A recent court ruling, which sentenced three to death over the killing of four students of the University of Port Harcourt in Aluu, Rivers State, five years ago, is a timely message to those who delight in the regime of jungle justice, writes Olawale Olaleye
Five years ago, in a sleepy Omuokiri village in Aluu area of Rivers State, four promising souls (male) and students of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) â€” Lloyd Toku Mike, Ugonna Obuzor, Tekena Elkanah and Chiadaka Biringa â€” otherwise called â€œThe Aluu Fourâ€ were murdered in cold blood and in broad day light by a mob said to be a vigilante group, precisely on Friday, October 5, 2012.
It was a dark moment for the university education in Nigeria, which further elucidated the seemingly growing insecurity that students across the country suffer in their various campuses, more so from their immediate communities. What followed this madness was an intense rage, from parents and friends of the students, who were brutally murdered under the guise that they were cultists.
Then government of Mr. Rotimi Amaechi in Rivers State took up the matter and promised to deliver justice for the deceased. It sounded like a familiar rhetoric with mere sounds and bites, signifying nothing. The trial would later last about five years following the closure of the state judiciary by the Amaechi administration.
And truly, time had passed and everyone had almost forgotten the Aluu four before justice eventually came, five years after. The trial resumed on the assumption of office by the current governor, Nyesom Wike, who ordered the re-opening of the judiciary complex on June 1, 2015.
Thus, last week, a Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt sentenced three persons to death for the murder of the four undergraduate students. But the court discharged and acquitted four other persons, whose cases were not proved â€œbeyond all reasonable doubtsâ€ by the prosecution.
Justice Letam Nyordee, while delivering judgment that lasted about two and a half hours, 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. But he freed Abiodun Yusuf, Joshua Ekpe, Abang Cyril and John Awuru, for the inability of the prosecution to prove the case against them.
Twelve suspects were arraigned before the state high court on August 1, 2013, 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 therefore 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 and stressed that the first, second and third defendants were guilty of murder.
Referencing 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, maintaining that the deaths of the four students were the most condemnable and could not be justified. He said the victims had great hope and future for their families and the society.
â€œI 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.â€
Expanding his ruling, 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, a development he described as â€œthe sorry state of the societyâ€.
There is no doubting the fact that jungle justice in this part of the world has continued to thrive because the security agencies have failed to live up to billings. It is sad to note that in most instances, as it was in the case of the Aluu four, security officers are always at the scene of the attack somewhat helpless and unmindful of the implications of their presence.
The spate of jungle justice being administered on people lately, especially in the wake of the attacks by the Badoo cult group in Ikorodu part of Lagos is both worrisome and alarming and honestly calls for caution, because of the possibility of mistaken identity as it was in the case of Mr. Chinedu Paul otherwise known as MC Think Twice, who was mistaken for a Badoo member and murdered in cold blood.
This is why the judgment passed on the Aluu four is both timely and instructive and expected to serve as a direct message to those, who are quick to taking laws into their hands in the name of jungle justice. Such a warped mindset cannot replace the revered place of law and order, because no sane and decent society condones jungle justice and Nigeria, through the judgment delivered on the Aluu four, has just enlisted.