Date Published: 09/20/09
WAR AGAINST ARMED ROBBERY & KIDNAPPING IN NIGERIA. IS THE YAR’ARDUA GOVERNMENT & OTHER STATE GOVERNMENTS REALLY SERIOUS? By Benjamin Anosike, Ph.D.
Unprecedented, Wide Spread, Incidence of Armed Robbery & Kidnapping in Parts of Nigeria, one Critical Index of “failed State” Status of Nigeria.
Nigeria has in recent times been called everything from a country in “descent into the dark,” to a “country beset with insecurity across the land,” to a “failed state.” And worst! Only recently, in its publication of the Failed State Index of 2009, the Fund for Peace, the well respected Washington-based think-tank one of whose founder is Prof. Susan Rice, U.S. President Obama’s current Ambassador to the United States, squarely placed Nigeria as among the 15 most vulnerable nations on the globe. What is worse, for Nigeria, this has been the fourth year that the country had consecutively declined! Further more, a similar security assessment made by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 2001, had even gone as far as predicting that the country would cease to exist in its present form within 15 years.
In the Nigeria context, experts contend that perhaps one of the most gruesome and crippling indices accounting for its “failed state” status in most recent times, has been the unprecedented, wide spread and growing incidence of mass armed robbery and human kidnapping and extortion in many states across the nation. Pervasive armed robbery and kidnapping are especially crippling to a society, expert assert, because of the special toll they take on the core psyche of a people, as it is often tantamount in the minds of the people to the humiliation of the main symbols and institutions of national security, the police and the armed forces, and further underlines how easy it is to terrorize the country. Consequently, experts say, the widespread occurrence of armed robbery and kidnapping in the society, such as has become commonplace lately in many parts of Nigeria, has the most potential to undermine the peace and security of the Nigerian people, disrupt economic activities, paralyze industry and economic development and progress, and lead to greater unemployment, and in general, to the immobilization of government and society.
THE CURRENT STATE OF INSECURITY, ARMED ROBBERY & KIDNAPPING IN EASTERN STATES.
For Nigeria today, armed robbery and extortionist kidnapping are easily the most serious, Number #1 domestic security problem today for the country. It is a national problem that is prevalent all across the country. According to a report released by Ibrahim Yakubu Lame, the Police Affairs Minister, in July 2009, Nigeria has recorded a total of 5 12 kidnappings from January 2008 to June 2009, with 30 of such persons involved losing their lives in the process. However, the eastern states top the list of kidnap incidents. In deed, it is now a common fact acknowledged by all, that in virtually all the eastern states, gruesome incidents of mass armed robbery and kidnapping have become common occurrence. Where the robbers are not maiming and looting, kidnappers are targeting local moneybags and unfortunate expatriates like the Chinese executing building contracts for indigenous businessmen.
According to the said police report released in July 2009, Abia State tops all states with a total of 110 kidnap incidents, and 3 53 cases and three deaths in 2008. This is followed by other eastern states: Imo (58 recorded kidnaps, 109 arrests, 41 prosecutions, and 1 killed), Delta (44 kidnappings, 43 released, 27 arrests, 31 prosecutions, 1 killed), Akwa Ibom (40 kidnappings, 40 released, 18 arrests, 11 prosecutions), and Anambra State.
In response to the massive challenge on security in the eastern front, for example, many states, ranging from Abia to Anambra and Enugu, having become greatly alarmed by the wave of kidnappings, have revamped their methods and strategies on stemming the menace. They have convened, at the states’ Government Houses, countless number of meetings of their security teams (the State governors, Commissioners of Police, directors of the State Security Service (SSS), representatives of the Nigerian Army, Air Force, Security and Defense Corps, the traditional rulers, etc) on effective measures and strategies. They have beefed up their funding on security matters, and provided more equipments, more communication gear, vehicles, and other tools of policing, to the state police command. They have even set up anew, in some states, vigilante groups, or revamped an existing one or augmented it. And some among the states have gone as far as passing laws prescribing the death sentence for offenders caught, prosecuted and convicted.
THE PIVOTAL ROLE OF THE POLICE & JUDGES, IF ORGANIZED INSECURITY PROBLEM IS EVER TO BE LICKED.
Yet, in spite of all these efforts (and others), the upward tide of the twin menace of armed robbery and kidnapping in those states in the country where they’re endemic, has largely continued unarrested. Clearly, a crucial curious question is: WHY?
