The trial of the twelve suspected killers of four undergraduate students of the UNIPORT at Ikwerre Local Government Area, has opened in Port Harcourt. Ugonna Obuzor (18, Theatre Arts), Lloyd Toku Mike (20, Civil Engineering), Chiadika Biringa (20, Theatre Arts ) and Tekena Elkanah (21, Education) were acccused of stealing telephone handsets. The four were murdered by an angry mob at Omuokiri, Aluu, near University of Port Harcourt on October 5, last year.
Two sets of people – one set charged with murder and the other with negligence – are standing trial.
Charged with murder are: Lawal Segun, ex-Sgt. Lucky Orji, Ikechukwu Louis Amadi (aka Kapoon), David Chinasa Ogbada, Abiodun Yusuf, Joshua Ekpe, Abang Cyril and John Ayuwu. They are the first set of those on trial.
The traditional ruler of Aluu, Alhaj. Hassan Welewa, Okoghiroh Endurance, Ozioma Abajuo and Chigozie Evans Samuel are charged with negligence.
The prosecution, represented by the Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary, Rivers State Ministry of Justice, Rufus N. Godwins, opened the case with swearing in the first prosecution Witness (PW1), Raphael Ezeji, a senior police officer, who led the investigation into the killings.
Ezeji, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), who is the second in-command in the Homicide Department of the Rivers State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), told Mr. Justice Latam Nyordee of a State High Court part of his findings on the death of the four youths.
DSP Ezeji said: “I am a staff [employee] of Rivers State Police command, attached to the SCID, Port Harcourt. I have worked as a Police officer for more than 25 years, and as a registered detective officer for over 15 years.
“As a criminal dictation officer, my job entails investigation of murder (homicide) cases and other responsibilities assigned to me. On October 5, 2013, my department received a report of the gruesome murder of four undergraduate students of UNIPORT at Aluu.
“The report we received was that these four boys were stripped naked, paraded with jubilation and about to be set ablaze (lynched) at Omuokiri Aluu. As a result of this [report], the police division Isiokpo dispatched a combined team to rescue the victims, but because of the distance between the scene of crime and Isiopkpo, they had hung condemned tyres on their necks, while some others were with dog hounding them.”
“The crowd they met on the scene when they arrived were shouting ‘kill them, kill them!’. Before the police could rescue them, they had already poured petrol on them and lit fire,” Ezeji told the court.
Ezeji said photographs of the remains of the deceased and the streets on which they were paraded naked were taken during the investigation.
He added that extracts from the video clips of the killing, posted on the internet, formed part of the exhibits attached to the case file submitted to the prosecution. The internet clips were concealed in a CD plate.
Efforts by the prosecution to tender copies of the photographs and thier negative copies as exhibits were objected to by 10 of the 12 defendants.
The court fixed the ruling on the admissibility of the exhibits for later date.
Midway into the hearing, the court allowed time to hear applications for bail of each of the accused persons.
All the 12 accused persons in their independent applications urged the court to admit them to bail. They told Mr. Justice Nyordee that bail is their constitutional right irrespective of the gravity of the offence they were alleged to have committed.
They noted that they were presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
The fifth accused person, 16-year-old Abiodun Yusuf, urged the court to grant him bail, considering his age.
His counsel, G.B.Sanusi, told the court that Yusuf, being a minor, was not supposed to be tried together with other accused persons in the open court.
In their applications, counsel for the second set of defendants, including the Aluu monarch, Alhaji Hassan Welewa, urged the court to grant them bail, saying their offences carry lighter punishment of two years, if convicted.
They argued that they had already spent close to one year in detention.
They were charged with negligent, to wit felony to prevent murder, crime and misdemeanour.
The prosecution objected to the bail applications and urged the court to dismiss their applications for lack of merit.
Mr. Godwins averred that bail was at the discretion of the court but insisted that due to the serious nature of the offence the accused are charged with, it would be unusual for any court to consider granting them bail, without convincing reasons.
On the first set of accused persons (first to eighth) who were charged with murder, the prosecution said: “It is unusual to contemplate to admit a person charged with murder to bail. This is because murder is a very serious offence. For them to be granted bail, they must show cogent reasons to be granted bail. And it must be on the grounds of health.
“In this one, none of them has given any serious reason to be admitted to bail,” he insisted.
He noted that although the offences the second set of accused (ninth to tenth), were charged with are not capital in nature, “however, even in the simplest of offence, bails are not just granted; the decision is strictly at the discretion of the court.
“The ninth accused person (Alhj. Welewa), is the paramount ruler of Aluu, the scene of crime. He has much influence in his community and most of our witnesses come from there; if he is granted bail, he will use his influence to negatively affect the cause of justice in this matter.
“Moreover, some of the accused persons in this case are still at large, and they live there; so granting him bail will seriously affect the prosecution of this case,” Godwins submitted.
Eighteen suspects were originally held in connection with the killing. The DPP advice last February exonerated seven.
The prosecution added John Ayuwu (aka Johny Barbar) to bring the number of those on trial to 12.
They were arraigned before the court last month with each of the accused pleading not guilty to the charges of murder and felony to prevent crime, preferred against them. The court adjourned till yesterday for bail application.
It was somewhat rowdy yesterday, following the sudden change in the original agreement at the last sitting.
The court at the last session adjourned for motion for bail, but at the resumed sitting yesterday, the prosecution mounted a projector screen to express its readiness to open the case..
He insisted that the PW1 was in court and that the court could begin hearing the matter and midway, motion for bail taken. After some arguments, the court agreed with the prosecution against the wish of the defence.
The case was adjourned till October 17 for ruling. The courts in Rivers are to begin their yearly vacation on Monday.