Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
A Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt has sentenced three persons to death for the murder of four undergraduate students of the University of Port Harcourt on October 5, 2012.
The court also discharged and acquitted four other persons, whose cases were not proved “beyond all reasonable doubt” by the prosecution.
The four students, popularly referred to as the UNIPORT or Aluu Four â€” Lloyd Toku Mike, Ugonna Obuzor, Tekena Elkanah and Chiadaka Biringa â€” were murdered by a mob, said to be a vigilante group in Omuokiri Village in Aluu, a neighbouring community to the university on Friday, October 5, 2012.
Delivering judgment that lasted about two and a half hours Monday, the trial judge, Justice Letam Nyordee, convicted ex-Sergeant Lucky Orji, Ikechukwu Louis Amadi (aka Kapoon) and Chinasa David Ogbada, for their active involvement in the murder of the four students.
Nyordee, however, freed Abiodun Yusuf, Joshua Ekpe, Abang Cyril and John Awuru, whose cases were not proved beyond all reasonable doubt by the prosecution.
Twelve suspects were arraigned before the state high court on August 1, 2013, over the crime, and based on the advice of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), five of the suspects, including the traditional ruler of Umuokiri, Alhaji Hassan Welewa, were discharged and acquitted on January 27, 2017.
The remaining seven of the suspects, Saviour Johnny, Lucky Orji, Ikechukwu Louis Amadi (aka Kapoon), David Chinasa Ogbada, Abiodun Yusuf, Joshua Ekpe and Cyril Abang, were denied bail based on the fact that their case carried a capital punishment upon conviction.
Nyordee noted that the prosecution counsel was able to prove the involvement of the three persons in the video evidence presented to the court.
He held that the evidence against the first (Orji), second (Amadi) and third (Ogbada) defendants in the matter were overwhelming, adding that their statements in the murder of the deceased were confirmed in the video evidence obtained from Youtube and tendered by the prosecution.
He ruled that the evidence of the fourth (Yusuf), fifth (Ekpe) sixth (Cyril) and seventh (Awuru) defendants in the matter, justified their position that they were not involved actively in the murder, adding that it was corroborated by the video evidence of the prosecution, which only captured the presence of the suspects at the scene of the incident.
The trial judge insisted that the roles played by the three convicted persons in the murder were unjustifiable, pointing out that their actions were intended to terminate the lives of the victims, stressing that the first, second and third defendants were guilty of murder.
Making reference to Section 319 (1) of the Criminal Code, Cap. 37, Vol. 2, Laws of Rivers State of Nigeria, 1999, he sentenced the three to death for taking the lives of other persons unjustifiably.
Nyordee maintained that the deaths of the four students were the most condemnable and could not be justified, saying that the victims had great hope and future for their families and the society.
He declared: “I hereby sentence ex-sergeant Lucky Orji to death; I hereby also sentence Ikechukwu Louis Amadi (aka Kapoon) to death, and I hereby also sentenced David Chinasa Ogbada to death.”
The judge berated security agencies for their failure to play their role of protection of lives and upholding of the law seriously, regretting that the security personnel at the scene of the crime could not save the situation and described the situation as “the sorry state of the societyâ€.
He said no explanation would ever be valid on why the Joint Military Task Force (JTF), the Aluu Police Post, Isiopko Divisional Police Headquarters and C4I security outfits, which were beckoned and were present, could not mobilise to rescue the victims, whose allegation of robbery could not be proven during the unlawful prosecution.
He said: “The death of the victims is most condemnable and cannot be justified. The victims had great hopes for their families and society at large. The candles of their lives were put out. The law is unmindful to hand down a sentence in a clear case of murder. The killing of the four victims is a combination of several societal ignorance and shameful failure of security institutions to protect lives as shown in the statements of the defence.â€
He expressed regrets that none of the operatives from the patrol team, reinforced the team.
He, however, added that the decision of the court would serve as a deterrent to those who take human lives without recourse to law, adding that human life should be protected.
The murder trial lasted for about five years following the closure of the state judiciary by the administration of the past governor, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi.
The trial commenced on the assumption of office by the current Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, who ordered the opening of the judiciary complex on June 1, 2015.
Reacting to the judgment, the parent of one of the victims, Mr Toku Mike, expressed gratitude to the court for clearing the case of armed robbery tagged on the victims.
Mike, who spoke with journalists shortly after the judgment, said: “I am partially happy in the sense that the garment of armed robbery, the garment of criminality has been erased from the four children that were murdered in Aluu. It is clear that they (the victims) are innocent. They didn’t kill, they didn’t rob, they only went there to demand money they were owed. I would have been happier if the 12 of them were convicted and sentenced. But the court did not see it that way, only three were convicted and sentenced.”
The counsel to the convicted persons, Mr Chukwueze Kingdom, said they would appeal the sentence while the lead prosecution, Mr Inikiri Otorubio, who is the Director of Prosecution, in the state Ministry of Justice said he was happy that the matter had come to an end and that they would study the judgment to know the next course of action.