Arepo pipeline vandalism: Court discharges, acquits 10 accused after 3-year trial
A Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday discharged and acquitted 10 accused persons charged with pipeline vandalism and murder.
The accused include Joel Inerepamu, 25, Rueben 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.
They were arraigned on Nov. 29, 2012 on a seven-count charge bordering on conspiracy, breaking of oil pipeline, dealing in unrefined petroleum products and murder.
They had all pleaded not guilty to the charge.
The prosecution, during the trial, called a total of 10 witnesses, while the accused testified for themselves.
Delivering judgment on Monday, Justice Mohammed 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 witnesses is that they were in Arepo, near Ikorodu on Sept. 5, 2012 when petroleum vandals opened fire on them and they scrambled for safety; however, some of their members were missing till date.
“All the 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,’’ he said.
Idris said that the prosecution had filed proof of evidence signed by the lead prosecuting counsel citing the ninth and 10th accused as witnesses.
He said: “However, in a dramatic turn, the witnesses later became accused persons in an amended charge dated April 12, 2013.
“The confessional statements of the ninth and 10th accused were tendered in evidence as exhibit H and H1, wherein the first to eight accused were incriminated.
“ I noted that the ninth and 10th accused resiled from the content of the exhibit.
“On Oct. 29, 2012, the ninth and 10th accused testified that they did not know the first to eighth accused, and were not culpable of the offences.
“I did note some salient illuminating evidence of the ninth accused, which was corroborated by the 10th accused, that they were contracted by the police to locate the alleged deceased.
“That they found shallow graves on the second day of their search, and dug over 20 graves before the police saw the bodies they said they were looking for, and gave them sums of money for their services.
“That the police also paid them to act as informants and elicit information from the first to eight accused, by putting them in the same cell with the first to eighth accused for two weeks.
“That they found nothing incriminating against the first to eighth accused through their interaction in the cell.
“The police dictated to them what to write as statement and forced them to sign same, and were afterwards, re-invited to testify against the accused.
“That they declined the request and were then arrested and charged to court alongside the first to eight accused.
“I also note that the ninth and 10th accused were not cross-examined on any of the evidence; the necessary implication is that the evidence constitute the truth of the matter.
“What makes the evidence of the ninth and 10th accused more probable is that they are metamorphosis from being witnesses, to becoming accused persons.
“This becomes a mystery which the prosecution never deemed fit to explain throughout the lengthy evidence which spanned for three years.
“In my view, the prosecution has failed to meet the requisite standard of proof which is beyond reasonable doubt and the court so hold, ‘’ Judge said.
He said that it was clear that the first to eighth accused were charged on mere suspicion adding that “ the law is clear that suspicion, no matter how strong, cannot amount to proof in criminal trial.
“It is a wavering accusing finger which must stand straight to establish guilt.
“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 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,’’ he said
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that in the charge the accused were alleged to have conspired to vandalise an oil pipeline located at Arepo in Ogun State.
It was alleged the accused persons shot and killed three maintenance engineers that worked for the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)
The 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.