from N156,000, N110,000, N5,000 and N2,000 belonging to Signatious Hotel”, thus committed a an offense punishable under section 516 and 390(9) of the Delta State Penal Code.
It should be noted that they were released on bail on the fourth day, which was Monday 21st September 2020 on the intervention of some anti-corruption and human rights activists.
However, a source – who happened to be a member of staff at the hotel concerned and who pleaded anonymity – said the N5,000 found with the accused had been given to them as a gift by a guest due to their good and accommodating behavior.
When the incident was learned personally, due to the skepticism that usually ensues whenever such news arrives, I used several avenues and channels to verify the authenticity of the report. In the long term, this has been proven by the sources contacted without any doubt.
Just because of N5,000, a group of Nigerian citizens accused in good faith were dehumanized in broad daylight. Suppose the money was really stolen by the workers; was that a good reason to strip them? One question, too.
While I was not trying to justify the theft, as no form of theft could be justified, it is imperative to recognize that the treatment meted out to these people is in no way justifiable. It is even more appalling and discouraging when one realizes that the inhuman aggression was informed by a mere accusation or suspicion.
As if undressing them wasn’t enough, they were detained by the police for over seventy-two hours, but someone somewhere can still claim the right to their actions.
It might perhaps surprise or shock you to realize that the said boss, Mr Gbagi, harbored ambitions for governorship in Delta State at the time in view of the 2023 gubernatorial race. At this point, if your thoughts are the same as mine, then we’re in the same boat.
Another intriguing part of the case was the aspect where other sums of money were mentioned by the plaintiff as having been stolen by the defendants, as stated in the charge presented in court.
Apart from N5,000 which was fundamentally at issue, amounts such as N2,000, N110,000 and N156,000 were also part of the allegation. Does this imply that there had already been occasions involving missing funds, or was this just a concocted statement?
More so, the defendants were, as stated, forced to make withdrawals from their respective bank accounts. Does that mean the boss had already paid off her purse before stripping them naked and arresting them? The case, as reported, was so complicated for my taste, to say the least.
Whatever the actual case, the bone of contention remained that the boss had blundered, therefore deserving of arrest and trial by the defendants for defamation, unlawful detention and abuse of human rights, which are obviously punishable under applicable Nigerian law. .
On the other hand, the police action could not be ignored or swept under the rug. How could they “graciously” arrest a group of people who were left completely naked by their employer under cover of theft or whatever?
The police, who are supposed by law to protect his dignity, would have been caught doing otherwise. The situation, as I said earlier, needs to be holistically investigated by higher authority with a view to ensuring that whoever is found guilty in the process does not remain unscathed.
Although the entrepreneur and politician may have been praised by his peers for these ruthless acts, it is imperative to remind him concretely that an accused remains innocent until proven guilty by a competent court.
Although already two years later, it should be noted that it is never too late for justice to be served.