•Five years after, parents of four slain UNIPORT students heave a sigh 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 students of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Choba, Rivers State, has come to an end.
Justice was served in the murder trial on Monday, July 31, 2017, as three of the 18 suspects 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 stained with the blood of four friends who were 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 lynched by a mob after being accused of robbery and cultism. They were paraded round the community naked, for several hours.
However, those who raised the alarm that the boys were robbers and cultists are still at large.
Arrests of suspects
The 18 people 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, 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 jurisdiction on the matter, so the case file was transferred to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for legal advice. The case was later adjourned to December 20 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 were allegations that the deceased were robbers or cult members; that the death of the deceased persons was as a result of mob action by a large number of youths from Omuokiri Aluu community; that detectives identified some of the ring leaders, who are still at large but are being hunted.
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; the first four policemen who arrived at the scene of the crime were chased away by the mob and they returned to the Divisional Police Headquarters, Isiopko, for reinforcements.
Before reinforcements could arrive the scene, however, the students 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 killings.
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 read: “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, Vol. 2, Laws of 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, Vol. 2, Laws of 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’s advice led to the release of the following accused persons: Patrick Chosen, Nsirim Tasie Ogadima, Anyanwu Amarachi E., Egberide Prosper Ejiro, Uwemedimo Johnson Etuk, Ugwem Sampson and Kalio Ibinabo Greenson. The DPP also granted four people bail: Welewa, Okoghiroh, Abajuo and Evans Samuel, after no case was established against them.
The DPP also charged the police to intensify efforts to arrest suspects who were still at large but were identified in the widely-circulated video clips.
Shortly after, the trial resumed at the high court, with the first judge declining to handle the matter. Before returning the case file to the court registrar, she said: “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 due to the closure of the Judiciary Complex for about two years during the administration of immediate past Governor Chibuike Amaechi, over political crises in the state.
When the incumbemt 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, Welewa, and four others because there was no prima facie case of murder proved against them. He fixed judgment for Monday, July 31, 2017, for the remaining seven accused persons. The judge thereafter sentenced three of them to death.
Those to die are Orji, Amadi and Ogbada. The Judge discharged and acquitted the remaining four persons, Yusuf, Ikpe, 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 was overwhelming.
He said: “I am, therefore, satisfied that their roles in the killing of the victims are unjustifiable and unlawful. Their actions were intended to kill the victims.”
Justice Nyordee also stated that throughout the trial, nobody presented himself or herself as a victim of robbery at the hands of the four youths, adding that they were victims of a mob action. He held that the offence of murder was self-evident, pursuant to Section 316 of the Evidence Act.
The court also held that the prosecution did not bring any witness 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’s inquest conducted by a pathologist, Dr. Seleye Fubara,
He held that the youths 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’s test of the pathologist, Fubara.
In handing down the sentences, the judge condemned the action of the security agencies, including the police patrol team from Isiokpo, the reinforcement 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 reinforcement 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 public 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 levelled against theit slain children. Mike, who spoke with newsmen shortly after the judgement, 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, the DPP in the Rivers State Ministry of Justice, said he was happy that the matter had come to an end. He said the prosecution would study the judgement to know the next line of action.