The Kokorifa family had dragged the Nigerian Police to court over the killing of Innocent, whom the Police alleged was a member of an armed robbery gang
Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Corporal Vincent Koluama-Owei scanned the courtroom for familiar faces. He had just been convicted for the August 18 2016 murder of 17-year-old Innocent Kokorifa, who was gunned down along Airforce road, Okaka, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital.
The trial Judge, Justice Ineikade Eradiri had requested his lawyer to say something before he delivered his sentence. Koluama-Owei’s gaze was fixed on his family members sitting at the back row. “My Lord, please have mercy on him” were the words that dropped from his lips.
Justice Eradiri, however, said the punishment for his offence was clear, and so he pronounced that “the punishment prescribed for murder is death. Accordingly, the sentence of this court is that you be hanged by the neck until you are dead. May God have mercy on your soul!”
The Kokorifa family had dragged the Nigerian Police to court over the killing of Innocent, whom the Police alleged was a member of an armed robbery gang that had been terrorising the area and was killed while trying to escape. Ammunition and wraps of Indian hemp were even placed beside his dead body to justify that he was a member of the gang. After pressure by the family in collaboration with human rights group, an investigation was ordered by the police authorities leading to the arrest of Koluma-Owei and his dismissal from the Nigerian Police.
The case, which began in the later part of 2016, dragged until October 2018 when Justice Eradiri, after the final addresses of the prosecution and defence counsels, fixed a date for the judgement. Eradiri, in delivering the verdict, blasted the Nigerian Police for unprofessional conduct over the death of Innocent.
Part of the Judgment reads: “Human life is sacrosanct, and as such, a person can only deprive another only as a last and final resort. Only God Almighty created life and can take it away. Anyone who takes the life of another under circumstances not as permitted by law arrogates unto himself the driven power of the Almighty and must answer here on earth and also in heaven. In the circumstances of this case, section 33(2) of the 1999 Constitution does not avail the appellant. The firing of the gun at the back of the deceased to prevent him from escaping from a lawful arrest was not reasonable in the circumstance. Someone has made a report to the police, saying that hoodlums suspected to be armed robbers were operating openly in broad daylight in a residential area; the next thing that happened was that the police went there, cordoned off the area and shot someone who was not even running but walking away. The police did not do any serious observation as to confirm the report which they received. There was also no evidence whatsoever that the armed robbers were actually in operation. There was also no evidence that any of the so-called armed robbers was arrested after the killing of the deceased.”
He continued “There was even evidence that after the deceased had been shot, he stood up and walked to the accused, demanding to know why the accused shot him. And shortly afterwards, he slumped to the ground and died. The fact that the deceased walked across the narrow street after he had been shot by the accused was not denied by the accused. That act of raw courage displayed by the dying young man was certainly not the act of an armed robber who had just fired a shot at the policeman. Where did the reasonableness or necessity lie in the shooting of a person who was merely a suspect and walking away from the scene of a crime?
“Even if by one’s imagination, the deceased shot at the accused, the accused himself said that the bullet did not penetrate his body. Hence, he replied the deceased by shooting him with his AK47 rifle. If it was true that the deceased stood and shot at the accused, then he would have been facing the accused and not backing him. However, the autopsy report shows that that was not the case, as the entry route was of the upper outer aspect of the back while the exit route was the ulterior shoulder joint area. This is consistent with the fact that the deceased might have been walking away before the accused shot him. From the evidence led by the prosecution, l hold that the prosecution proved his case beyond reasonable doubt. And on the contrary, there was serious doubt on the truth contained in the claims of the accused that he acted in self-defence. I reject the defence of the accused for being contradictory and unsatisfactory. I find the accused guilty as charged and he is hereby convicted of the murder of Innocent Kokorifa.”
Innocent was indeed, innocent
Though Innocent is dead and the death sentence passed on Koluama-Owei cannot bring him back to life, “the pronouncement of the judge has confirmed that my son was not an armed robber,” noted Mr Daniel Kokorifa. For him, that was enough consolation, and it showed that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man.
“I am grateful to God. I thank God that it is now proven that my son Innocent is not an armed robber or cultist. Today, justice has been served. I am grateful to Nigerians from all walks of life; human rights activists and the press for supporting me. People supported me financially, psychologically and spiritually. Many people have cases like these and were not able to get justice. The press was behind me and justice has prevailed. I am very grateful to God. Innocent my son in his bosom would rest in peace.”
The Chairman of the Civil Liberties Organisation in Bayelsa, Chief Nengi James said the judgment would not have been possible without the Nigeria press which stood by the family. According to him, the guilty verdict handed down to the accused is a pointer that CLO and other groups would not relent in fighting for the human rights of Bayelsans.
“We will continue to support human rights activities, citizens’ rights and what is right for Bayelsans. You cannot take human life and think nothing would happen. This is a warning to all gun-toting law enforcements agents in Bayelsa State. We have several cases where they have killed innocent Bayelsans. The law enforcement agents should know that we are watching. The press is watching. The human rights community is also not sleeping. We will continue to do our best to protect human lives in Bayelsa.”
A resident, Comrade Gbasa, who also lamented the actions of the police, urged Bayelsans to be abreast of the constitution and speak up against extra-judicial killings of innocent citizens.
Also responding to the judgment, Mr. Morris Alagoa, however, expressed mixed feelings. He said it was the design of the law to ensure that such actions are taken to guard against extra-judicial killing.
“I received the judgement with mixed feelings,” he stated. “The death of any person is not a happy thing. The human rights community is not happy about the death of any soul. But unfortunately, it has happened and today judgement has been delivered and justice has been served. We feel so sorry for the loss of our brother, Innocent, a youth that was planning to read law that was killed, and another of our brother, a policeman, the accused who has been sentenced to death by hanging. None of this is pleasing to us. But the society has designed it that if something happens like this, justice should be served.”
Mr Stanley Damabide, counsel to Koluama-Owei, has, however, rejected the verdict, even as he vowed that he would be filing an appeal against the judgment soon.
In the meantime, Koluama-Owei has been returned to the Okaka Prisons pending his date with the hangman even as his lawyers continue to hope that a higher court would soon find the dismissed policeman innocent of Innocent’s killing.