In a judgment that elicited more questions than answers, an Abuja High Court sentenced two police officers, Ezekiel Acheneje and Emmanuel Baba, to death for killing two of the six Igbo traders in Abuja in June 8, 2005, while setting free three others.
The two police men were found guilty of extra judicial killing of Augstina Arebon and Anthony Nwokike. They convicted were the ones who pulled the trigger, allegedly on the order of Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Danjuma Ibrahim, who led the team.
Delivering Judgement in a nine-count criminal charge brought by the Federal Government, against the six policemen, the Chief Justice of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) judiciary, Justice Ishaq Bello, said that the court had no option than to convict the two men on account of their own conventional statement that they shot the two persons upon instruction from a superior officer.
Justice Bello said that the action of the two police men was callous and barbaric because by law, they were supposed to preserve lives of innocent citizens.
According to Justice Bello, “It a folly for the defendants to think they will be absorbed on ground that they were directed”
The Judge further said that the action was condemnable because there was no evidence that the two persons did anything to constitute threat to the police at the time they were shot dead.
Justice Bello said it was particularly painful because they were arrested alive only for the police, to take laws into their hands by summarly executing them.
The retraction of the confessional statement during the trial by the two convicts, was dismissed , adding that it is an after thought that can’t hold water, because the statement by the convicted policemen, were outright confessional.
However, three other policemen including the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Danjuma Ibrahim, Othman Abdulsalam and Sadiq Salami, who were charged with conspiracy and culpable homicide, contrary to S97 and 221 of the penal code, were set free – discharged and acquitted by the court for want of evidence.
Justice Bello said from the totality of the evidence placed before the court, the charge of conspiracy cannot be established against them because of the inability of the prosecution to convince the court that the men met and agreed to kill the six traders on June 7, 2005 while returning from a nigjt club along Gimbiya Street, Abuja.
The Judges said, that in the case of the DCP Ibrahim, who was alleged to have seized an AK 47 and shot the traders in their peogeot 406 on that fateful day, the allegation collapsed in the face of contradictions from two prosecution witnesses that Ibrahim never seized a gun or fired at the traders.
Justice Bello said that they was no dispute as to the fact that the DCP was having a service pistol on him and he never fired any shot with the service pistol.
The Judge expressed his displeasure with the shoddy manner the killing was conducted, adding that if the finger print of the DCP had been taken, it could have been established whether he handled the AK 47 used in killing the traders on the day of the incident.
On the other four, shot to death, the judge said the issue remained ambiguous and vague because the prosecution was unable to establish those responsible for their murder.
In a way, the Judge said that the witness told the court that DCP Ibrahim was responsible for the shooting of the four traders, while another witness said it was the patrol team invited to the scene that fired the vehicle of the traders when they allegedly refused to stop, at a check point mounted by the police to track down the suspected robbers that had allegedly robbed Crown Guest Inn at Gimbiya.
Justice Bello added that in the face of the contradictions, it was particularly impossible to hold anyone responsible for the death of the traders. Moreso when no name was mentioned among the patrol team invited to reinforce the ambush squad that was trialing the suspected robbers.
Justice Bello also said that the six traders created suspicion when they reversed at the checkpoint.
According to him, it is not in doubt that the occupants failed to stop, that the decision not to stop, may have created suspicion.
The date was June 7, 2005, when the popular “Apo six’’ unaware of the terrible fate that lay ahead set out for a night of fun and merry making.
The nation woke up to the horrific news of their deaths at the hands of the police who claimed the five men and woman, gunned down were armed robbers who opened fire first.
The case which came to be known as ‘Apo Six’ captured the attention of the public for a long time.
Following the deaths and the subsequent public outcry, an official panel of inquiry was set up by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Five officers accused of the killings and eight other police witnesses eventually testified that the senior officer involved, Ibrahim, allegedly ordered the killings.
The report of the panel held that the victims were at a nightclub located at Gimbiya Street, Area 11 in Abuja on the night of the incident.
The panel further had it on its record that the face-off between Ibrahim and the group allegedly started when the female victim (Augustina) turned down the senior police officer’s love advances at the club.
The testimonies of the witnesses that formed part of the panel’s report also said that Ibrahim’s pride and ego was bruised by late Augustina’s refusal to accept his love proposal and, therefore, set out to exact revenge.
The report also said Ibrahim had allegedly gone to a police checkpoint at the end of the street and told officers on duty that they were a group of armed robbers in the area.
According to the report which forms the bulk of the evidence in court, when the six young people came in their car, Ibrahim allegedly drove into them, blocking their way and ordered the police officers to shoot.
Four of the six died on the spot while Ifeanyi and Augustina had survived the initial onslaught.
The report had it that Ifeanyi had called his friends after surviving the burst of gunfire but that was the last they were to hear from him.
Police officers had testified at the criminal trial that Ifeanyi and Augustina were taken to a piece of rough ground outside town where they were executed.
The officers had allegedly planted guns on the bodies of all six of the bodies and pictures were taken of them by a police photographer.
The photographer who took the pictures was later to raise an alarm and release the pictures.
In a curious twist, Anthony Edem, one of the officers close to the case, was poisoned after deciding to confess.
An autopsy report from the National Hospital Abuja confirmed he died of poisoning which also formed part of the numerous exhibits before the court.