•Court sentences culprit to death by hanging
By Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Nwaimo Ifeanyi received the sum of N42 million from his business associate to supply some roof tiles to him but he failed to deliver the materials. Rather, he lured the buyer to his house, killed him with a hammer and set his body ablaze in an attempt to conceal the crime.
That was how an Abuja-based businessman, Chief Remigins Nzekwe, was gruesomely murdered in his own house at No. 396, Close 36 Road, Gwarimpa Estate, Abuja, by his business associate, Nwaimo, the marketing manager of a roofing tiles company.
According to the findings of Justice Sunday Aladetoyinbo of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, Nwaimo collected the money from the deceased with the intention of not supplying the goods but to kill the deceased so as to have free money, that was the motive behind the murder.
In the case between Commissioner of Police Vs Nwaimo Ifeanyi and Ogbonna Ejike Godwill, the suspects were arraigned before the court on December 10, 2014, on six-counts.
Although they were charged on six counts, the court in its wisdom concerned itself with two counts of culpable homicide, punishable with death, and conspiracy to commit culpable homicide, punishable with death.
The harges read: “That you Nwaimo Ifeanyi (28 years) of Sunshine Estate, Gwarimpa, Abuja, and Ogbonna Ejike Godwill (35 years) of off Ademola Adetokunbo Wuse 2, Abuja, on or about June 22, 2014, at about 1040hrs at No. 396, Close 36 Road, Gwarimpa Estate, Abuja, within the Abuja judicial division, conspired together to commit felony to wit, culpable homicide, punishable with death; you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 97 of the Penal Code.
“That you Nwaimo Ifeanyi (28 years) of Sunshine Estate Gwarimpa, Abuja, and Ogbonna Ejike Godwill (35 years) of off Ademola Adetokunbo Wuse 2, Abuja, on or about June 22, 2014, at about 1040hrs at No. 396, Close 36 Road, Gwarimpa Estate, Abuja, within the Abuja judicial division, while acting in concert, caused the death of Remigins Nzekwe ‘M’ by hitting him on the head with a big hammer, which resulted in his death with knowledge that death would be the probable consequences of your act, you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 220 and punishable under section 221 of the Penal Code.
Prosecution opens case
Prosecution counsel, Magaji Labaran, opened his case against the accused persons by calling eight witnesses, including the wife of the deceased, Mrs. Tina Nzekwe.
The first witness (PW1), Stephen Margit Malwash, who lived at 396B Close, 36 Road, 3rd Avenue, Gwarimpa Estate, said he knew the accused persons. Block 396 had two compounds 396A and 396B, both owned by the deceased, and were demarcated by a wall. While the deceased lived in 396A, PW1 live in 396B, along with Nicodimus Ishaya.
He told the court that on June 22, 2014, while he was washing clothes outside the gate of Block 396B, he saw Nwaimo Ifeanyi (1st accused) and Ogbonna Godwill (2nd accused) coming out very fast from the house of the deceased around 11am and entered Block Block 396B.
The witness said he wanted to stop them but suddenly realised that he normally saw him with the deceased.
Malwash further testified that he was later sent on an errand by a tenant in Block 396B, one Engineer Gabriel, for his female guest. He added that he was given the money for the drinks in the presence of the 1st accused.
He further testified that he bought the drinks close to the house and, upon his return, he did not see anybody outside Block 396B. He went to Gabriel’s room and gave him the drinks and returned to where he was washing clothes.
Soon after, he heard people shouting “fire! fire!” in Block 396A, where the deceased lived and the fire engulfed the house even as the door was locked.
The witness added that men of the Fire Service later came and put out the fire and discovered the lifeless body of the deceased inside the house.
Evidence of engineer (PW2)
The next witness was Gabriel Udegbe, the engineer who sent PW1 to buy drinks and a tenant to the late Nzekwe.
He testified that he knew the deceased as his landlord and client. That in June 22, 2014, he was in the house (boys’ quarters), with his female guest, when the accused persons came to meet him.