One major school of thought among security experts, investigators and operatives, lays the problem squarely at the foot of the corrupt and corrupting role of the police and the courts and judiciary in the whole security combating process, and contend that these two institutions play the key, even determinative, role under the Nigerian system in how much success is attained, if any, in combating those violent crimes. The assertion is often made, for example, by crime investigators and security experts, that the men and women of the Nigerian Police, are pathologically corrupt players, that they are themselves often a “partner in crime” with the armed robbers and violent criminals, and often, would either tip off the perpetrating armed robber or kidnapper in advance of an arrest or police operation to enable the robber’s escape, or would release him upon the most dubious of reasons the sooner he is arrested. A similar portrayal is often made about the role of the courts and the judges involved in the handling of armed robbery and kidnapping cases. In terms of the courts and the judges, many security experts and investigators contend that, though as a body the Nigerian judiciary may not nearly be equated at the same level of corruption as the Nigerian police, the prevalence of corruption among a handful of unscrupulous judges in the judiciary constitute a major obstacle to making any substantial or permanent gains in the war against the current menace of armed robbery and kidnapping.
In recent years, for example, the widely respected German–based anti–corruption watch dog, the Transparency International, has rated the Nigerian Police force and the Nigerian judiciary as the number one and number four most corrupt institutions in the country, respectively. In deed, even the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, has expressed some misgivings concerning the common impression often held that the Nigerian court system is seriously infested with corruption. Speaking at the inauguration of new Federal High Court judges in July 2009, Justice Kutigo asserted: “I advise you to shun corruption and corrupt practices, .as judicial officials, you are to live above board like Ceaser’s wife,” as he threatened henceforth to invite Nigeria’s anti–corruption agencies to prosecute any corrupt judges.
THE GRAND DADDY OF KIDNAPPING CASES: THE “INNOSON THREE” CASE OF NNEWI IN ANAMBRA STATE
Perhaps, the critical “litmus test” that will be hugely determinative of how these two central national institutions of security, namely, the Police and the courts and the prosecutors, will perform in the battle against the national menace of armed robbery and kidnapping, is likely to be played out in a now famous kidnapping case that long originated in Nnewi, Anambra State, and still remains pending today at Awka, its state capital. Considered by many to be the “grand daddy” of criminal kidnapping and extortion cases in Nigeria, for its international angle and its long duration and the uncommon array of twists and turns it has gone through in its history, among other factors, this case, commonly known as the “Innoson three” case, is best known for being a case involving one Mr. Pius O. Ogbuawa, a prominent, well connected, super wealthy Nnewi–based businessman. Mr. Ogbuawa’s involvement in the case borders on the fact that he has been variously arrested and released, then re–arrested and released, going back and forth, since about April 2007 to date , upon the serious criminal charge that he had been the financial mastermind who bankrolled the abduction of two Chinese industrial experts, one of whom was later to be found to have died while in the kidnappers’ custody, and one Nigerian, on the staff of the Innoson Company, a company owned by an Nnewi industrialist and business rival – an alleged involvement which has now become even more pivotal in recent months when, on May 29, 2009, the notorious gang leader of the criminal kidnapping gang, one Innocent Orji, which had been the abductors of the Innoson group, was finally captured by the police, and who then had further implicated Pius Ogbuawa in the said Innoson kidnap incident.
THE NNEWI CASE, THE TEST CASE OF FUTURE DIRECTION IN SUCH CASES
Popularly known as the “Innoson three kidnapping” incident, this case has been tabbed the “test case” that experts look to as the broad barometric measure of how the kidnapping cases of the future are likely to fare in the nation, and with that, the level of national seriousness and commitment of the Nigerian governments and law enforcement authorities in combating these most serious of violent crimes. As one lawyer familiar with the case put it, “As the Innoson case goes, especially as it relates to Ogbuawa, so goes, so will go, the future cases of any kidnapping case that come before the police and the courts.”
