IT is hard to imagine how much worse the government could have treated Douglas Ngumi.
He was locked away for more than six and a half years in Carmichael Road Detention Centre. Years and years of his life just snatched away.
While he was there, he contracted scabies and tuberculosis, and says he suffered numerous beatings by immigration officials. At one point, he says he was tied to a table and beaten for hours with a PVC pipe. For hours.
It all started when Mr Ngumi was detained by officials and was accused of overstaying. He had previously had a work permit, and had married a Bahamian woman, but had not yet received a spousal permit.
In 2011, he admitted overstaying – and a magistrate ordered him deported to Kenya. The deportation never happened. Instead, he remained in detention, day by day, year by year.
Two years later, he faced another court case over four grams of marijuana. Again, he pleaded guilty, again a judge recommended he be deported. Again, nothing happened.
Finally, he was released in 2017. Fred Smith, QC, had filed papers in court on his behalf, but Mr Ngumi was released before a hearing could take place.
You would think the response to a man being locked away for so long with no good reason would be to bend over backwards to help him, but no. Instead, the government has continued to contest matters in court, but dragging its feet and failing to provide evidence. The government continues to shrug off liability, or offer any suggestions for compensation. The government even continues to suggest it was perfectly fine to lock someone up for years over an overstayed permit and a few grams of marijuana. The horrifying thought that goes with that is that if the government thinks this is right, then it could happen to others.
It is no surprise then that Mr Ngumi and his lawyer, Mr Smith, have returned with their own bill to be paid.
Time and again, the authorities seem to fail to learn their lesson when it comes to the detention and deportation of people.
The warning has been heard plenty of times – starting from the case of Atain Takitota, a Japanese man detained unlawfully from 1992 to 2000 and paid $1m in compensation as a result.
There will be people who will be annoyed at the amount of money being sought by Mr Ngumi, and there will be voices who decry the cost to the public purse, but as in other cases, this cost happens because the authorities don’t do their job right.
We must stop these cases from happening – but we must do that by doing the right thing.
Where is the sense in keeping someone locked away for years – itself a cost on the public purse – in such circumstances?
Where is the commitment to crack down on allegations of brutality affecting prisoners, detainees, suspects in custody?
Where is the determination to treat people with human decency, in conditions where diseases aren’t left to thrive?
Why not be pro-active with individuals in long-term custody and come to them to work out ways to resolve their cases?
Why leave it to a battle in the courts where you try to justify everything that happened to an individual in their years-long interment?
This is an ugly blindspot in Bahamian justice, where individuals are left unseen and unheard, open to abuse and with seemingly no plan to resolve their situation.
It must be dealt with by reforming the system – and trying to claim everything is fine and the likes of Mr Ngumi is entitled to nothing will only perpetuate a pattern of abuse and disrespect for human rights.
Mr Takitota wasn’t the last, and it cost the public purse a million. Will Mr Ngumi be the last to suffer so? It is time to learn.
We don’t know if he’s ever been a betting man, but we would urge Attorney General Carl Bethel to take a long, hard look at Mr Ngumi’s case and assess what he thinks the judge is likely to do. We suspect he might conclude that the government might not have a leg to stand on.