Court Sentences Five to Death by Hanging in Benue

Remands  ex-council boss in  prison in Rivers

George Okoh in Makurdi and  Blessing Ibunge in Port Harcourt

A Makurdi High Court yesterday sentenced five men to death by hanging for culpable homicide. In a judgement presided by Justice T.A Kume,the men, Terna Zwave, Jonathan Gbajime, John Bur, Gabriel Ianna and Kwaghgba Zaki, who lived at Anchoha Village, Gwer-East Local Government Area of Benue, were charged before a Makurdi Magistrates’ Court in 2021.

In a similar development, a  Chief Magistrate Court sitting in Port Harcourt,  Rivers State, has remanded a former Caretaker Committee Chairman of Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State, Sunny Bekanwa, in the Port Harcourt Correctional Centre for alleged sponsorship of cultists that led to the murder of two prominent sons of Ogoni in the area.

The five persons sentenced to death in Benue State  were charged with criminal conspiracy, criminal trespass, mischief and culpable homicide punishable under sections 97, 349, 329 and 222 of the Penal Code, Laws of Benue, 2004.

The prosecution said on October5, 2021 that  the men conspired, trespassed on land belonging to one Oliver Jato and cut down trees to make charcoal.

The defendants were then confronted by Abraham Hwange, Peter Agber and the deceased, which resulted in a violent scuffle.

According to the prosecution, the convicts beat Biija to death.

The case was eventually transferred to the High Court following legal advice.

When the case came up, the first defendant, Zwave, pleaded guilty while all others pleaded not guilty.

The defendants testified for themselves without calling any witnesses, while the prosecution called seven witnesses to prove its case.

Prosecution counsel, R.B.N Amenger in his final written address, submitted that the rest of the defendants’ plea of not guilty was only a mere denial.

Amenger argued that the defendants had utterly failed to raise a defence as to the commission of all the offences established but rather dwelled on mere denials and technicalities which he said were not material or fatal to the case of the prosecution.

Defence counsel, D.U Liam in his final written addresses, said that the prosecution had not proved its case beyond reasonable doubt to warrant the conviction of the defendants.

However, the trial Justice ruled that the prosecution had proved its case beyond all reasonable doubts, saying that denying the commission of offence did not amount to not committing it.

Kume said the burden of proof rests on the defense counsel which he failed to achieve.

Kume said he had heard the plea for mercy by the defendants and the statement by their counsel in which the Lord’s prayers were contained in the words.

He stated that the law for which he was bound to apply in the case did not have the grace contained in the Lord’sprayer.

He, therefore, sentenced them to death by hanging.

Meanwhile, according to the remand warrant that led to the remand of  Bekanwa, he was  alleged to have sponsored cultists that led to the murder of Lucky Keena and  Deeyaa Dunsara in Khana Local Government Area, an offence which some individuals are already standing trial at the state High Court.

When the matter came up for plea, Prosecution Counsel, Godday Amadi, informed the court of a remand proceeding against Bekanwa, who is also a lecturer at Ken Saro-Wiwa Polytechnic, which he said is arising from the charge of murder, cultism and sponsorship of cult activities.

Amadi  also asked the court to remand the suspect in the prison custody after citing Section 302  of Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Rivers State, to enable him amend his charges at the state High Court to include other defendants standing trial for the same offence.

After hearing the arguments of both the prosecution and defence counsel, including bail application, the trial Chief Magistrate, Nnenda Obiageri-Onugbum, ordered that the accused be remanded in Port Harcourt Correctional Centre and adjourned till  December 1, 2023, for proper arraignment and possible bail consideration.

Counsel for the Nigeria Police, Godday Amadi, in an interview with journalists outside the courtroom, explained more about what is contained in the charges and his reasons for refusing bail application of the accused.

On his part, the defence counsel, Emmanuel George, explained his reason for applying for bail of his client, but expressed displeasure that bail was not granted for alleged sponsorship of cultist.

It was learned that the court also directed that another accused person,Henry Bariku-Dele, who is also facing counts of cultism, possession of illegal firearms and murder of Lucky Keena and Deeyaa Dunsara  be remanded in Port Harcourt Correctional Facility, pending the adjourned date of December  1, 2023.

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