Justice is another name of liberty, equality and fraternity.”
― B.R. Ambedkar
Five years after, parents of four murdered UNIPORT students heave sighs of relief, as three accused persons bag death sentences
From Chris Anucha and Tony John, Port Harcourt
Five years after, the celebrated case of the gruesome murder of four young students of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Choba, has come to an end.
Justice was served in the murder trial on Monday, July 31, as three of the 18 persons arrested in connection with the killings were sentenced to death.
How it began
On Friday, October 5, 2012, the soil of Omuokiri Aluu, a community in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State, was soaked with the blood of four young friends and undergraduates of UNIPORT. The students were killed in a most gruesome manner.
The deceased – Ugonna Obuzor, Toku Lloyd Mike, Tekena Elkannah and Chiadika Biringa – were murdered by a mob after being accused of robbery and cultism. They were paraded round the community naked, for several hours.
It is, however, disturbing that those who raised the alarm that the boys were armed robbers and cultists are still at large.
Arrests of suspects
The 18 persons arrested by security operatives and subsequently charged to court in connection with the incident included the traditional ruler of the community, Alhaji Hassan Welewa, who was 59 years old at the time. The only female suspect was 24-year-old Cynthia Chinwo.
Others charged for the murder included an ex-Police Sergeant, Lucky Orji (43), Lawal Segun (28), George Nwadei (20), Ekpe Daniel (30), Okoghiroh Endurance ( 24), Gabriel Oche (33), Ozioma Abajuo (23), Endurance Edet (27), Ikechukwu Louis Amadi (aka Kapoon, 32), David Chinasa Ogbada (30), Chigozie Evans Samuel (20), Lucky Agburum, Abiodun Yusuf, Finebone Jeffery, Joshua Ekpe and Abang Cyril.
They were all arraigned arraigned on October 17, 2012, before Chief Magistrate Emma Woke. Since it was a capital offence, the Magistrate court lacked the jurisdiction on the matter. As such, the case file was transferred to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for legal advice. The case was later adjourned till December 20 that year for the DPP’s report.
After investigation, the police came up with 21 findings, among which were, that the four students were killed on October 5, 2012 in Omuokiri Aluu at about 8am; that there was allegations that the deceased persons were robbers or cult members; that the death of the deceased persons was as a result of mob action, by large number of youths from Omuokiri Aluu community; that detectives identified some of the ring leaders, who are still at large but being hunted for.
Police findings further indicated that 26 suspects were arrested in connection with the case; nine suspects (still at large) were mentioned as principal suspects in the case, and that the first four policemen who arrived at the scene of crime were chased away by the mob and they returned to the Divisional Police Headquarters, Isiopko, for reinforcement.
Before the reinforcement could arrive at the scene, however, the boys had been murdered. It was discovered also that nobody ever reported to the police that the victims robbed them.
The police report noted that detectives were still on the trail of the following suspects – Andrew Otogbo, Saviour, David, Johnny (a barber), Ikechukwu (a barber) and Coxson Lelebari Lucky (aka Bright). They were described as the arrowheads of the crime.
On January 25, 2013, the DPP’s advice, signed by Inikiri Otorubio was released. The letter was addressed to the then Assistant Inspector General of Police, Zone 6, Calabar, Cross River State.
It reads: “From the totality of the facts in the case file as outlined, and from the outcome of the Police investigation report, it is my considered opinion that a prima facie case of murder contrary to Section 319 (1) of the Criminal Code Cap 37, Volume 2 Laws of the Rivers State of Nigeria, 1999, have only been disclosed against the following persons: Lawal Segun, Ex-Sergeant Lucky Orji, Ikechukwu Louis Amadi (aka Kapoon), David Chinasa Ogbada, Abiodun Yusuf, Joshua Ekpe and Abang Cyril.”
The DPP further stated that no prima facie case of murder, contrary to Section 319 (1) of the Criminal Code, Cap. 37, Volume 2, Laws of the Rivers State of Nigeria, 1999 was disclosed against Cynthia Chinwo, George Nwadei, Ekpe Daniel, Gabriel Agburum, and Finebone Jeffrey (aka Soso). “And, as such, the charge against them should be dropped and they should be released forthwith from prison custody,” the DPP further said.