Simply stated, fundamentally, the public worry about this case centers around the feeling that, but for Mr. Pius Ogbuawa’s formidable financial fortune, the Innoson kidnapping case, which has dragged on and on for over 2 years now, with so many odd twists and turns, would have long been over, with Ogbuawa, many conclude, long put behind bars as a deserving accomplice in the brutal kidnap incident. In deed, even worse, that Ogbuawa’s financial war chest seems ominously poised not only to keep him out of prosecution and out of prison, but to free him permanently pretty soon, from any responsibility whatsoever in the case. At the heart of concern, is the long history of this case and the “many strange lives” that the case has lived, in the words of one newspaper report, much of it said to be essentially related to the fact that a man bearing the name PUIS OGBUAWA, is connected with the case. Mr. Ogbuawa, a flamboyant, mega wealthy Nnewi business man, was first arrested and held in detention in 2007 by the Nnewi Police upon a complaint brought by a fellow Nnewi business magnet, Mr. Innocent Chikwuma, the owner of a local manufacturing and trading company, Innoson Technical Co. Ltd, alleging that Puis Ogbuawa had something to do with the kidnapping of three members of his staff (two Chinese and one Nigerian) on 17 th of March 2007. Thereupon, the police investigations turned up Mr. Ogbuawa, who himself had been a previous recent kidnap victim who reportedly had to pay his kidnappers some N20 million ransom to be released, as the man who had maintained close links with a militant group that abducted the victims. And Ogbuawa was then immediately arrested and detained.
The fundamental difference, however, has been that, while most cases like the Ogbuawa case which possess anything even remotely close to the high level of evidence that the current Ogbuawa case already has, have usually breezed through at least the police processing and judicial prosecution phases of a case, the Ogbuawa case has, on the other hand, been repeated stalled, stopped, then restarted, again and again and again, and thus has been excruciatingly prolonged and dragged out almost to no end – a situation which, almost all observers have attributed to the formidable fortune that the super wealth Nnewi multi–millionaire has deployed in defense of himself in the case.
First, while being held in detention the first time, Ogbuawa employed his high prized battery of lawyers to petition an Nnewi High Court for a declaratory judgment and an injunction to restrain the police from further detaining him, upon the ground that his arrest and detention, which he claimed was at the instigation of Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, was an unwarranted infringement of his fundamental rights under Chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution, and for compensatory damages award for the arrest and detention. Furthermore, according to averments filed with the Nnewi Court by the police commissioners and the investigators in the case, just when the preliminary police investigation was almost concluded, the Ogbuawa lawyers severally petitioned the police Assistant Inspector General of Zone 9, Umuahia, and the Federal High Court there, to take over the investigation or hearing of the case, alleging bias with the Nnewi authorities.
Then, when the case of Ogbuwa’s petition before the Nnewi court came up for hearing, the trial judge, Justice Paul A.C. Obidigwe, however, roundly rejected the petition in his ruling of June 11the 2007 and sustained the detention, as he held that the facts and evidence presented before him were overwhelmingly compelling, such that Ogbuawa ought to be detained and not be granted bail. Thereupon, Ogbuawa was again remanded in the custody of the police and held in police detention at Abuja pending further investigations of the allegations. Next, later in June 2007, a certain police officer, Mr. Kerian Dudari, the senior police officer at the Force CID headquarters, Abuja, in charge of the case, in a move that raised considerable public outcry and suspicion of police graft and probable “compensation” of the police by Ogbuawa, suddenly released Mr. Ogbuawa from detention and freed him from any prosecution, as he claimed that, according to him, after having critically examined the evidence in the case, he had found that Mr. Ogbuawa “has no case to answer on the issue, and so, there was no point keeping him there.” Police authorities at Nnewi and Abuja loudly wondered how the Abuja senior police officer, Mr. Kerian Dudari, could have said that Ogbuawa had no case to answer despite the mountain of evidence in police and court files existing against him, and particularly the clear contradiction of that statement by Justice Obidigwe’s strong judgment. Thereupon, the next two years that have followed since then can best be said to have essentially been devoted by the Nnewi police to endless series of legal maneuvers and technicalities in a bid to counter the Ogbuawa lawyers and try keep the case for prosecuting Ogbuawa in the matter alive.
The Ogbuawa case, and the uncommon legal maneuverings attendant to it, have clearly been a source of public misgivings and discomforting jitters within many civil society and legal, judicial and criminal law enforcement circles, to say the least. “Our worry is that this dastardly act and those behind it may be swept under the carpet,” declared Rev. Father Anthony Amarube, the Director of the Centre for Victims of Extra–Judicial Killings and Torture (CVEKT), a major Nigerian civil society organization, in a July 2009 address. Apparently alluding to the fact that of the 21 persons on the police list of the accused on the case, Mr. Ogbuawa has been the lone person who was not in police custody at the time, Amaribe added that such concern is heightened by the fact that, “given that between 2007 and now, some of the people directly and indirectly involved in the commission of the crime are still working the streets [as] free men even as there seems to be sustained efforts to hijack this weighty criminal case..” According to the CVEKT Director, “Even charging those arrested by the police to court was reluctantly done, and the pace of the dispensation can better be described as snail pace.”