Udegbe told the court that the first accused (Ifeanyi) had been coming to Block 396B but had never entered his room except on that day, when he came with the second accused person, who he introduced as his cousin from Lagos.
He said he was surprised at the visit because he had never visited him before.
The witness stated that while Nwaimo was inside his room, he made some comments as if he was talking to himself as follows: “Your landlord wants to outsmart me.” Shortly after, he went outside.
According to Udegbe, Nwaimo rushed back into the room and said the landlord’s house was on fire. When they came out, they saw smoke coming from the landlord’s house, later first accused carried a big object to break the windscreen of the deceased’s vehicle parked outside the house. He claimed to be looking for a fire extinguisher.
Udegbe told the court that he went and invited men of the Fire Service, who came and put out the fire after forcing the front door open.
It was also the evidence of PW2 that after the body of Nzekwe was discovered in the burnt building, the police were invited to the scene.
He disclosed that when the wife of the deceased arrived at the scene, she immediately held the shirt of the first accused person and started asking him about the whereabouts of her husband.
The witness informed the court that while he was at the police station to report the incident as an eye witness, he was told that the first accused person had earlier come to the station to assert that he (Udegbe) be made the first suspect.
He added that while he was still at the police station, one of the investigating police officers who went to the deceased’s house came with the key of the vehicle belonging to the first accused person, which he said was found beside the lifeless body of the deceased and that the first accused parked his vehicle outside the house of the deceased.
He further claimed that the deceased had ordered some goods from overseas through the first accused person, which were yet to be delivered to him.
Deceased’s accountant/secretary (PW4)
Another prosecution witness, Eze Chinyere Immaculater, who testified as PW4, was an accountant/secretary at the deceased’s company, Remicorn Aluminium Company Ltd. She told the court that the deceased was her boss and that she knew the first accused person as the marketing manager of Jay Steel Roofing Tiles Company.
In her testimony before the court, PW4 said that her boss paid for five containers of goods at N6 million per container, totalling N30 million, which was credited into a bank account supplied by the first accused.
According to her, the first accused further demanded for additional N12 million, which was equally paid by the deceased, bringing the total to N42 million. The witness told the court how the first accused persistently deceived her boss that the goods would be supplied to him, but nothing was supplied before his death.
She added that when her boss got worried about the transaction and expressed his disappointment, Nwaimo sent a text message to him about a meeting that would take place at 12pm of June 22, 2014, to discuss the issue. However, between 12pm and 1pm, she received a message that there was a fire at her boss’s house. According to the witness, she rushed to the house but they had already removed the corpse of her boss.
Investigating police officers
In his witness before the court as PW5, Sgt. Danjuma Atama, a police officer attached to Gwarimpa divisional headquarters, FCT Command, told the court that on June 22. 2014, at about 11:45hrs, he received a distress call that house No. 396A, close to road 36, off 3rd Avenue, Gwarimpa Estate, was on fire.
It was his evidence-in-chief that Superintendent of Police, Bello Olatunji, led a team of officers to the scene, where they met men of the Fire Service trying to put out the fire.
Atama told Justice Aladetoyinbo that, after the fire was successfully put out, he entered the burnt house with Olatunji and discovered a burnt human body close to one of the chairs in the sitting room.
He said, on close evaluation of the dead body, they discovered that the head was broken and was full of blood, it created suspicion that somebody must have killed him before setting the house on fire. One hammer was recovered at the entrance of the sitting room, the cover of gallon of kerosene was also recovered, while the burnt body was later identified as Remigins Nzekwe by the wife Mrs. Nzekwe.
The witness further told the court how he was instructed to move the dead body to National Hospital Abuja where the Doctor on duty confirmed him dead and was deposited at the hospital’s Mortuary.
He said he later returned to the scene of crime where he was shown an ignition key of a vehicle covered with ashes and was recovered where the body of the deceased was removed.
The witness said investigation further revealed that the recovered key belong to Ifeanyi (1st accused) Chevrolet Jeep which was parked opposite the deceased’s house.
