BY DEJI AKINOLA
“When courts are corrupted by greed or political expediency, the scales of justice are tipped and ordinary people suffer”.
Those were the immortal words of the Chairman, Transparency International, Huguette Labelle.
For this Canadian anti-corruption champion, corruption means the voice of the innocent wouldn’t be heard while the guilty acts with impunity. This precisely is what is happening in the judiciary in Delta state today. Citizens, even the dead are denied access to justice and basic human right to a fair and impartial trial. And the man being pointed accusing fingers for this overt and nauseating judicial corruption is the Delta state Attorney General, AG and Commissioner for Justice, Peter Mrakpor. Although the AG had been accused of various acts of corruption in the past, his impunity and scant regard for judicial process became glaring in the murder trial at the Magistrate Court Iselle-Uku following the violence and havoc that took place in Idumuje-Ugboko Kingdom in Aniocha North Local Government Area, LGA, of Delta state in 2017. People of Idumuje-Ugboko Kingdom and close observers of this quest to obstruct a murder trial are shocked beyond words at how the AG has breached all legal and judicial processes to assume the roles of the police, the Director of Public Prosecution, the court and the Chief Magistrate just so to stop the trial of men accused of murder. He is intimidating the Chief Magistrate to act against his conscience and humiliated him by compelling him to reverse his own pronouncement inside the court only a few hours later outside the court without a justifiable reason. Even the Director of Public Prosecution, DPP, is not spared this humiliation and comic reversal of outcome of investigations.
But let us first get an insight into what led to this murder trial and then probe why the AG, Mrakpor is violating every known judicial process, ethics and conventions in a bid to frustrate and possibly terminate a murder trial without even allowing a Chief Magistrate to exercise his authority in his own court.
On Thursday, May 18, 2017, Idumuje-Ugboko kingdom, a peaceful community, witnessed an unprecedented violence. Thugs, hoodlums, assasins and all manner of miscreants invaded this quiet community. Men, women, children were brutally attacked, as these agents of evil went from one targeted house to the other, destroying properties, setting houses ablaze and vandalizing cars. There was confusion as people ran to save their lives.
But Chief Christopher Ogwu was not that lucky. The Iyase, the second highest traditional leader, next only to the King, was in front of his house reading newspapers when a gang of over 20 young people invaded his house. He was attacked, beaten to stupor, his cars vandalized and properties looted while his house was almost completely destroyed. He was then dragged on the ground until he landed at the palace of Idumuje-Ugboko. This was how Chief Ogwu got to know that these hardened criminals were sent by the son of their late King, Prince Chukwunonso Nwoko to beat and humiliate him.
Like the Iyase, the Odogwu of Ugboko Kingdom, Chief Sunday Edemodu, the third highest ranking Chief in the community was also attacked in the most barbaric manner. Ordinary people, who struggle everyday to earn a living, people as little as grocery sellers, small farmers were attacked with dangerous weapons, flogged, and cut with matchets as these hardened criminals went on rampage.
The worst victims of this mayhem which lasted seven long nights were Cyprian Kumiolun, a young motor-cyclist, Okada rider, who stopped at a popular Okada gathering point near the palace to pick a passenger. He was taken probably for a spy according to eye witnesses and brutally shot dead on the spot , right in front of the palace while his body was taken away by the heartless hoodlums.
There was Kennedy Iloh, the secretary of the village Land Allocation Committee. He was in his house when the merchants of death broke down his door, wielding guns, machetes, axes, and daggers. He was brutally attacked, dragged to the Palace, and humiliated in the presence of Prince Chukwunonso as he lay on the ground outside the palace, soaked in his own blood. He managed to find his way back home but lapsed into coma within minutes. He lay comatose for days before he tragically passed on.
