After 11 years of gruelling legal battles, two of the six former police officers accused of killing six traders at a checkpoint in Abuja – Emmanuel Baba and Ezekiel Acheneje –were sentenced to death. Three others: Danjuma Ibrahim, Nicholas Zakaria and Sadiq Salami, were discharged. The sixth, Othman Abdulsalami, a Divisional Police Officer in Apo, remains at large.
The two policemen were convicted on the strength of their confessional statements. The incident occurred in Apo Mechanic Village, Garki Area 11, Abuja, when the six traders of Igbo extraction (Ifeanyi Ozor, Chinedu Meniru, Isaac Ekene, Paulinus Ogbonna, Anthony Nwadike and a female, Augustina Arebun) were returning from a night club on June 8th,2005. The policemen at the checkpoint claimed they were ordered to open fire when the deceased victims’ car failed to stop after it was flagged down.
That the judgment came almost 12 years after the extra-judicial killings is a sad commentary on the nation’s administration of criminal justice system which, however, recently witnessed some fundamental reforms. It was the February 9th, 2017, judgment of the Federal Capital Territory High Court delivered by Justice Ishaq Bello that brought back the faded memory of the case. The fact that the judgment took so long in coming amounted to justice denied, especially for the traumatised families.
Despite the conviction of the two dismissed policemen out of the six that faced trial, there is a perception in some quarters that justice has not been fully served as it ought to be. Most conscientious Nigerians were disappointed that the officer, that allegedly ordered the killings, was discharged for lack of concrete evidence.
We applaud the commitment of the legal advocates for those who were sent to their untimely graves for their persistent quest for justice. We also note the efforts of the courts to give justice in this case, though belated.
However, we strongly support the yearnings of many Nigerians that this case should be revisited by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to plug any loopholes that might have developed during the long court processes.
We encourage the AGF, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to make good his promise to look into this case by going on appeal. The final outcome will further strengthen our criminal jurisprudence. It will help fortify the proverbial “long arms of the law” in Nigeria.
It is unfortunate that this case, because of its peculiar nature, stoked some ethnic tensions and suspicions. It is only when our judiciary entertains it without fear or favour that the confidence of the citizens will be restored in the ability of the legal system to do justice to all Nigerians, irrespective of how long it takes and whose ox is gored.