After several years of legal fireworks in search of justice, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on March 9, 2017 delivered judgment on the gruesome and dastardly killing of six Igbo traders by some trigger-happy police officers.
While I commend the Federal Ministry of Justice, the Police, families of the deceased and indeed all those who kept vigil and dug in their heels and gave no quarter looking for justice for the 12 years the matter has lasted, I dare say that what we got in place of justice was injustice. I must actually say this, I was underwhelmed when Justice Ishaq Bello of the FCT Federal High Court gave his ruling penultimate week. However, it must be emphasised that I do not intend here to denigrate or question the wisdom of the learned justice, but it is important to point out that the judgment was repugnant to natural justice.
For the benefit of those who may not be conversant with this matter, it will be fine we take a leisure walk through memory lane. In the month of June 7, 2005, five young men and a girl in their 20s drove out on a night shift to enjoy themselves after the day’s work was over. They docked at a nightclub at Gimbiya Street, Area 11 Abuja to frolic and skylark and make merry. But unfortunately, it did not occur to them that they were on a rendezvous with death.
Danjuma Ibrahim, the harbinger of death and a very Senior Police Officer, was there in a state of drunken stupor. He made amorous advances for a one-night stand to Augustina Arebun, one of the Apo Six. The girl spurned him and rejected the love overtures, which did not go down well with him. Angered by Augustina’s audacity to refuse his advances, DCP Ibrahim went to a nearby Police checkpoint and alerted the officers on duty of a robbery incident at Gimbiya Street, Garki.
They put up a road block and on sighting the vehicle used by the victims as they were returning back that night, Danjuma Ibrahim being the most senior officer gave order and the officers opened fire on them for being armed robbers. Messrs Ifeanyi Ozor, Chinedu Meniru, Paulinus Ogbonna and Ekene Isaac aged between 20 and 26 all died on the spot while Anthony Nwokike and Miss Augustina Arebun survived the onslaught and managed to escape to a nearby place with bullet wounds.
Angered by this, Ibrahim conferred with Abdulsalami Othman who was the Divisional Police Officer at Garki Poilce Division and an Ambush Squad was detailed to search for the escapees. They were found and brought to the divisional police headquarters the following day. While testifying at the Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo to unravel the matter following the uproar and worldwide condemnation the incident generated, Assistant Superintendent of Police and Divisional Crime Officer in charge of Garki Police Division gave a grilling and graphic details of how the two survivors were later killed to destroy evidence. In the night of June 8, 2005, he testified that the Ambush Squad were told to “escort” Anthony Nwokike while “DCP Danjuma Ibrahim seized the neck of the lady and twisted it fiercely.”
According to reports by the News Agency of Nigeria, after the consummation of the act, the officers planted guns on the bodies of the victims and arranged for a photographer who came and took pictures of the “armed robbers” killed during an exchange of gunfire with the police! All the six officers who perpetrated the act were summarily arrested and taken to the Force Headquarters Abuja for prosecution. But the DPO of Garki Police post, Abdulsalami Othman, vanished in mysterious circumstances when he was escorted to pray at a mosque close to the Force Headquarters.
During the investigations by the Commission of Inquiry, all the five Police Officers including not less than eight police witnesses confessed that DCP Danjuma Ibrahim ordered them to kill the victims. And in the face of such overwhelming evidence, it is disturbing that the learned judge convicted and sentenced to death only Ezekiel Achejene and Baba Emmanuel for culpable homicide and set DPO Abdulsalami Othman, Nicholas Zakaria and Sadiq Salami free including the ring leader Danjuma Ibrahim for lack of compelling evidence.
While delivering his judgment on March 9, Justice Bello turned justice upside down. The world was in shock when his lips dripped with injustice with his controversial ruling that “being directed to commit a crime by a superior officer could never serve as a valid cover for the commission of a crime.”
All the officers who did the shooting had confessed to doing so by the orders of a superior officer. All the eight police witnesses had equally testified to the culpability of DCP Ibrahim. All the testimonies which form part of the eyewitness account of the incident could not have been cooked up.
What other superior evidence did Justice Bello need to do the needful and stop bending justice to the misleading curve of personal and ethnic desire? What other evidence or testimony did Bello need to understand that the Police, like other military organs, operate on a command structure which must be obeyed by the junior officer? Could he have arrived at the same judgment if the victims were to be Fulani or Hausas? In short, why did the Justice Ishaq Bello court jettison the findings of the investigative panel which should have formed part of the evidence before the court? These are the questions Justice Bello should provide answers to if the world should not be led to believe that his judgment smacked of judicial gerrymandering.
Many days after, Bello’s judgment has raised serious doubts and uproar across different segments of society, prompting a general call on the Federal Government to review it. The chairman of Apo Traders Association, Chief Chimezie Ife, condemned it and lamented that “the real culprits of the gruesome murder of the Apo 6 were let off the hook while DCP Danjuma Ibrahim that orchestrated and executed our brothers and sister” was given a clean bill of health.
However, what is equally suspicious and painful in the whole drama is the mysterious disappearance of the second mastermind, Divisional Police Officer in charge of Garki Police Division, Abdulsalami Othman. He was taken along with five other culprits to the Force Headquaters for prosecution, but he has not shown up since he went missing when he was escorted by the Police to pray in a nearby mosque. The manner of his disappearance and Bello’s unsavory judgment have learnt credence to the accusation by the Igbo community in Abuja of a cover up by some powerful forces in the Northern establishment.
What has stunted the growth and development of our legal system is the tendency by our judicial officers to allow extraneous considerations to blindfold them to the extent that they become blind to truth. This is why we have all these jaundiced judgments all over the land.
What happened to the Apo 6 could happen to anyone, but what becomes more painful is when justice is not done to punish the culprits as a means to deter any future occurrence.
I must join the rest of the Igbo community in Abuja and other lovers of justice elsewhere to condemn this travesty of justice. The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Salami, must intervene in this matter that is already taking an ethnic hue. He must act quickly to review the judgment and bring the remaining four to the long arms of justice. He must act to teach beastly Ibrahim a lesson in love— that when a woman spurns your love, what you have to do to win her over is not to strangulate her but to show her more love. Danjuma Ibrahim and the other fellows may have used their powerful connections in society to escape human justice, but can they also escape the justice of the Almighty? Certainly not.
It is when justice is done and is seen clearly to have been done that we can send a signal to our trigger happy officers that they cannot trample upon the lives of others and get away with it. All lives matter.