Court discharges, acquits suspected killers of NNPC engineers
JUSTICE Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Lagos, yesterday discharged and acquitted 10 persons charged with pipeline vandalism and murder of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) engineers.
They are: Joel Inerepamu, 25, Reuben Oluwole, 60, John Isaiah, 28, Ineye Okposa, 40, Timi Gunugunu, 22 and Olisa Saheed, 25.
Others are Jigo Jiperende, 31, Timi Koro, 29, Johnbosco Igbhofose, 26, and Peter Opidi, 28.
The accused were alleged to have conspired to vandalise an oil pipeline located at Arepo in Ogun State.
It was alleged that on sighting engineers on maintenance work from the NNPC, the accused opened fire and in the process, killed three of the engineers.
They were arraigned on November 29, 2012, on a seven-count charge bordering on conspiracy, breaking of oil pipeline, dealing in unrefined petroleum products and murder of the three workers of the NNPC.
The alleged offences were said to contravene the provisions of sections 3(6), 4(a), 7 (a) (b), 17 (a) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act Cap M17, Laws of the Federation, 2004, and Section 319 of the Criminal Code, Laws of the Federation, 2004.
They had all pleaded not guilty to the charge. As a result, Justice Idris ordered accelerated hearing of the case.
The prosecution called a total of 10 witnesses, while the accused testified for themselves.
Delivering his judgment on Monday, Idris held that the prosecution failed woefully to discharge the burden of proof placed on it, in establishing the guilt of the accused.
A summary of the evidence of eye witnesses, is that they were in Arepo on September 5, 2012 when petroleum vandals opened fire on them and they scampered to safety; however, some of their members were missing till date.
“All the eye witnesses could not identify the vandals who shot at them, neither was it proved that the persons named in counts five, six and seven were dead.
A pathologist report was never tendered and there was no proof that the NNPC engineers who were reported missing, were dead; the witnesses merely suspected that the victims were dead.
“The prosecution initially, filed proof of evidence signed by ACP Ibadin, legal officer prosecuting counsel, in which the 9th and 10th accused were named as witnesses,” he held.
He also stated that in a dramatic turn, the witnesses later became accused persons in an amended charge dated April 12, 2013.
“The confessional statement of the 9th and 10th accused were tendered in evidence as exhibit H and H1, wherein the 1st to 8th accused were incriminated.
“On October 29, 2012, the 9th and 10th accused testified that they do not know the 1st to 8th accused, and were not culpable of the offence with which they were charged”, he stated, adding that some salient illuminating evidence of the 9th accused was corroborated by the 10th accused.
According to him, the 9th and 10th gave evidence that they were contracted by the police to locate the alleged deceased, by peddling canoe across the river.
“In my view, the prosecution has failed to meet the requisite standard of proof, which is beyond reasonable doubt and the court so hold.
“It is clear that the first to eight accused were charged on mere suspicion and the law is clear that suspicion no matter how strong, cannot amount to proof in criminal trial.
“I hold that the entire body of evidence led by the prosecution is inadmissible; it is better to save several guilty men, than to condemn one innocent man. This court cannot find its way clear, in convicting the accused based on the evidence adduced by prosecution; this case must therefore fail.
“All of the accused persons are hereby discharged of all counts of the charge, and this court so hold,” Idris held