By Eric Elezuo
The reluctance to punish police officers “emboldens” other officers to kill, – Eric Guttschuss of Human Rights Watch.
On a day that human life is exchanged for $20, 300, how many people will be willing to give theirs or their loved ones. That was the exact amount the Federal Government of Nigeria paid to the family of each of the unfortunate six young Nigerians whose lives were brutally cut short by the Police on the night of June 7 and Morning of June 8, 2005, popularly referred to as the Apo Six.
However, 12 years after, the legal system is still dragging between releasing the Police culprits and meting out judgment in conformity to public opinion.
It all started at a reveling joint in Abuja where the company of Ekene Isaac Mgbe, Ifeanyin Ozor, Chinedu Meniru, Paulinus Ogbonna, Anthony Nwodike and Augustina Arebu had gone to supposedly have a good time. They were aged between 21 and 25 years.
Eye witness account narrated that at the party, the only female among them, Augustina, had turned down love advances thrown at her by the leader of the Police patrol that eventually killed them, Ibrahim Danjuma, thereby incurring the wrath of the cop, who did not think twice before ordering their clandestine execution. The public, since then, has demanded justice that so far has eluded them, 12 years down the lane.
According to an article published by BBC’s Andrew Walker in 2009, four years after the incidence, “The police tried to say they were armed robbers who had opened fire first. But a judicial panel of inquiry set up by former President Olusegun Obasanjo rejected the police’s story and the government apologised on behalf of the police for their killings. It recommended the officers be arrested and face a criminal trial.”
But 12 years since the night the Apo Six were killed, the trial has got nowhere. The public has almost forgotten about the case, and the principal suspect, Danjuma Ibrahim, the senior police officer accused of ordering the killings, lives free on so called medical bail.
The BBC reported as narrated by Elvis Ozor, a younger brother of the slain six, Ifeanyi Ozor, that on June 8, 2005 the Apo mechanics found the police burying their friends in a cemetery that, by chance, was near their workshops.
“My friend was going to the bush, to go to the toilet, when he saw the police digging a hole and preparing to bury some people,” Elvis says.
“They recognised my brother. When the police said they were armed robbers, no-one believed them – they knew my brother was not like that.”
“When I arrived at work, word had spread, but I didn’t know. I arrived and everyone was looking at me,” he says.
As the story spread, an angry mob gathered, and there was a riot where the Police allegedly shot two more people dead.
Investigations revealed that unlike any other case of suspected extra-judicial killing in Nigeria, some of the police broke ranks and turned on the senior officer involved, just other five officers accused of the murders and eight more police witnesses testified that Danjuma Ibrahim ordered the killings.
Furthermore, during the judicial panel hearings, it was alleged that some Igbo officers fed information to Mr Nzelu, who represented the families of the Apo Six.
At the panel, Ifeanyi Ozor’s friends testified that the six were at a nightclub in Abuja’s Area 11 when Mr. Ibrahim – then off duty – attempted to woo Augustina, who turned him down
Reports added that Ibrahim went to a police checkpoint at the end of the street and told officers there that there were a group of armed robbers in the area.
When the six young people came in their car, he drove into them, blocking their way and ordered the police officers to shoot.
After the first burst of gun fire, Ifeanyi and Augustina survived, and were taken to the Police station, where a ransom of N5, 000 (about $43) was demanded of Augustina’s parent for her release, but they couldn’t afford it. The duo was taken to a rough area out of town where they were summarily executed. The UN special rapporteur added that Augustina was strangulated, based on the testimonies of police officers at the panel.
In frustration, Elvis concluded that he is not expecting anything from the trial again as has given up on the judicial system.
“When Danjuma was released, I forgot everything about the case. The only way justice will be delivered is from God,” he said.
Glaring as the evidence against Danjuma and his friends are, he still complain of being persecuted.”I could never have done what they are accusing me of,” he said.
He was released on medical bail in 2006, after his lawyer said he had a heart condition while the five other accused, one of whom is reportedly is an AIDS patient, according to his lawyer – remain in police custody.
In a curious twist of fate, Mr. Anthony Edem, one of the officers close to the case was poisoned after deciding to confess.
An autopsy report from the National Hospital Abuja confirmed he died of poisoning which also formed part of the numerous exhibits before the court.
Lawyers have however accused the authorities of stalling the case so it will eventually be forgotten, and the charges dismissed. But the case is open again.
The FCT High Court, presided over by Justice Ishaq Bello, attended to the case, and adjourned till March 9, 2017 for the much expected judgment in a case that has been described as the biggest extra judicial killing of all time within the country.
The accused persons were arraigned on a 9-count charge of conspiracy and culpable homicide, which contravened the provisions of Sections 97 and 221 (a) of the Penal Code Law.
The police officers standing trial in the case are Danjuma Ibrahim, Othman Abdulsalami, Nicholas Zakaria, Ezekiel Acheneje, Baba Emmanuel and Sadiq Salami.
Whether these men will be found guilty, punished and assuage the spirits of the supposedly six innocent traders of Apo remain a theory that March 9 will unravel.
A cross section of Nigerians, who spoke to the Boss, were of the view that justice should be given in this case to dissuade uniform men from indiscriminately dispatching innocent citizens to their graves, albeit, untimely