Atama also told the court how the 1st accused along with the exhibits recovered were moved to Gwarimpa divisional headquarters for further investigations where he took the statement of the 1st accused person under the words of caution by him. That he took pictures of the scene of crime with his mobile phone. The pictures, the hammer, the Chevrolet Jeep ignition key and the Chevrolet Jeep and the cork were all admitted as exhibits.
Deceased wife’s testimony
During trial, wife of the deceased, Mrs. Tina Nzekwe testified as PW6, where she told the court that she knew Ifeanyi (1st accused) but did not know Godwill (2nd accused) person.
She described Ifeanyi as a business associate of her late husband and Manager of Jay Steel Aluminium.
According to her evidence in chief, “early June 2014, her husband came home looking worried about the goods he ordered from Ifeanyi’s company worth N42m, which were supposed to be seven containers and are yet to be delivered to him.
“That her late husband told her he had been calling Ifeanyi on his phone but that he refused to pick his calls adding that her husband became suspicious about the lies and manipulation of Ifeanyi.
She further testified that Ifeanyi invited her late husband to Lagos in order to introduce him to one Mr. Fred who would supply him the goods. That her husband went to Lagos and came back without seeing Mr. Fred. That the 1 st accused told the deceased that a meeting had been scheduled for June 15, 2014. The meeting was later re-scheduled for June 22, 2014 which was Sunday; and that because of the meeting, herself and her husband decided to go to 8:am church service instead of the usual 10:am service.
Defence of the accused persons
At the close of the case for the prosecution, the 1st and 2nd accused persons gave evidence for their own defence, the 1st accused was the 1st (DW1). He claimed to be the marketing manager of Jay Steel Tech (Nig) Ltd. He started working with the company by 2010 and came to Abuja on transfer from Lagos by 2012. He claimed to have been arrested on June 22, 2014. That one that day, he went to church with his quest (2nd accused), and his wife in Gwarimpa. After the service they came back home which is Sunshine Estate Gwarimpa. Himself and 2nd accused left the house with the intention of getting food stuffs from the market. On their way, he noticed the deceased vehicle parked in the front of Jay Steel Tech (Nig), Ltd, office Gwarimpa.
According to his defence, he told the court that the deceased came out from the office and invited him to his house, while the deceased was driving to his house, he was following him with his vehicle along with his quest, 2nd accused person.
Ifeanyi stated that when the deceased got to his house 396A, he (Ifeanyi and Godwill) went to greet PW2 in Block 396B. That the deceased claimed to have forgotten his key in the church and went for it while himself and the 2nd accused decided to stay behind with PW2 in Block 396B.
He further told the court that he left his quest with Engr. Gabriel Udegbe (PW2) and went to the warehouse of Jay Steel Tech (Nig) Ltd, which is three minutes drive from the scene of crime. That in getting there, he met some boys off-loading one of the two containers in the office. After spending ten minutes, he drove back to the deceased’s house and noticed pandemonium. “I parked my vehicle in front of Block 396A the house of the deceased and noticed the fire and a pair running out of Block 396A with a Gas Cylinder. I equally noticed some people trying to push out a car from the burning house.
He said he raised alarm of fire which attracted Pw2 and 2nd to come out and joined other people trying to put off the fire. That he brought out fire extinguisher from his vehicle but that the fire was much with black smoke and no one could get to the veranda of the house.
He told the court that PW2 went to call men of the Fire Service who eventually put off the fire.
He added that policemen came and entered the house after the fire had been out off. That the wife of the deceased later came to the scene asking after her husband. That the policemen who came to the house in a Hilux inquired about the person that knew the deceased. I volunteered myself and was instructed by the policemen to follow them to the station where I made my statement to the police.
He said while still at the police station, another policeman came and showed him the ignition key of a vehicle and asked him “who owns the ignition key”. I told the police that the car key belong to me and a policeman, Bello slapped me twice.
Under cross- examination, Ifeanyi admitted knowing the deceased and claimed that he has been doing business together with the deceased.
The 2nd accused person (Godwill). Who claimed to be working with Zoria Ventures Ltd as General Manager with Head office in Ikoyi, Lagos, also put up a similar defence with Ifeanyi. He told the court that he was a cousin to Ifeanyi and was with him on the day of the incident.