The DPP’s advice led to the release of the following accused persons: Patrick Choosen, Nsirim Tasie Ogadima, Anyanwu Amarachi E., Egberide Prosper Ejiro, Uwemedimo Johnson Etuk, Ugwem Sampson and Kalio Ibinabo Greenson. The DPP also granted four persons bail. They were Alhaji Hassan Welewa, Okoghiroh Endurance, Ozioma Abajuo and Chigozie Evans Samuel after no case was established against them. The DPP also charged the police to intensify efforts to arrest the persons who were still at large but were identified in the widely circulated video clips.
Shortly after, the trial of the case resumed at the High Court, with the first judge (a female) declining to handle the matter. Before returning the case file to the Court Registrar, she stated: “The accused, I know; the victims I know.”
The case was later assigned to Justice Letam Nyordee, who handled it to its conclusion. Trial commenced on August 1, 2013. But, there was a setback following the closure of the State Judiciary Complex for about two years by the immediate past governor, Chibuike Amaechi, over a protracted political crisis in the state.
And when the current governor, Chief Nyesom Wike assumed office on May 29, 2015, he ordered that the courts be opened, and normal legal activities resumed on June 1. Justice Nyordee then gave the matter accelerated hearing till he concluded it.
On January 26, 2017, the court freed the traditional ruler, Alhaji Welewa and four others on grounds that there was no prima facie case of murder proved against them. He fixed judgment date of Monday, July 31, 2017 for the remaining seven accused persons. The judge thereafter sentenced three of them to death. Those to die are Ex-sergeant Orji, Ikechukwu Louis Amadi (aka Kapoon) and David Chinasa Ogbada. The Judge discharged and acquitted the remaining four persons, Àbiodun Yusuf, Joshua Ikpe, Cyril Abang and John Ayu.
In delivering the judgement, which lasted over two hours, Justice Nyordee stated that the prosecution failed to prove a case of involvement in the murder of the victims by the four discharged and acquitted persons throughout the trial.
The judge also held that the case of murder against the three convicted persons were overwhelming. He said: “I am, therefore, satisfied that their roles in the killing of the victims are unjustifiable and unlawful. Their actions are intended to kill the victims.”
Justice Nyordee also stated that throughout the trial, nobody presented himself or herself as a victim of robbery by the four boys, adding that they were victims of a mob action.
The judge struck out the objections raised by the defence counsels to the effect that the prosecution raised fresh issues in his final address. According to him, the burden of proof, as rightly raised by the defence counsels, rested on the prosecution, which included facts and cause of death, which is unlawful and attributed to the defendants.
Justice Nyordee further held that the offence of murder was self-evident, pursuant to Section 316 of the Evident Act. The court also held that the prosecution did not bring any eyewitness to the actual killing of the boys, except for the video and confessional statements obtained during investigation by the PW1, which was admitted in court as evidence and which corroborated the findings of the Coroner inquest conducted by a pathologist, Dr Seleye Fubara,
He further held that the boys died from burnt negroids, hylated membrane, superfluse in the nostrils, showing aspiration of carbon monoxide and serious injuries, multiple fractures of the brain bones and coma, as evident in the testimony and Coroner test of the Pathologist, Dr Seleye Fubara.
In handing down the sentences, the judge condemned the action of the security agencies, including the Police patrol team from Isiokpo, the reinforced team from Isiokpo, the JTF Team, and the C41 team, who all went to the crime scene but could not rescue the boys.
Justice Nyordee regretted that none of the members of the security agencies from the patrol team, the reinforced team, JTF and C41 was arrested and prosecuted. He added that the sentence would serve as a deterrent to the convicts and other members of the society that life is sacred and no one has the right to take the life of another person.
Sighs of relief
The father of one of the victims, Mr. Toku Mike, who spoke on behalf of other parents of the murdered students, expressed gratitude to the court for clearing the case of armed robbery tagged against the victims. Mike, who spoke with newsmen shortly after the judgment, said: “I am partially happy in the sense that the garment of armed robbery, the garment of criminality has been erased from the four children that were murdered in Aluu.
“It is clear that they were innocent. They didn’t kill, they didn’t rob, they only went there to demand money they were owed. I would have been happier if the 12 of them were convicted and sentenced. But the court did not see it that way. Only three were convicted and sentenced.”
Counsel to the convicted persons, Mr. Chukwueze Kingdom, said he would appeal the sentence. Also, the lead prosecutor, Mr. Inikiri Otorubio, who is the DPP in the state Ministry of Justice, said he was happy that the matter had come to an end. He said the prosecution team would study the judgement to know the next line of action.