The Ogbuawa strategy seems to be quite simple: merely employ, from that fateful day of his arrest and detention, every legal technicality known to man “that money can buy,” to stall, defeat and prolong the case, until, perhaps, some miracle might descend from heaven and the prosecution of the case is eventually frustrated, derailed and stopped – eventualities such as, perhaps, coming upon a compromised representative of the Attorney General’s office or judge who could rule accordingly in his favor, or of a key witness in the case, or perhaps the sudden “disappearance” of the key evidence in police files, or of even the death of a key witness, or whatever. Who knows – just whatever!
THE LATEST ROUND OF HIGH STAKES LEGAL, JUDICIAL DRAMA IN THE OGBUAWA CASE: THE FEDERAL ATTORNEY GENERAL INTERVENES IN OGBUAWA’S FAVOR!
The latest cause to provoke public misgivings and alarm, is the rather dramatic intervention of the federal might, by way of the Federal Attorney General’s Office, in the case, in a sudden legal maneuver far late in the processing of the case – a maneuver in favor of Mr. Ogbuawa, that was so sudden and unexpected in this particular case, given the mountain of evidence already in police files confronting him, that even two separate prosecuting counsels, one from the Federal Attorney General’s (FAG) office, and the other from the Anambra Police command, vehemently clashed and disagreed over the legal procedure ignited by the FAG intervention. Briefly summarized, after all these months and even years of agonizing legal maneuverings whose sum effect has been to keep Ogbuawa out of court and out of criminal prosecution by the police, the police ultimately prevailed (the court, in a ruling by the Nnewi High Court presided over by Justice Obidigwe, had finally vacated an earlier interim order that had been granted Ogbuawa for him to enforce his fundamental rights, thus clearing the ground finally for Ogbuawa to be arraigned in court), and had thereby promptly moved to proceed to the prosecution of the case finally. The Police prosecutors were all prepared, and on March 8, 2009, ASP B. Obiora Ejiofor, Esq. of the Police Headquarters, Abuja, arraigned Pius P. Ogbuawa (and 20 other suspects) at the Federal High Court, Awka, before Justice P.F. Olayiwola, on three criminal counts – conspiracy to commit treason, treason and concealment of treason. The Judge then adjourned the case.
However, lo and behold, on the next day, a lawyer from the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) office, Abuja, Mr. S. Aliyu, representing the Federal Ministry of Justice and Federal Attorney General’s (FAG’s) office, Abuja, suddenly appeared before Justice Olayiwola and announced that, upon the request of Ogbuawa, he was now taking over the prosecution of the charge from the Police prosecuting attorney, Mr. B. Obiora Ejiofor, who had been handling it, and would be handling all matters relating to the case from then on. Ogbuawa, it was learned, had complained to the FAG of Nigeria that, according to him, there was no evidence linking him with the Innoson kidnapping crime. (Aliyu was later to hand over the case for direct day–to–day handling of the case at the Awka Federal HC, to Emeka Nwokolo of the DPP office, Enugu branch). In deed, the said DPP Aliyu, himself, had been the same Federal law officer who had appeared personally in an earlier case at the State High Court, Awka, before Justice Obidigwe, and applied for the withdrawal of the charge against Ogbuawa when it was then pending before that court.
What was DPP Aliyu’s Legal Basis for Federal Take Over of the Case?
In his written (and oral) application to the court later while taking over the prosecution of the case, DPP Aliyu requested the Federal High Court, Awka (to whom the case had now been transferred and was now pending at that time) for additional time in order for him to study the case file and records to determine whether there was sufficient evidence and legal basis to charge the case for prosecution. But that was not all, however! Even more worrisome in terms of the whole fate of this long-persisting case, a clearly pivotal test case in the potential direction of the future prosecution and punishment of ferocious criminals involved today in the heinous menace of kidnapping in Nigeria, were the following facts. First, that in his earlier application to the court (the one preceding this one, which had earlier held at the Anambra State High Court, Nnewi), Aliyu had requested the court, as well, to have the whole case entirely struck down and dropped, and the accused persons completely discharged and freed; and second, is that he had requested that the accused persons should not only be discharged and be freed, but should NOT again be re–arrested!
It is a huge understatement to say that those applications by DPP Aliyu, particularly the last one, immediately send tremors of trepidation through the spines of the Anambra public, as well as the civil society community and police and law enforcement authorities. The concern was: WHAT IF THIS JUDGE WERE A COMPROMISED JUDGE, AND HE WERE TO GRANT THESE REQUESTS!? That would have effectively removed Ogbuawa’s name (and probably those of his fellow 20 other accused persons, as well) from the charge sheet and ended any charge against him in the matter ever again for all intents and purposes!