He said he arrived Abuja from Lagos on June 21, 2014 to spend the weekend with him. According to Godwill, he slept in Ifeanyi’s house on June 21 till 22, 2014 and that on Sunday, they went to church together from 8:00am to 10:00am.
He said after the arrest of his cousin, he went to his house and informed the wife about what happened and how her husband was taken to the police station. That he travelled back to Lagos where he was invited to Abuja by the police. That he reported to FCT Police Command where he was detained for three week and subsequently arraigned along with his cousin before the court.
Off the Hook
After evaluating the evidence put before him by both the prosecution and defence counsel, the 2nd defendant (Ogbonna Godwill) was discharged and acquitted by Justice Aladetoyinbo who held that the prosecution has not provided sufficient circumstantial evidence against him to establish his quilt of culpable homicide contrary to section 221 of the Penal Code.
After discharging the 2nd accused person, Justice Aladetoyinbo said the issue of conspiracy in count one of the charge contrary to section 97 of the Penal Code cannot arise, as conspiracy is defined as an agreement of two or more persons to do an act which is an offence and the count was accordingly struck out.
You must die by hanging
Justice Aladetoyinbo held that for the prosecution to establish that the two accused committed culpable homicide under section 221 of the Penal Code, he must established all the ingredients of the offence.
He cited various case laws to show the ingredients of culpable homicide punishable with death to include; that the deceased died, that the death was caused by the accused person; that the accused person had intention of causing the death of the deceased or to cause him grievous bodily injury.”
The judge said that where the death of human being is in issue before a court of trial, the prosecution must prove that the death of a human being has actually occurred; that such death was caused by the person being accused; that the act was done with the intention of causing such bodily injury and the accused knew or had reason to know that the death would be the probable and not the likely consequence of his act, or that the accused knew or had to know that death would be the probable and not only the likely consequence of any bodily injury which the act was intended to cause.”
He stated that the guilt of accused person can be proved by confessional statement; Circumstantial evidence or evidence of eye witness.
“In this case at hand, there is no confessional statement, neither is there any eye witness to the commission of the crime, what we have is circumstantial evidence.
After laying the foundation of his judgment, Justice Aladetoyinbo proceeded to point out what he considered as overwhelming circumstantial evidence against the 1st accused person as follows:
That PW4 and PW6 (Immaculater and deceased wife) claimed that a meeting was fixed for June 22, 2014 between the deceased and1st accused person. The meeting was supposed to take place in the morning, the reason why the deceased went for 8:00am service instead of 10: 00amservice. His dead body was found in the house where the meeting was supposed to take place, he died a violent death.
** Pw1 (Stephen Margit Malwash) claimed to see 1st and 2nd accused coming out very fast from Block 396A where the deceased reside, around 10:am-11:00 am of June 22, 2014, shortly after, there was an inferno in Block 396A, by the time the fire was put off, behold the dead body of the deceased was found in Block 396A, he died a violent death as revealed by post mortem.
** Exhibit C, ignition key of his vehicle which was parked outside the compound of Block 396A was found beside the dead body of the deceased, the 1 st accused person accepted in his evidence-in-chief that exhibit C belong to him; why is the ignition key exhibit C found beside the body of the deceased?
*** The medical report issued by the medical Doctor following post mortem examination of late Remigins Nzekwe showed that the deceased died of skull, fracture from traumatic head injury consistent with one caused by being hit on the head with a hammer exhibit B, which was found at the scene of the crime. All the fractures in the skull of the deceased confirmed that the deceased died a violent death and not as a result of fire.
**PW4 and PW6 claimed that the deceased paid the sum of N42m to the 1st accused person to supply him goods, for months 1st accused was deceiving the deceased that he would supply the goods. The goods were never supplied to the deceased, the 1st accused collected the money from the deceased with the intention of not supplying the goods but to kill the deceased so as to have free money, this is the motive behind the murder of the deceased.
