Nearly 17 years after the crime, an FCT High Court, Abuja, on Thursday sentenced two policemen to death and discharged three others over the killing of six traders in Apo, Federal Capital Territory, in 2005.
Those condemned to death are Emmanuel Baba and Ezekiel Acheneje, while Danjuma Ibrahim, Nicholas Zakariah and Sadiq Salami were discharged.
The five were among six arraigned over the killing of the traders on June 7, 2005 on suspicion that they were armed robbers.
The sixth person on the charge sheet, Othman Abdulsalam, who was the Divisional Police Officer in Apo, is currently on the run.
But it later turned out that the deceased were shot dead on the orders of another police officer, at a popular night club, the only female victim, Tina, turned down love advances of Danjuma, a senior police officer and one of the accused at a club.
Thus, the five policemen were charged with culpable homicide for the killing of Ifeanyi Ozor, Chinedu Meniru, Isaac Ekene, Paulinus Ogbonna, Anthony Nwodike and Augustina Arebun.
News Agency of Nigeria reported that the judge, Justice Ishaq Bello held that the prosecution established evidence beyond reasonable doubt to the guilt of the 4th and 5th defendants.
He held that admission of the commission of the crime by both 4th and the 5th defendants were unequivocal
“ And I am convinced by the facts coupled with the now notorious extra judicial killing of innocent people by some members of the Nigeria Police, to condemn the inability of the members of the Nigerian Police Force to realise that the foundation of the police institution is preservation of life and properties.
“The instance of extra judicial killing by Nigerian Police Force is one too many; the defendants did not only fail in their duty as policemen to protect the people but have no regards for their lives,“ he held.
He held that they were not only overzealous but reckless in their action
“No one can hide under the order of a superior officer to commit a crime, the 4th and 5th defendants are sentenced to death under Section 221 (a) of the Penal Code.“
Bello held that there was nothing in form of an evidence to adduce that the girl and the boys did anything that constituted any threat to the defendants.
The judge said that the 4th and 5th defendants admitted killing the girl and described the action as “a case of impunity of the highest order.’’
He held that the prosecution did not adduce enough evidence against Danjuma Ibrahim, Othman Abdulsalami (at large), Nicholas Zakaria, and Sadiq Salami to warrant their conviction.
Meanwhile, some civil society organisations on Thursday described the conviction of two policemen involved the killing of six traders in Apo, Abuja in 2005 as victory for tenacity and democracy.
Mr Ezenwa Nwagwu, Chairman, Partners for Electoral Reform (PER) told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja that the judgment showed that the judiciary could stand up expediently to deliver justice.
Nwagwu said that death sentence on the police officers was well-deserved, adding that it was a show of perseverance by the public.
“This judgment symbolised what perseverance and doggedness can do. When citizens don’t give up on the pursuit of justice, they are likely going to get the results that they desire.
“It was because the `Apo six’ issues were not allowed to die that we were able to get the kind the result we had today.
“So, it is victory for doggedness, perseverance and victory for democracy as well as justice to the ordinary person,’’ he said.
He urged Nigerians to stay strong on what they believed and what was right, saying “when advocacy is very strong on any matter, the desired result will be achieved’’.
Mr Frank Tietie, President, Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER), said the judgment was a welcomed development for the nation’s democracy and portended safety of life of the common man.
He said that the spate of taking citizens’ lives illegally by law enforcement agents had been on the rise, but that the judgment by Justice Bello would send a strong message to perpetrators.
“This will trigger a sense of respect for lives to all Nigerians, especially the arms-bearing law enforcement agents, that when they deprive anyone the fundamental right to life as provided in Section 33 of the Constitution, there is penalty.
“They would be punished and be possibly given the death penalty as in this case.
“Nigeria is one of the countries that still retain the death penalty. This is underscored by the value of human life in Nigeria.
“Therefore, anyone who takes the life of another deliberately and in cold blood must also be deprived of his or her life.
“However worrisome is the length of time it took to dispense with the case. In an act of crime which took place as far back as 2005, it has taken about 12 years just at the court of first instance to give judgment,’’ Tietie said.
He urged the judiciary to step up its judgment, especially in cases that had to do with taking the life of another deliberately in cold blood and ensure that anybody involved should also be deprived of his or her own life.