Ironically, the Police (the Nnewi police), which had generally been maligned (for valid reasons or otherwise) as the far more corrupt institution and the greater obstacle to crime fighting, was the one which stood firmer and seemed more serious in this instance against the DPP intrusion in favor of non criminal prosecution of Ogbuawa! Fortunately for them, however, pursuant to the DPP Aliyu’s application, the presiding judge in that case, Justice Obidigwe, known to be a jurist with a wide reputation for judicial integrity and incorruptibility, refused to make an order of discharge of the accused persons or an order that the accused persons not again be re-arrested. He only granted an order, however, permitting only that the charge be struck out for the moment. Thus permitting the police to continue with their investigation, and for them to arraign later the accused persons in the case, including P. O. Ogbuawa, at the Federal High Court, Awka, presided over by Justice P.F. Olayiwola. Thereupon, with the case now transferred to the Federal High Court at Awka (under Nigerian law, the crime of treason, which is one of the counts against the accused in this case, is classified as a federal offense), DPP Mr. S. Aliyu merely requested of Justice Olayiwola that he needed time for him to study and review the case file to make his own independent determination as to whether or not to charge the case. The case was then adjourned by the Awka court to October 5 , 2009.
When does the DPP office which is supposedly studying the case report his finding or decision that will finally seal the FATE of the notorious Innoson criminal kidnapping case, one way or the other? There is no specific time limit set on the matter within which the DPP is supposed to inform or notify the court of his decision. However, given the length of time already granted for the review (some 7 months, from March 9 th to October 5 th 2009), and the critical urgency of this case in the scheme of the whole national fight against criminal kidnapping (among other reasons), simple reason would suggest an expectation that by the next adjourned date of the case, namely October 5 , 2009, the DPP would have had his report ready and would inform the court of the position of his office on the matter, one way or the other.
DOES THERE EXISTA “PRIMA FACIE” EVIDENCE IN THIS CASE FOR THE DPP TO CHARGE OGBUAWA & OTHER ACCUSED PERSONS TO COURT?
Of great worry and concern, of course, and of great speculation, is what is likely to be the decision by the DPP upon his said review of the case files? To be sure, there are wide misgivings especially within the Anambra State government and public, and the civil society, the Nnewi and Anambra Police, and others, that the basic aim of taking over the case by Mr. Aliyu and his DPP law officers at Enugu and Abuja, is precisely to try remove Ogbuawa’s name from the crime charge sheet and thereby effectively end any legal liability or accountability whatsoever ever for Ogbuawa. To be sure, it is true, that deriving from the Nigerian Constitution, under Section 174 thereof, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), represented here by the DPP, has the power to take over or to discontinue any criminal matter pending before any court, and in deed, at least in theoretical terms, this awesome power – more commonly known by lawyers as the nolie prosequi powers – may be exercised by the AG under any guise or for any reason whatsoever, notwithstanding the evidence, and that it is not subject to any judicial review. Clearly, as a practical matter, it is possible – just possible – that the Federal AG, meaning his agent, the DPP office of Mr. Emeka Nwokolo and Mr. Silas Amon, of the Federal Ministry of Justice office Enugu, who are currently directly in charge of the case at Awka, or Mr. S. Aliyu of the DPP office of the Federal Ministry of Justice, Abuja, who is the superior of the Enugu DPP team, just might conceivably exercise the nolie prosequi, and decide that they’d rather discontinue or terminate the case come the adjournment date of the case, October 5 , 2009 . Quite possibly conceivable! However, I must respectfully venture to assert that, given all the unusual, in deed, unique, set of facts and circumstances involved in this case, such outcome is, in my humble assessment, patently quite unlikely. Certainly, it would be the most perplexing, if shocking, thing to most people familiar with the case, if that were to happen!
