Okon Bassey writes that justice still lingers in the killing of three brothers at Mbente village in Akwa Ibom State by armed security personnel suspected to have been led by an officer from the State Security Service (SSS)
The souls of six persons, among them three brothers murdered in a sleepy village of Mbente in Nkari clan of Ini local government area of Akwa Ibom State may not have rested seven months after their death.
The deceased, Joseph Akpabio, Charles Akpabio, Emmaunel Akpabio and three others were said to have been extra-judicially killed by armed security personnel suspected to have been led by an officer from the State Security Service (SSS).
Their sister, a renowned evangelist and founder of Liberty Gospel Church with headquarters in Calabar, Cross River State, Lady Apostle Helen Ukpabio is said to have raised alarm seeking for justice after the killing of her brothers.
Her cries appear not to have attracted the necessary attention from the relevant quarters.
even months into the killing and on observing that justice was not forth coming, Civil Liberty Organisation, Akwa Ibom State Chapter has decided to take over the struggle for justice.
Reports had it that the deceased were arrested March 24th, 2012 at a meeting held in late Joseph Akpabio residence in Ikot Ekpene local government area of the state about one hour drive from his home town in Ini local government area.
Three expatriates purportedly working with A.G Vision Nig. Ltd in the company of one Benjamin Christopher Otu from Ifa village of the same Nkari Clan were said to have invited them and other youths in the community for the meeting over a community/youth empowerment project in respect of a Dam construction in their village.
While the meeting was going on, the expatriates were said to have excused the deceased outside for another brief session. While stepping out they met over twenty armed policemen led be an SSS officer.
There, the victims were arrested, handcuffed, shot on the knees to cripple them before forced into police trucks.
They were taken to the family compound in Mbente village where two of the brothers, Charles and Benjamin were killed before the aged parents while the other four including Emmanuel Akpabio were killed and dumped at the road side and labelled armed robbers. The body of Benjamin was said to have been taken away.
One of the reasons advanced for the killing was alleged to be planned payment of about N500 million as compensation for owners of land acquired by the Federal Government for the construction of dam project in Nkari Clan. The father of the late three brothers, Chief Esesien Akpabio is said to own 80 per cent of the total landmass within the clan where the dam is to be sited.
Sources told THISDAY that some top politicians in the area were masterminded the killing in order to have a firm grip of the sharing formula of the land compensation.
The family of the victims is calling on the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the Director General of State Security Service, the Inspector General of Police and the National Assembly to probe the gruesome murder of the three Akpabio children and others in the State. The family is also calling on the federal government to order the release of the corpse of Emmanuel Akpabio believed to be in the custody of the security operatives since March 25th, 2012 for formal burial.
“We urgently implore the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to intervene in this matter to save more lives from being lost in an extra-judicial killing like this one.”
We also want president Jonathan to direct the Inspector General of Police to beef up security around lady Apostle Helen Akpabio, their aged parents, Chief Esesien and Atim Akpabio and the remaining members of the family, as the killer squad would do everything possible to conceal any evidence or eye witnesses in respect of the dastard murder”, the family pleaded.
Investigations reveal that there had been series of protracted crises in the community that led to the death of several people, arson, maiming, displacement of people and burning of houses.
The deceased were accused of being responsible for the spate of violence that engulfed the community including the disruption of work at the Nkari Dam site.
Seven months after the incident, Civil Liberty Organisation, Akwa Ibom State chapter has taken over the fight in order to obtain justice.
In a position paper over the killings, the CLO regretted its inability to secure audience with the State’s Police Command over the alleged involvement of policemen in the killing.
“Those efforts were rebuffed by the police; the police simply refused to reply our letter and refused to return phone calls made to them. The police never denied or accepted the claim. The police only claimed to have done a report which is yet to be seen by the public. The police failed in showing responsiveness and maturity in the handling of this matter. This matter suffers in the hands of the police in Akwa Ibom state”, the State Chairman of CLO, Mr. Clifford Thomas lamented in a statement released in Uyo, the state capital.
On the part of the SSS, the CLO claimed that the State Director of SSS denied involvement in the killings, stating that the service does not have any official record showing that there was an operation like that. “The SSS never came out within the period of the allegation to officially deny this allegation, or insists on going to court to clear its name”, Thomas added.
The CLO called on civil rights groups, civil society organisations, the Police, SSS, office of the National Security Adviser, the National Assembly, Presidency, the international community and other authorities to join in demanding justice for the victims by prosecution of those found culpable in the heinous crime.
In a 2009 report by Amnesty International on Extra-Judicial killings, the group blamed Nigerian police for hundreds of extra-judicial killings in the country.
According to the group, hundreds of people are unlawfully killed by the police in Nigeria every year. Some people die because they fail to pay police officers a bribe. Others are killed because the police use excessive force during arrest or are killed by police officers in extrajudicial executions. Once in custody and away from the public eye, some people are tortured to death in police stations; others disappear in custody.
“The Nigerian police are responsible for hundreds of unlawful killings every year,” said Erwin van der Borght, Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Programme.
“Police don’t only kill people by shooting them; they also torture them to death, often while they are in detention.”
“The majority of the cases go un-investigated and the police officers responsible go unpunished. The families of the victims usually get no justice or redress. Most never even find out what happened to their loved ones,” the report stated.
According to Amnesty International, Police frequently claim that the victims of shootings were ‘armed robbers’ killed in ‘shoot-outs’ with the police or while trying to escape custody. “These claims are often highly implausible,” it says. The Akpabio family is working with the CLO to unearth the riddle behind the killing of three of their sons, but the inquest into the killing and the family’s cry for justice may be a long walk in a country known for many unanswered extra-judicial killings.