BENUE, Nigeria – The Police in Benue State on Friday told the Judicial Panel investigating human rights violations by the defunct SARS operatives of Nigeria Police Force that it had no power to release the corpse of one late James Ianna kept under its custody.
Police prosecutor had told the panel sitting in Makurdi that, it lacks the power to release the deceased’s body for burial to its family because a special military squad handed police the corpse for safe keep and was yet to give a further directive.
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The panel also heard from the police prosecution counsel and O/C legal, F.N Agwu (Esq.) that the corpse currently deposited at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital (BSUTH) Makurdi remained the responsibility of the Nigeria Army and not Benue State Police Command.
Agwu explained that troops of Operation whirl stroke (OPWS) killed the deceased and only handed the police the corpse for safekeeping as he emphasised that the corpse would be released only on the order of the military and therefore urged the family of the deceased to direct all their grievances to military authority for the release of their dead relative.
Meanwhile, Counsel to the petitioner, Tyosar Agatse, told the panel that the deceased’s family had earlier requested the release of the corpse of their son, James Ianna from BSUTH after the family assumed they have settled the matter with the military authority but failed to do so and therefore approached the court who eventually granted an order of release of the corpse.
Agatse said the family of the deceased was frustrated whenever they requested the release of the corpse from the hospital which insisted they also lacked the power to execute the order of the court except the police or the military authorised them to do so.
Police prosecution however in a counter-response, posited that the mandate of the panel did not include activities of the military as stated clearly in the panel’s practice direction and therefore urged the panel to strike out the petition for lack of merit and lack of jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
But, chairman of the panel, Retired Justice Adam Onum, averred that “nobody is above the law no matter how highly placed in the society,” as he admonished the two security agencies to ensure the release of the corpse without further delay.
Onum further advised the deceased’s family to revisit the court to ensure compliance of its order as he explained that the panel’s mandate is to investigate and make recommendations which will take another six months excluding other administrative procedures against the fact that the corpse has been lying in the morgue for the past six months which require urgent attention and the police cannot denied their involvement as custodian of the corpse.
Earlier, the father of the deceased, Retired Sergeant Daniel Ianna, tendered before the panel his written complaints and judgement of the court which were jointly marked as exhibit AY and subsequently admitted in evidence, therefore, closing his case and now waiting for the respondent to enter his defence.