There’s a Mountain of Evidence Already Available, and Still Mounting
To begin with, there’s simply an unusually uncommon mountain of evidence already amassed in the case against the accused persons, all strongly favoring, even crying, for the prosecution of the case. HERE, THIS IS A MOST IMPORTANT POINT OF LAW YOU MUST FIRST UNDERSTAND: bear in mind that what is at issue here, is NOT whether Ogbuawa or any single one of the other 20 accused persons in this case is deserving of being convicted or should be found guilty. It is NOT whether these persons (each or any one of them) have sufficient evidence against them such that they now ought to be adjudged or pronounced “guilty,” or even “innocent,” in the case. Rather, the only matter at issue here right now in this stage of the case, is whether, based on the evidence currently in the court and police files, such evidence is enough such that it reasonably warrants that these accused persons ought then to go before a judge right now, and be legally examined and judicially TRIED on the basis of whatever other evidence that might be available on the case to then determine, in this “trial,” their guilt or innocence in the charge. Put another way, in a criminal case of this nature, there are essentially TWO phases: the first phase is the ARRAIGNMENT phase (this is the current phase confronting the DPP), and the second phase, is the TRIAL phase.
Under the law, in the arraignment phase of the case (the phase that the DPP and others are involved in right now), the “burden of proof” (that is, the amount or standard of evidence) that is required of the criminal investigator or prosecutor (say, the DPP officers, in this case) to meet, which would immediately be considered to be sufficient, legally, to warrant charging a case to court for a trial, is said to require a “low threshold.” It is, basically, the standard of evidence akin to what is called in criminal law terminology, the “prima facie” standard of evidence. The term “prima facie” is a Latin expression which means “on its first appearance,“ or “by first instance,” which is common in common–law jurisdictions (such as Britain, and through it, Nigeria), and basically denotes evidence which, if not rebutted, is deemed immediately sufficient to prove a particular position or fact. But, here’s the relevant point about this: the “threshold” required for the criminal investigator or investigator to meet this standard of proof or evidence, is VERY LOW and readily easy to meet. In a “prima facie” standard, the evidence need not be conclusive or irrefutable, and any evidence rebutting the case, if any, need not necessarily be considered in assessing the overall evidence. In fact, the standard of proof called for here, is very similar to that which falls under the rubric of “probable cause” standard used under the United States jurisprudence used by grand juries merely to determine whether to issue an indictment against an accused or a suspect – meaning whether to charge (as in the matter presently confronting the DPP in the Innoson case) an accusation to court for trial. In the American criminal context, the U.S. Supreme Court in the United States v. Sokolow, 90 U.S. 1 (1989), determined that the PROBABLE CAUSE standard only requires “a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found.” And just to give you an idea of just how LOW this standard of evidence really is, though the U.S. courts vary in how they determine what constitutes a “fair probability,” many use 30 percent, others 40 percent, and others 5 1 percent!
HERE IS THE CENTRAL POINT TO BEAR IN MIND HERE: that, it is ONLY this very standard – this ludicrously very LOWLY standard or threshold – of “prima facie“ or “probable cause” evidence, that the DPP is required to meet in the pending instant case in order to warrant his charging the Ogbuawa case to court and allowing a trial of the case before an impartial judge to occur right away!
Given the above extremely LOW “threshold” standard of evidence required, under law, to warrant institution of the criminal arraignment of a suspect or an accused, the question that immediately comes to mind for me, is WHY, AT ALL, WAS IT EVEN NECESSARY OR WARRANTED THAT THE DPP Mr. ALIYU AND HIS COLLEAGUES WOULD EVEN SEEK ANOTHER FRESH “REVIEW” OF THIS CASE? A case that had already gone through the excruciating scrutiny of an uncommon array of “reviews,” in so many jurisdictions all across the country, and which had, at long last, been finally passed for arraignment by another team of criminal prosecutors from the Nigerian Police, as well as by the Anambra State Attorney General, and even by duly constituted courts of law of the State of Anambra?
OVERWHELMING EVIDENCE TO ARRAIGN OR INDICT ALREADY IN POLICE POSSESSION ON SUSPECTS
In deed, in point of fact, a close but objective review of the records and history of this matter by this writer, clearly shows that the LOWLY standard of “prima facie” evidence of probable involvement in a crime required under any civilized system of jurisprudence to warrant permitting an arraignment of a case to go for a trial before a judge, has already been more than met and even surpassed in the instant case in question. That, in deed, the evidences that have been amassed and are already on the police and court records for the benefit of the police prosecutors, or for the Abuja DPP’s Mr. Aliyu or Messrs Emeka Okolo and Silas Amon of the Enugu DPP office, are already so huge and vast, that they are in deed far superior to what the average prosecutor would be happy to have in a case even to win an outright conviction in an actual trial, and not simply in an arraignment. That there is, in fact, ALREADY, an overwhelming mountain of credible evidence already sitting in police and court files far sufficient to warrant the mere arraignment (indictment) of the Ogbuwa suspects in this case under any civilized system of jurisprudence. Remember the basic, charge against Mr. Ogbuawa? That he has been, or might have been, involved as a mastermind, directly or indirectly, in the kidnapping of some three persons abducted in the March 2007 Innoson kidnapping case. And that’s all!