That Prince Chukwunonso Nwoko was the man that instigated and masterminded this violence is no longer in doubt. In a recent open letter to the governor of Delta State, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa , Prince Kachido Nwoko, who grew up in the palace narrated how he and his family fled from Ugboko after a narrow escape from assasins he alleged to be Prince Chukwunonso’s agents.
Prince Kachido, who served Prince Chukwunonso’s father, late Obi Albert Nwoko III, MON, in his letter, gave an account of how Prince Chukwunonso planned the havoc that befell his people.
But it was one of the oldest men in the Nwoko Royal family, 88 years old Prince Daniel Nwoko that indicted Prince Chukwunonso even more directly. In a letter to Dr Gabriel Ogbechie, a business man and Idumuje-Ugboko native, considered to be Prince Chukwunonso’s foremost financier, Prince Daniel accused him of financing the atrocities and havoc perpetrated by Prince Chukwunonso against his people. He recounted how Prince Chukwunonso sent hoodlums to attack him and his family including his in-laws, humiliated them and then banished them from the palace. Prince Daniel’s letter in totality exposed the mindless destruction that took place in the kingdom under the watch of Prince Chukwunonso who watched with morbid satisfaction the bloody assault of his people by criminals allegedly imported by him and his sponsors.
The question that people may easily ask is why these victims were singled out for these dastardly attacks. The reasons are simple. The first is that most of them were people who refused bluntly to endorse Prince Chukwunonso as Obi of Idumuje-Ugboko after his father’s death. Their reason is that Prince Chukwunonso did not follow the rituals, rites and tradition in crowning himself king. And so, some of them like the Iyase and Odogwu refused to give legitimacy to Prince Chukwunonso’s abhorrent usurpation of the throne.
There is also a second reason. This was Prince Chukwunonso’s attempt to stop the establishment of STARS University and Golf Course being built by his cousin, a renowned business magnate and International Lawyer, Prince Ned Nwoko. He had claimed his cousin did not get approval to the land for the university contrary to the facts that showed clearly that he obtained full approval from the Obi and his Council and the entire people of Ugboko. He also has authentic Customary Certificate of Occupancy.
Without the support of the village, the vital traditional hierarchy plus litigations over succession to the throne, Prince Chukwunonso could not get a Staff of Office to legitimize his self imposed Obiship.
Worse still, all his efforts to stop the STARS university project failed as the National Universities Commission, NUC, continued to pay visit to the site to assess the land mass, gauge progress at the site and seeing that massive construction is in full gear with men, tractors, cranes and all manner of equipment at work .
It was therefore out of frustration that Prince Chukwunonso and his financiers unleashed terror on his people, men with independent minds, women, children, youths, who stood up simply for what is right.
The destruction, havoc, and confounding mayhem were so horrifying that Prince Daniel Nwoko, 88 years old, aptly described it as what people only see in Hollywood movies.
THE AGONIZING CRY FOR JUSTICE
For nearly 10 months, the poor victims of the barbaric attacks in Ugboko groaned and wailed for help and for justice so that the perpetrators could be brought to book. They then sent a petition to the police in Asaba. The father of the Okada rider, Solomon Kumiolun whose son, Cyprian was murdered petitioned the police.
A group of the victims also engaged the services of M.A Abdulraman and Associates Chambers who sent an Save-Our-Soul petition to the Inspector-General, IG, of the Police on 8th February, 2018. A petition was also sent to the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice on 16th July 2019. The petition urged the Attorney General to investigate the human rights abuses and the murder of Cyprian Kumiolun and Kennedy Iloh.
However, while the Minister of Justice and Attorney General has worked professionally and dispassionately, on this case, the Delta State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, has been doing everything to frustrate the case in Asaba.
Abuja, through due process involving office of the Human Rights Commission of Nigeria and Director of Public Prosecution , wrote the Police IG to carry out a diligent investigation of the matter. This resulted in the arrest of some of the hoodlums who have been charged to a Federal High Court in Abuja after a case of terrorism was established against them in a charge No. FHC/ABJ/CR/11/19. Four of the 11 suspects have since been arrested and brought before Justice Okon Abang of Federal High Court, Abuja. Prince Chukwunonso and others are still on the run , refusing to obey court summons.
