Ohanaeze, others condemn judge’s verdict on killing of Igbo traders
A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) sentenced two police officers to death yesterday for killing two of six Igbo traders in Apo, Abuja on June 8, 2005. But the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said yesterday that there was nothing to cheer about in the judgment which it described as falling short of the justice expected.
The two policemen, Ezekiel Acheneje and Emmanuel Baba, were found guilty of the extrajudicial killing of Augustina Arebon and Anthony Nwokike.All those killed were from a particular ethnic group that has long been alleging maltreatment of its people in the country. Thus justice must only be done but be seen to have been done in the matter to reinforce a common sense of belonging and safety in the country.
The presiding Chief Justice of the court, Ishaq Bello, delivered the judgement in the nine-count criminal charge brought against the six policemen by the Federal Government. He said the court had no option than to convict the two men on account of their own confessional statement that they shot the two traders upon instructions from superior officers.
Justice Bello said that the officers failed in their duty to protect the lives of innocent citizens as required by law. “It is a folly for the defendants to think they will be absolved of the offences on ground that ‘I was directed’. The fourth and fifth defendants are hereby convicted under provision of Section 221 (a) of the Penal Code,” he declared.
The judge further said that the action was condemnable because there was no evidence that the two traders did anything to constitute a threat to the police at the time they were shot dead.
The office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), in 2005 arraigned the policemen on a nine-count charge of conspiracy and culpable homicide contrary to Sections 97 and 221 (A) of the Penal Code. The accused were alleged to have killed Ifeanyi Ozo, Chinedu Meniru, Isaac Ekene, Paulinus Ogbonna, Anthony Nwokike and Augustina Arebun, aged between 21 and 25 years, when they were returning from a night party in 2005.
Two victims, who were said to have survived among the six, were allegedly killed later.One of the officers, Zakaria, had denied having anything to do with the killing of the two remaining victims. He claimed that he was not allowed to use an AK47 but only a pistol.
While the second defendant, Othman Abdulsalam (at large), was not mentioned in the verdict of the court, three others, a former Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Mr. Danjuma Ibrahim, Nicholas Zakaria and Sadiq Salami, who were the first, third and sixth defendants respectively, were absolved of charges against them.
The three, who were charged with conspiracy and culpable homicide, contrary to S97 and 221 of the penal code, were discharged and acquitted by the court for want of evidence.
Justice Bello held that from the entirety of evidence placed before the court, the charge of conspiracy could not be established against them because of the inability of the prosecution to convince the court that the men met and agreed to kill the six traders on June 7, 2005, while they were said to be returning from a night club on Gimbiya Street, Abuja.
The judge further held that the killing of the two traders was particularly painful because they were arrested by members of the public and handed over to the police only for the same police to take laws into their hands by summarily executing them.
The judge declared that an application for the retraction of the confessional statements of the two convicts, during the trial, was dismissed. He held that it was an after thought that could not hold water, because the statements by the convicted policemen were outright confessions.
In the case of the DCP, who was alleged to have seized an AK 47 and shot the traders in the Peugeot 406 car they drove in, the judge said the allegation collapsed in the face of contradictions from two prosecution witnesses whose testimonies revealed Ibrahim never seized a gun nor fired at the victims.
The judge said there was no dispute as to the fact that the DCP was having a service pistol on him and he never fired any shot with it. Justice Ishaq, expressed his displeasure with the manner the case was handled by the prosecution with regard to the ballistic investigation process.
He said: “There is nothing to show from the ballistic report that the first defendant handled the weapon from which the gun was fired.” He said that if the fingerprint of the first defendant had been found on the weapon, it would have gone a long way to prove the case against him.
On the other four victims who were killed, the judge said the issue remained ambiguous because the prosecution was unable to establish those responsible for their murder.
The judge quashed charges against the three freed police officers for being ambiguous in nature.He gave details on contradictions in witnesses’ statements, where one stated how DCP Danjuma was responsible for the shooting of the four traders, while another witness said it was patrol teams invited to the scene on a robbery incident that fired on the vehicle of the victims.
A witness said the traders allegedly refused to stop at a search point mounted by the police to track down the suspected robbers that had allegedly perpetrated robbery at Gimbiya.
Justice Bello said that in the face of the contradictions, it was particularly impossible to hold anyone responsible for the death of the traders. More so, when no name was mentioned among the patrol teams invited to reinforce the search squad that was trailing the suspected robbers.
The President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, told The Guardian that the group would petition the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to ask him to appeal the matter.
He said: “Those convicted were convicted on account of their confessions that they killed the deceased, while their superiors who gave them orders to kill, as admitted in their confessional statements, were acquitted. The judgment has only served one leg of justice, leaving the other.”
Nwodo stated that the entire thing wore the face of “miscarriage of justice and creates the impression that those being prosecuted are being prosecuted based on where they come from and those acquitted, also from where they come from.
“This is not the kind of impression we are supposed to create in the country in a matter that attracted such a level of public outcry and involved a particular ethnic group, which has for a very long time cried out on how its people are being treated in the country. So I am going to write the new Attorney General, because the one that instituted the matter has left office, to ask him to appeal so that justice will be seen as served”, he stated.