Certainly, since that fateful March 2007 event, hasn’t the record been rather overwhelming that the investigations by the police have turned up an array of evidence, much of it quite direct and incriminating, linking Ogbuawa to the incident and to the criminals who perpetrated the abduction? Just take a brief look, for a little idea, at the various pieces of hard evidence long in the police files and in previous court proceedings. In the case before an Nnewi High Court judge, for example, the following had been established, among others. 1) A print– out from Mobile phone company showing a trend of telephone communications between Mr. Ogbuawa and the kidnappers shortly before, as well as after, the victims were abducted; 2) evidence that Ogbuawa, who is a major motorcycle importer, made a donation of 5 brand new motorcycles to the kidnappers, a move which Ogbuawa himself directly admitted but claimed was part of the condition for his release by the kidnappers after his own abduction . And, directly from the ruling of Justice P.A.C. Obidigwe of the Nnewi State High Court of June 11 th 2007, we find, already, that Ogbuawa “admitted or did not deny” a great deal of incriminating evidence. Evidence such as the following: a) that the Innoson kidnappers “dressed in military uniforms visited him with a Mitsubishi L 300 bus in his home at Nnewi,” b) that his “in law, one Mr. Okechukwu, was one of those who kidnapped” the Innoson kidnap victims; c) that Ogbuawa advised Sylvester Unigwe’s (one of the Innoson kidnap victims) wife to phone the Innoson Director and ask that he gave the kidnappers any amount they demanded; and d) that he was the one who had given the name Ugochukwu Iloka, a prominent local businessman, to the kidnappers as a good prospect for them to abduct and/or demand ransom from, among others.
Clearly, even with just this amount of evidence only, could the foregoing be more damning or more formidable evidence, against a suspect in a case? And clearly, how could any credible prosecutor realistically contend, in any degree of good faith, even in the face of such a mountain of evidence ALREADY well–tested and verified, and ALREADY on the record, after well over two years of close judicial scrutiny of all aspects of it, that it does not already meet or exceed the lowly standard of “prima facie” evidence required to warrant a simple matter of court arraignment?
THEN, THE NEWEST EVIDENCE FURTHER NAILS THE CASE EVEN BEYOND OVERWHELMING PROPORTIONS!
Still, all of the foregoing evidences, ALREADY overwhelming for purposes of arraignment (or even conviction) by any civilized standards, were all accumulated and on the police and court records BEFORE the latest major development in the case, however! But even since then, however, there has developed yet another momentous event whose net result has been to produce yet another new explosion of a bonanza of evidence on the case. In particular, on May 29 th 2009, the fearsome leader of the criminal gang that kidnapped the “Innoson three,” who goes by the name Innocent Orji, was finally apprehended by the police, finally ending a 2 years and 2 months state and regional police man hunt. In terms of its significance to the Ogbuawa case at hand, simply suffice it to say that virtually nothing could have done more as to further catapult the quantum of evidence already in police files against the accused persons to a new stratospheric, even unassailable, level, or done more in further corroborating the preexisting evidence and cementing its credibility for prosecutorial purposes. From several press accounts on the matter, most of which are well confirmed, since capture gang leader Innocent Orji has already made many damning confessions and bombshell revelations (most, if not all, of them on tape and video) of Obguawa’s direct role and involvement in the whole Innoson three kidnap event, roundly corroborating key elements of the allegations and evidences pre–existing on the official record against him. He directly implicates Mr. PIUS O. OGBUAWA, and links him to the gang’s financing and actions in the Innoson three kidnap incident. He has confirmed, directly, as a principal in the events, many of the matters that previously were merely allegations and charges, even if strong ones, and has vitally “filled in the holes” in the pre–existing body of evidence on certain key details in the kidnapping or the alleged Ogbuawa involvement – that his gang was, in deed, the group that was responsible for the kidnap of the now famous “Innoson three,” that the second Chinese victim of the kidnap had died in their custody, and where exactly he had been buried, that Ogbuawa was, in deed, a major financial patron of his gang, and had, in deed, at one time provided his gang a list of 7 other fellow–multi–millionaire businessmen in Nnewi (which included the Chairman of the Innoson company, among others) that he advised them to abduct, that his criminal gang was in fact the group that had the entire South–east of Nigeria under virtual criminal siege in the last 2 years in the orgy of criminal kidnapping and extortion that then prevailed, that Mr. Ikechukwu (Nwachukwu), Mr. Ogbuawa’s in–law, was in fact a member of his extortion gang, etc., etc
What emerges, upon reasonable examination of the facts, is that, in fact, the evidence is clear and unambiguous that there is far, far more than sufficient evidence amassed and ALREADY sitting in the police and court files at least to arraign (indict) Ogbuawa and his follow suspects for a trial on the charge. That, in deed, that question (the issue of sufficiency of evidence to warrant a charge of the case to arraignment) has not really been the issue in earnest in this whole case. That, in fact, as one keen observer of the case, an Anambra columnist who has followed this case very closely for long, Mr. Mike Okongwu, summed it up, the real issue has probably been: “With all these damning allegations against him, if Ogbuawa was a man of little means, would he be walking about so freely [today]. Does the law apply differently for different folks.”?