THE DELTA STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S MANIPULATION OF COURT PROCESS AND OBSTRUCTION OF ACCESS TO JUSTICE
Unlike the Abuja case , the petition and consequent trial of Prince Chukwunonso and his group have been facing all sorts of obstacles at the Chief Magistrate Court , Iselle-Uku.
On Friday, July 17, 2020 , for instance, police officers from the Delta state police command in Asaba, the state capital went to Idumuje-Ugboko, arrested Prince Chukwunonso Nwoko and took him to Asaba to answer questions arising from petitions by the family of Cyprian Kumiolun, the Okada boy shot dead in cold blood in front of the palace sometime in May , 2017 , by thugs alleged to be loyal to Prince Chukwunonso. The Prince was interrogated for 10 hours . Having established a prima facie case of wilful murder, the police on July 29, 2020 arraigned Prince Chukwunonso Nwoko, Obiajulu Nwoko, Ejimofor Nwoko, Okey Ifejoku, Onyeisi Esuzor and Chetachukwu Okolo at the Chief Magistrate Court, Iselle-Uku.
The Chief Magistrate, Shedrack Obonodo, after listening to the plaintiff and defendants counsels , affirmed that he had no jurisdiction over the case and ordered that the accused persons should be remanded in police custody till he gets advice from the Director of Public Prosecution, DPP. Said he, ” The court has listened to the submissions of both counsel, but this is a capital offence and since this court has no jurisdiction to try the respondents , they will however be reminded in police cell, Asaba…pending on the rendering of legal advice by the DPP, Ministry of Justice.”
The position of the Magistrate here is clear. He had no jurisdiction to touch the case.
But the Delta state Attorney General, Peter Mrakpor, didn’t care. He soon swung into action.
Already, the AG had been accused repeatedly unabashedly biased. For instance, his wife is Prince Chukwunonso’s cousin. Then , having allegedly been approached by Dr Ogbechie to help them with a good lawyer, he brought for them, his first cousin, Barrister E. Owhororiode, a man whose mother is the same parents with his own mother. How could such an AG be dispassionate in carryingout his duties . This fact is well known to indigenes of Idumuje-Ugboko who are genuinely desirous of lasting peace in their community. And that is why they have been calling on Mrakpor to stop meddling with their affairs and escalating the crisis in Idumuje-Ugboko . But Mrakpor has defied all the strident calls.
It was not therefore shocking that as soon as Obonodo ruled that the defendants be remanded in police custody, Mrakpor summoned him. By evening , outside the court session, Obonodo had reversed himself. He suddenly found jurisdiction to make a new order that changed his previous order without further hearing from the two counsels , without the DPP’s awaited advice. His reason for this breach of his own order is almost ridiculous. It was at best the only honourable way to tackle shame. Hear him, ” After about one hour of giving the above order, the court became worried about the health status of the defendants based on age factor ….one of them almost collapsed in court but for the assistance of others .” One would easily ask, how was it that he didn’t know or think of this age factor before giving his first order . And suddenly, he noticed the comic show of one of them almost collapsing. He added more to the show of shame as he pressed further, ” Bail is also granted to the 2nd–6th defendants. These orders are granted on personal recognition . ” Doesn’t this sound ridiculous ? Defendants standing trial for murder, a capital offence are being granted bail for personal recognition. What is their antecedents that they could be granted bail on personal recognition for a murder case. It was clear to those in court and even those that read of Obonodo’s judicial somersault that he was dancing to the drum beat of Mrakpor who, it was alleged , had threatened him to change his order or be posted to some remote village.
The AG was alleged to have warned the Magistrate that the instruction to reverse his order was from the Governor of the state. This, obviously, was a naked lie but Obonodo , finding his hands seemingly tied, wrote another order contradicting his first one and pronto he released the defendants.