*PW7 (a legal practitioner) gave evidence to the effect that he saw the 1st accused entered Chevrolet Jeep along with the deceased and two other persons driving away from the deceased house, they were heading to the church to collect the deceased house key from the wife information the church as the wife PW6 confirmed to have seen 1st accused with her husband and the Chevrolet Jeep when she gave the key to her late husband in the church.
**The last person to see the deceased alive was PW6, the wife in the church. When the deceased came to collect the key of his house from the wife (PW6 ), one hour after the husband came to collect the key from her, there was an announcement in the church that the deceased’s house is on fire and that the deceased died of violent death by common sense, the 1st accused has an explanation to make about what happened to the deceased between one hour interval.
**From the cover of container exhibit D which was alleged to smell kerosene, the fire in the deceased house was not natural but caused by deliberate act to conceal the murder.
After considering the above circumstances, the court held that the 1st accused (Ifeanyi) lied in his oral evidence when he said he drove out from block 396B leaving the 2nd accused behind with Gabriel Udegbe, an Engineer who lived in plot 396B and a tenant of the deceased, who testified as PW2, on the day of the incident.
“The ignition key of his vehicle at that period in time was inside Block 396A, he could not have driven out without the ignition key, his telling lies has nothing to do with his conviction by this court.
The court held that the 1st accused lied in his statement to the police when he stated “I did not step my foot inside Mr. Remigins’s house before and after the incidence.”
On the lie being told by the 1st accused, the judge cited a Supreme Court decision in the case of Ogidi V State (2005) 5NWLR (pt 918) 286 at 298 where the court held as follows:
“Although a man may lie because he is guilty, he may just as well lie because he is stupid or afraid or both and whether he is guilty or not it has never been the law that the mere fact that a person told lies is by itself sufficient to convict him of an offence unconnected with him, nor does the fact that an accused person told lies relieve the prosecution of its duty of proving the guilt of the accused of the offences charged beyond all reasonable doubt.”
The court held that the 1st accused has an explanation to make in respect of PW1 seeing him and 2nd accused coming out fast from Block 396A. Why we’re the two of them there at that hour and that day the two accused persons did not render any explanation; why is the ignition key of the 1st accused’s vehicle which was parked outside the compound found beside the dead body on the deceased, evidence indicated that the from door of the deceased house was forced opened before the Fire Servicemen entered the house. The 1st accused did not render any explanation as to why his vehicle ignition key was found beside the deceased, the ignition key placed the 1st accused at the scene of the crime.”
“During the trial, the ignition of the 1st accused was found beside the lifeless body of the deceased was admitted in evidence as exhibit C. The court was moved to where the vehicle of the 1st accused, Chevrolet Jeep was parked. Exhibit C was used to start the vehicle in the presence of the counsel to the two accused persons and the prosecutor.
“At that point it was confirmed that the ignition key found beside the lifeless body of the deceased belong to the 1st accused person. It was after the brutal murder was committed by the 1st accused person that PW1 saw him and 2nd accused coming out fast from the scene of crime. The first accused had mistakenly forgotten his key where he committed the murder as a result, he could not drive away from where the murder was committed.
“His vehicle was parked outside the compound of Block 396A where the murder was committed. The vehicle of the deceased was inside the compound, all these evidence indicated that the 1st accused and the deceased were together. The only irresistible inference from the circumstances presented by the evidence of the prosecution witnesses in this case is that the 1st accused killed the deceased. Although the evidence of the prosecution witnesses in this case constitute circumstantial evidence, the evidence had established the guilt of the 1st accused person beyond reasonable doubt, because same is cogent, compelling and lead to the irresistible conclusion that the 1st accused and no one else committed the brutal murder of the deceased.”
From the totality if the evidence adduced by the prosecution, the court held that the prosecution had established all the required ingredients of the offence of culpable homicide punishable under section 221 of the Penal Code against the 1st accused person and “he is hereby convicted for the offence of culpable homicide punishable under section 221 of the Penal Code.
The 1st accused is hereby sentenced to death by hanging “as there was no mercy shown to the victim of the crime as he was killed like an animal without any cause.”