Are the Nigerian authorities, from President Umaru Yar’Ardua, to Attorney General Michael Aondoaka , and Police boss Ogbonna Onovo, really, really honest and SERIOUS about fighting the Number One violent crime of Nigeria of today – the brutal menace of armed robbery, kidnapping and extortion? The recent lamentation in July 2009 of Farida Waziri, the Chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), about the slow impact of the work of her office on the war against corruption in Nigeria, and the fact that a considerable dose of corruption in the Nigerian judiciary seems to be a major factor in not recording dramatic improvements in the nation’s corruption situation, seems immediately to fit so well here. “The effect [of the kind of efforts that an agency like the EFCC makes] is felt only when a man has been sentenced and you see him being taken into prison and he gets to prison and people see it.” But, Waziri adds, in stead, what you often see, though, in Nigeria are “people taken to court and they are smiling and waving as if they are political heroes. Meanwhile they are being arraigned for criminal cases and they are waiving like Mandela.”
In summary, true, as a practical and constitutional matter, the DPPs and the Federal AG office involved in the current Ogbuawa case technically have the power under the constitutional doctrine of nolie presequi, possibly to discontinue the current Innoson kidnapping case. So the letter and text of the Constitution reads under Section 174 thereof! However, properly put in its proper context, this must be clearly but emphatically noted, too. That, a major PROVISO of that clause, under subsection (3) therein, is that the Attorney General, “in exercising his powers under this section, … shall have regard to the public interest, the interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal process.” (underlining by the writer).
The Nigerian “test case” – are the Nigerian authorities really serious, sincere?
To be sure, nationally, the Yar’Ardua Administration has severally signaled that seriously combating the grave twin crimes of armed robbery and kidnapping, whether by the militants in the Niger Delta, or by professional armed robbers in Anambra state or other states, are its top present national security priority. As for this humble writer, I want, respectfully, to believe, as a patriotic and genuinely interested Nigerian who wants to believe in the current Nigerian leadership, ranging from Umaru Yar’Ardua to Federal Attorney General Michael Aondoaka, and the new Police Inspector General Ogbonna Onovo, and others, that all actual “public officers” of the Nigerian nation, such as Mr. S. Aliyu of the Abuja DPP office, and Messrs Emeka Okolo and Silas Amon of the Enugu DPP office, or any others in like position in Nigeria, are brutally genuine and serious when they proclaim that they are actually serious about combating, and actually defeating, this most devastating of all violent crimes, the menace of armed robbery and kidnapping. I want to believe that these men (and women) of the DPP office, will work dedicatedly in this case only in a way that would give due “regard to the public interest, the interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal process,” of the Anambra and Nigerian public, as commanded by the Nigerian Constitution !
We shall await October 5 th 2009. That is the next adjourned court date, at the Federal High Court, Awka, in Anambra State, before Justice P.F. Olayiwola. The men of the Nigerian Attorney General’s office, through its DPP office of Messrs S. Aliyu at Abuja, and of Emeka Nwokolo and Silas Amon at Enugu, will finally tell Nigeria, as well as the much menaced anxious Anambra population, and the world, particularly the Chinese nation (two of whose nationals had been among the victims of the kidnap, one of whom had died in the kidnappers custody), what EXACTLY they’ve decided about the fate of the infamous “Innoson three” kidnapping case.
Benjamin Anosike, Ph.D.
The writer, who writes from New York, USA, is the prolific author of some three dozens of legal texts mostly on topics of American law (and literally countless number of articles), and an acclaimed legal scholar and expert, frequent writer and commentator on political, economic, social and legal issues.
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