ABUJA — After a protracted trial that lasted 11 years, a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory sitting at Maitama, yesterday, sentenced two former Police officers, Emmanuel Baba and Ezekiel Achejene, to death over the nocturnal murder of six Igbo traders at the Apo mechanic village in Abuja, in 2005.
The court, in a judgment that lasted over three hours, found the convicts guilty
of culpable homicide punishable under section 221(a) of the Penal Code.
The victims, Ifeanyi Ozo, Chinedu Meniru, Isaac Ekene, Paulinus Ogbonna, Anthony Nwokike and Tina Arebun, aged between 21 and 25 years, were motor spare parts dealers.
They were allegedly shot dead by a team of Policemen stationed at Gimbiya Street, Garki Area 11 in Abuja, while returning from a night club on June 8, 2005, based on the order of a Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Danjuma.
The Federal Government, after its preliminary investigation into the matter, indicted six police officers over the incident, alleging that they committed culpable homicide contrary to section 220(a) of the Penal Code.
Aside Danjuma, who was charged as first defendant,Baba, Achejene, the other accused officers were the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, at Garki, Abdulsalam Othman (now at large), Nicholas Zakaria and Sadiq Salam.
The defendants were docked on a nine-count charge that bordered on conspiracy and murder.
They were arraigned in court after the police, following a report by an investigative panel headed by a former Inspector General of Police, Chief Mike Okiro, okayed their dismissal from service.
Though all the six defendants were arrested for prosecution, however, the DPO, Othman, vanished when he was released to pray at a mosque at the Force Headquarters in Abuja, where all the accused persons were initially detained.
The judgement Delivering judgement on the case, yesterday, Chief Judge of the High Court, Justice Ishaq Bello, discharged and acquitted Danjuma as well as the 3rd and 6th defendants, based on lack of evidence linking them to the actual commission of the crime.
The 4th and 5th defendants (Baba and Achejene), were specifically convicted for the murder of two of the deceased victims, Anthony and Tina, on the basis of their own confessional statements.
The court noted that the two convicts admitted that they killed Anthony and Tina, who did not die immediately after the shooting incident, based on “a directive” from DPO Othman, who is at large.
According to the record of the court, there was evidence that Anthony was shot after residents at Gaduwa Estate in Abuja, found him with bullet wounds and handed him over to the police.
Justice Bello described the action of the convicted ex-policemen as “impunity of the highest order,” saying they showed no regard for the sanctity of human life.
He waved aside as “an afterthought,” later retraction of the said written confessional statements by the two convicts, in oral evidence they gave before the court in the course of the trial.
The judge held that being directed to commit a crime by a superior officer could never serve as a valid cover for the commission of a crime.
“It is a folly for the 4th and 5th defendants to think they will be absolved on ground that they were directed,” the Judge held.
Nevertheless, he dismissed as vague, allegations against the other defendants, adding that the prosecution failed to establish a liability on the part of Danjuma.
Justice Bello maintained that the star prosecution witness, PW-1, one Inspector Suleiman, who insisted that it was Danjuma that personally shot the victims, contradicted himself in his evidence before the court and the one he gave before the Okiro panel.
The PW-1 had told the court that his team which was stationed at Gimbiya Street, Garki, had on the night of the incident, got a distress call from the control room that there was a robbery attack at Crown Guest Inn situated within the area.
He said though his team, upon checking at the said location, found out that there was no such attack, the first defendant, Danjuma, came to their checkpoint in a BMW car, and directed his team to maintain high vigilance.
The witness said after then, they saw a 406 Peugeot car approaching them with high speed.
“We flashed torchlights and attempted to stop the vehicle which slowed down and one of the occupants said officer, na we.”
He said when the vehicle, “which kept swinging to the left and right,” refused to stop, Danjuma, who was still standing at the checkpoint, shouted “fire! fire.”
“After we refused to shoot, he then snatched my AK-47 and finished the bullets on the vehicle.”
However, Justice Bello observed that the same PW-1 had in the Okiro panel report stated that the victims were killed during a shoot-out with police patrol teams.
The court said the PW-1 equally told the panel that when the victims’ vehicle was searched, incriminating items were recovered, including two locally made pistols, one double barrel gun, one single barrel gun and two daggers, adding that the witness never told the Okiro panel that it was Danjuma that personally shot the deceased persons.
While dismissing the evidence of the PW-1 as contradictory, Justice Bello, said there was nothing in the balistician report that was tendered before the court to show that Danjuma actually handled the AK-47 rifle on the day of the incident.
“I am of the view that fingerprint of the first defendant, if shown on the AK-47, would have gone to resolve the controversy whether the AK-47 was indeed handled by the 1st defendant.”
The court said there was also no evidence that Danjuma, who had his service pistol with him during the incident, fired it.
It further faulted the deceased victims for refusing to stop their vehicle when they were ordered to do so by the Police team that was on a stop and search operation.
“In any event, why should the occupants of the 406 vehicle thought it was right not to obey the flag-down at the stop and search point?
“It is this refusal to stop that triggered the shooting,” Justice Bello held.
My hands are tied —Judge
Earlier, counsel to the 4th defendant, Mr. Anthony Agbonlahor and a lawyer sent by the Legal Aid Counsel to represent the 5th defendant, prayed the court to temper justice with mercy.
“The 4th defendant is the bread winner of his family and a young man who has his whole life ahead of him,” Agbonlahor submitted in his plea of allocutus.
Justice Bello refused the plea, saying: “My hands are tied before the law.”
FG to review judgement
Meantime, the prosecution counsel, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, said the Federal Government would review the judgement to enable it decide whether to appeal the discharge and acquittal of Danjuma and two other defendants by Justice Bello.
Its justice delayed—MASSOB
Reacting to the judgment yesterday, Movement for Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, said it was justice delayed.
It wondered if the judgement is meant to reopen the wounds on the deceased families after many years of which the affected families may have forgotten the heinous crime.
MASSOB however expressed confidence that the court which saw reason to commute the sentences would also see reason to set free from detention, the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, and other pro-Biafra detainees.
MASSOB leader, Mr Uchenna Madu, in a statement, yesterday, said: “MASSOB is not excited over the outcome of the judgement. Though we don’t wish the court to set the accused free, but this justice has been delayed and denied for several years.
“What is the significance of this judgement? Is it for celebration or to remind the families of the gruesome murder of their loved ones whose death has been mourned and forgotten years ago? “The court that sees the truth and executed justice on this matter, though with delayed tactics, will also see the same reason in Nnamdi Kanu and other pro-Biafra detainees case and release them.”