But Mrakpor then went further to write the Assistant Chief Registrar II, Magistrate Court, Iselle Uku to change his report that there was substantial evidence to prosecute the accused persons .
A letter from the Ministry of Justice, his office, with Ref No. DTMJ3/6/109205, dated August 13, 2020, signed by one Enyi J. N and directed to the Assistant Chief Registrar II, read in part, ” I am further directed to inform you that after a thorough perusal of the said case file, this office is of the opinion that there is no prima facie case of any offence disclosed against Obi Chukwunonso Nwoko, Prince Ejimofor Nwoko, Okey Ifejioku, Chetachukwu Okolo, Onyeisi Isuzor and Prince Obiajulu Richard Nwoko.” The letter stated further , ” They should be released if still in custody. Please , note that this letter takes precedence over our earlier letter dated 12th August , 2020.”
By this absurd reversal, Mrakpor once again showed his determination to ridicule judicial officers and crudely obstruct access to justice.
But the Lawyer to the plaintiffs could not allow this absurd drama to continue. Barrister C.Y Gbogwu, having petitioned the Judicial Service Commission, Asaba, Delta state, without getting result, on September 7, 2020, petitioned the Inspector General of Police to take over the investigation of the case . He also petitioned the Attorney General of the Federation to take over the proceedings of the murder case. In his words, ” It is our instruction that our clients are not confident in the way and manner in which the matter is being prosecuted. Our clients are convinced that the office of the Attorney General of Delta state has a serious interest in this matter which will truncate the end of justice. We therefore urge you to use your good office to take over and continue with proceedings ….so that justice will be done in this matter ”
With Gbogwu’s petition, the hope of Mrakpor’s clients that he will kill the murder charges hanging ominously over their neck is now fading fast. They know now that they will inevitably answer to the call of justice.
They have embarked on smear campaign to taint the image of an illustrious son of Ugboko instead of dealing with the issues of cold blooded murder of innocent people and havoc wreaked on their helpless people.
HURIWA HAILS FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S DECISION TO PROSECUTE PRINCE CHUKWUNONSO AND OTHER CULPRITS
There seems to be no hope in sight for Prince Chukwunonso and his band of suspected murderers as
one of the foremost pro-democracy and civil rights advocacy groups, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA , has applauded the outcome of the investigation of the Idumuje-Ugboko mayhem by the federal government and its decision to prosecute the suspected murderers and hoodlums. Having condemned the atrocities and barbaric attacks against the innocent , rustic folks in Ugboko, HURIWA wrote, ” Emphatically, their prosecution has nothing to do with land dispute. Land disputes are in civil courts. Rather, their alleged criminal acts arose when they allegedly terrorised, beat up, set properties ablaze and allegedly killed two people among those who are opposed to Prince Nonso Nwoko becoming the king of Idumuje-Ugboko. ”
Another well respected civil society organisation, Save Humanity Advocacy Centre which went on a detailed Fact-Finding Mission to Idumuje-Ugboko also corroborated the findings and stance of HURIWA which is a confirmation of the havoc and the lives and property that were ruined. Like many Ughoko indigenes, they are
jointly calling on the federal government to accelerate the trial of the accused persons. This for them should serve both as a big lesson and a deterrence so that everyone in Ugboko will know that every crime must be punished and no one is above the law.
And now, there is an influx of petitions into the office of President Muhammadu Buhari , the Federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice , the Inspector General of Police and the National Human Rights Commission.
And they are all about the mayhem, the heinous crimes allegedly perpetrated by Prince Chukwunonso and his crew of murder suspects.
Surely, there is nowhere to hide.
In the words of late influential publisher and persuasive writer , Dele Giwa, ” Any evil done by man to his fellow man will be avenged. If not now then later…for the victory of evil over good is but temporary. “