Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu
The Enugu State High Court presided over by Justice Ngozi Orji last Tuesday discharged and acquitted five young men from Umunnegene, Umuaniabor, Amechi-Awkunanaw, Enugu South Local Government Area of the state accused of the gruesome murder of their kinsmen over land tussle.
The five persons, Jeremy Onah, George Onovoh, John Agwu Timothy Onah and Chief Patrick Ukwu had faced a two count charge of conspiracy to commit murder and murder of three of their kinsmen, Messrs Nnaemeka Agbo, Nnamani Ikpa andSunday Nnamani in the suit no. E/102c/2015, State vs Jeremy Onah and 4 others.
They were accused of killing three of their kinsmen, on May 1, 2015 at an expanse of land at Akanishinne believed to belong to the three families, Umunogo, Umunwakum and Umunnegene which has been in dispute since 1981.
Hundreds of villagers who had stormed the court to witness the judgement had erupted in wild jubilation immediately the judge freed them as they would have face the hang-manâ€™s noose had they been found guilty as charged.
Justice Orji of the Enugu State High Court 9 who pronounced them not guilty, said that the prosecution had failed to establish that the accused persons actually killed or conspired with the intent to kill the diseased or any other person or persons on the fateful day.
The learned judge said that the defence was able, through alibis and witnesses testimonies to prove their innocence of the said offence.
Counsel to the accused, Prof. Richard Achara, expressed both joy and regrets, insisting that the loss of lives in the land dispute was sad and unfortunate.
â€œIt is an unfortunate situation. It is unfortunate in an attempt to rope my clients, they allowed the murderers to go free. I am however grateful to the court for setting my clients free.
â€œ We have mixed feelings. My clients are sad that their brothers died. They are doubly saddened by the fact the malaciius attempt to rope them in for something they did not commit has had the consequence that the real murderers have escaped. If the family members had put resources together, they could have helped the police to find the real culprits.
â€œOn the other hand, my clients ate overjoyed that the judgement has established the blatant falsity of the allegations against them which could have kes to their wrongful execution for something they did not do,â€ Achara said.
Speaking on behalf of the four other accused persons, Jeremy Onah expressed joy that they were left off the hook and have been vindicated.
â€œOur freedom today is a beginning of a new life in my life because I cannot imagine myself a Christian thinking of going to kill because of land especially my blood brothers,â€ he.
Onah however said that the land has been in dispute since 1981.
â€œWe had been disputing this land since the 1980s before some of the boys that died were born,â€ he also said.
He said that he was the Secretary of Umunnegene and he knew so much about the disputed land that attempts were made by Umunwakum and Umunogo people to eliminate him. He said that he felt that the other family members were marginalising Umunnegene in their community land at Akanishinne.
Onah narrated that unfortunately, one of their kinsmen, Chief Joseph Nnamani called them for a meeting in his house on April 25, 2015 with a view to resolve the lingering land dispute and pleaded with â€œus that nobody should go to the land to do anything that on May 2nd, 2015, he will call a meeting of the whole Umuaniabor to settle matter after the burial of Chief Sunday Ezeoha, the immediate past chairman of Umunwakum family on 30th April, 2015. We all agreed.
â€œ On April 28, 2015, we went to the office of the police public relations officer who also asked us to steer clear of the land. He said that we should come back on 4th May to see the Commissioner of Police, saying that they would hasten investigation before that 4th April.
â€œMy Umunnegene family agreed that we should stop work on the land forthwith. We were surprised that on May 1, 2015, Umunwakum and Umunogo youths went to the land where they had combat with cult people that were having their meeting there.
â€œ Even in their statements they said that it was cult boys that came out from the bush and started shooting at them. I think that it was in order to eliminate us and claim the land that they accused us of masterminding the attack and the killings,â€ Onah narrates while proving their innocence in the murder allegation.
Efforts to get people from Umunwakum and Umunogo to come on the outcome of the judgement did not yield dividend as none of them was in court and in the midst of the jubilation in court, it was not able to get the prosecution counsel to comment on the incident.