A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Maitama, on Thursday sentenced to death two former policemen, Ezekiel Acheneje and Emmanuel Baba, for being responsible for the death of two out of the six auto spare part traders shot dead in Area 11 of Garki, Abuja, on June 7, 2005.
After about 11 years of trial, the presiding judge, who is also the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court, Justice Ishaq Bello, convicted the two ex-cop of culpable homicide punishable by death under section 221(a) of the Penal Code Act.
The judge, however, freed three other policemen, who were prosecuted along with Acheneje and Baba, for the death of the six traders.
Those discharged and acquitted, included a former Deputy Commissioner of Police, Danjuma Ibrahim, whom Acheneje and Baba had accused of ordering them to kill two of the victims.
The two other freed persons were Nicholas Zakaria and Sadiq Salami.
The judge, who noted that there was shoddy investigation of the case, held that there was contradictory and insufficient evidence to hold the three of them culpable in the murder of the victims.
One other accused person, Othman Abdulsalam, was said to be at large and was never brought to court throughout the trial.
The deceased victims, who were all of Igbo extraction dealing in auto spare parts in Apo area of Abuja, were Ifeanyi Ozo, Chinedu Meniru, Isaac Ekene, Paul Ogbonna, Anthony Nwokike and Tina Arebun.
Justice Bello held in his judgment on Thursday that Acheneje and Baba confessed in their statements made to the police to the shooting of Nwokike and Arebun to death.
The six victims were allegedly first shot in their car by the defendants at a police post. The four of them died instantly.
The defendants claimed that following a prior alert of a robbery operation around Area 11, Garki, at the night of June 7, 2005, they flagged down the victims’ vehicle at a stop-and-search police point in the area.
They claimed they shot the victims in their car after the traders allegedly failed to stop for a search.
According to the defendants, the victims also opened fire and amid the crossfire four of the traders died instantly.
Nwokike and Arebun were said to have survived the shooting.
But Nwokike was said to have escaped from the scene and was later found by members of the public at Gaduwa Estate and handed over to the police.
Justice Bello held that the confession by Acheneje and Baba that they shot the two survivors was an admission of committing a crime.
He held that their retraction of the statements during trial was merely an afterthought.
The judge said, “The prosecution said there was no objection by the defendants against the admission of the statements in evidence during trial.
“I have examined the two confessional statements by both the fourth and fifth accused persons; they are in clear admission of the use of Ak47 in shooting the boy and the girl respectively.
“I cannot therefore be in doubt that the retraction is an afterthought, a deliberate attempt to distort the facts.
“It (was) further clearly stated by the fourth defendant that he shot the boy and the girl.
“At this point, I suppose to recall the wisdom exhibited by the prosecution in articulating three things for the commission of the alleged various offences as charged.
“First, at the scene of the event on June 7, 2005; secondly, Garki Police Station and thirdly Gaduwa Estate.”
The judge added that under the Nigerian law, Acheneje and Baba’s defence that they were ordered by their superiors to shoot the two survivors was unacceptable.
He said, “If the defendants were relying on the fact that policemen were attacked at the stop-and-search point on June 7, 2005, hence the need to respond with fire in order to protect themselves, since they were at their duty post, a position which I have to agree with in view of all that was put before the court, I’m in pain to note that in the testimony of the defendants there was nothing in form of evidence to show that the two – the boy and the girl – did anything that constituted a threat to the defendants.
“And it was not in a situation where the defendants were pursuing the boy while running to escape.
“The boy was found by members of the public and submitted to the defendant who then shot him, the fourth defendant.
“This is a case of impunity of the highest order. The admission of commission of the crime by both the fourth and fifth defendants is unequivocal as submitted by the prosecution.”
The judge held that being directed to commit a crime could never serve as a valid cover.
He held that it was “folly” for the convicts to think they could be “discharged on the ground of ‘I am directed.’”
He held, “What should be noted is that, it is the law that in whatever field of human endeavour, there is always requirement for obedience to law superior order. Indeed, no one can hide behind directive either by the state or any superior officer to commit a crime.
“It is folly therefore for the defendants to think that they could be absolved of any criminal act on the grounds of ‘I’m directed.’
“The prosecution has proved the charge of culpable homicide against the fourth and fifth accused persons beyond reasonable doubt in the exception of charge of conspiracy which I earlier ruled in favour of all the defendants.
“Accordingly, the fourth and the fifth defendants each, is hereby convicted for the offence of culpable homicide punishable by death under section 221(a) of Penal Code.”
The judge discharged and acquitted three other accused persons on the basis that police investigation failed to link them to the alleged crimes.
The judge noted that the case was poorly investigated with key elements such as fingerprints evidence, analysis of bullets used to kill the victims being absent in the ballistician’s report tendered by the prosecution.
He said, “I wish to also observe that the investigation of this case leaves much to be desired.
“To say it is deliberate cannot be out of place, after all, it is before this court by evidence, that one of the police witnesses, expressly stated that they were never allowed to investigate this case.”
The judge rejected the allocutus (plea for mercy) made separately by lawyers to Acheneje and Baba shortly after the judgment was delivered on Thursday.
Justice Bello in rejecting the allocutus said his hands were tied as he must impose the punishment of death provided for by the law.
Reacting to the judgment, however, the Executive Chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said, in a statement, that the group welcomed the judgment, notwithstanding that it took so long for the case to end, with the families of the victims subjected to psychological and emotional trauma.