Jim-Jaja v. C.O.P., Rivers State  6 NWLR (Pt. 1350) 225 at 256, paras. B-C, per M.D. Muhammad, JSC:
“Appellant’s unlawful detention by the respondents constitute a breach of his right to personal liberty as guaranteed under section 35(1) of the Constitution. The same Constitution has provided under section 35(6) thus: “Any person who is unlawfully arrested or detained shall be entitled to compensation and public apology from the appropriate authority or person.” (Italics supplied for emphasis). From the foregoing, the appellant does not have to ask for compensation once he has established the fact of his being unlawfully detained, a fact which the court below itself held he has. The compensation is automatic by the operation of the law.”
The decision of the Supreme Court above is much welcome. It was sad that the Court of Appeal in the case having held that the Appellant was unlawfully detained and his fundamental right to liberty consequently breached, however refused to award compensation on the ground that none was claimed. More pathetic is the fact that the Supreme Court observed and demonstrated that the Appellant actually claimed N2 Million damages. Ngwuta, JSC, in delivering the lead Judgment, criticized the Court of Appeal for “relegating the Appellant to the status of a panhandler approaching the Court for a handout.” (See page 245, para. C) The apex Court further held that “fundamental rights matters are placed on a higher pedestal than ordinary civil matters in which a claim for damages resulting from a proven injury has to be made specifically and proved.” (See page 244, para. H). In this wise, “the common law principles on the award of damages do not apply.” (See page 254, paras. E-F).
The facts of the above case also revealed the common misuse of the law enforcement agencies like the Police as a debt recovery agent. Experiences have shown that the Nigeria Police has consistently allowed itself to be used as debt collectors. Most of the times, in order to justify this abuse of power, the Police would couch one form of criminal allegation or the other in connivance with some mischievous complainants without properly investigating the facts to locate a genuine criminal content in a given complaint or petition. In the instant case, the learned Justice of the Supreme Court, Ngwuta, JSC, perfectly narrated his findings thus: “The above facts (of unlawful detention) were not disputed nor can it be said that the appellant was arrested and detained on the allegation of forged certificate of occupancy. His arrest and detention was predicated on his failure to repay the loan he obtained from the 3rd respondent. If the appellant’s arrest and detention resulted from the allegation of forgery, which is a crime, the appellant could not have been released on bail on a mere undertaking to repay the loan, a civil matter. This claim by the 3rd respondent is in conflict with the fact as stated in the 3rd respondent’s brief. The criminal allegation of forgery was a ploy by the respondents to settle a purely civil matter – the recovery of the loan obtained from the 3rd respondent by the appellant. It is unfortunate that the 1st and 2nd respondent, on the pretext of investigating a case of forgery, converted their office into a debt recovery outfit.”
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