In March, 2011, 31-year-old Basil Ogbonnaya was murdered in cold blood in the Ejigbo area of Lagos. He was brutally killed by his brother-in-law and friend, one Israel Okafor Okereke.
According to the police, Okereke invited Ogbonnaya to his house at Ejigbo, drugged and axed him to death. He afterwards dumped his body in a blue plastic drum at a dumpsite in the same area of Lagos.
According to the account, the accused claimed that he killed the deceased because he owed him N3.6 million. Meanwhile, the victim’s widow, Mrs. Uzoma Ogbonnaya dismissed the claim, saying that it was even the accused that owed her late husband the same amount of money.
As if that its not a painful loss for Ogbonnaya’s widow, Uzoma, their three year old daughter, Precious and many lovers of justice will have to deal with the fact that Okereke has since become a free man sort of . He was granted bail by a Lagos High Court and for over a year now, has not been attending court.
What makes it so offensive is that the victim’s widow and her late husband’s family were not even privy to his bail. The news came to her as a rumour and she didn’t want to believe it.
In an emotion-laden voice, she told Sunday Sun how she found out about the release of her husband’s killer. “There was a rumour, some people said they saw him somewhere. Then I decided to check the Ikoyi Prison where he was kept. When I got there, I discovered truly that he had been released. The prison authority asked me the year he was brought in and I told them. When they went through their records, they said that he has been released. When we came to court, they confirmed that he has been bailed.”
“I felt bad in the first place because after the incident, the police commissioner assured me that the case was not even against me. They told me that it was a crime against Lagos State Government and that they were going to take care of the case. They assured me that it was going to be Lagos State against Israel (the accused person). With that assurance, I thought they were going to do the right thing. Then of all of a sudden, they let him go.”
Even following his bail and subsequent disappearance of the accused person, the Lagos Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) could not offer her an explanation. “What I heard in court at the last date from two lawyers whom I believe represented the DPP was that the court did not give them a chance to oppose his application for bail when the argument came up. The DPP lawyers were there on the day he was granted bail, but because they could not argue the bail, the court had no other choice than to grant him bail. I learnt this from their discussion. They did not explain to me”, Uzoma lamented.
It does seem that the conspiracy to deny her justice was hatched not long after her husband’s killing. Her efforts to follow-up the case were craftily thwarted. “We were following the case. My late husband’s family has a lawyer. They hired a lawyer because at a point I was out of the case. For reasons best known to them, they didn’t want me in their meetings. I know that they were not comfortable having me around because they felt the person who killed my husband was my cousin”, she said.
Uzoma who was in tears said “Through the IPO (Investigating Police Officer) at Panti, they were following the case to know how far the case had gone. They were told that a case can stay up to two to three years before being charged to court, but that at the appropriate time, he would be taken to court. If not for the rumour mill, I could not have known that he had been released because the IPO kept telling me that the DPP had not advised him. That was the feedback I was getting from Panti each time. They said they would let me know when the advice is given. Nobody got back to me when the advice was given. The next thing I heard was that the man had been released”, she said.
While Uzoma and her family were being dribbled, the case had gone before Justice Ademola Candide-Johnson of the Lagos High Court. Sunday Sun gathered that even though the DPP advice came through in December 2011, she was not told. The accused was charged to court in February 2012 and again, she was left out of it. Subsequently, the bail application was filed, served, argued and granted but she was not told.
Asked what she wanted now, Uzoma said “I am appealing to everybody involved, because in the first place the crime is against Lagos state government. Secondly, I am appealing to the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Chief Judge of Lagos State. They should please intervene in this matter. They know what they can do about this case now. The murderer was arrested and handed over to them. I don’t know how everything went bad and they let him go. His case was reported in national newspapers, on the internet and the international community is aware of the case too. I have been receiving calls from people who wanted to know if it was true that the killer had been released. The international community is waiting to see how Nigeria is going to handle this case. They should please do the right thing. The people that released him should know where he is. They should bring him out in order for justice to be served.”
When she noticed the turn the case had taken, Uzoma petitioned the founder of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM), Bishop Mike Okonkwo, (her spiritual father), who then detailed FBA Nabena Law Firm to look into the case. As a result, Mrs. Bose Adedeji waded into the matter in June this year.
Adedeji told Sunday Sun “When I took over the case, I went to Panti, because I learnt that was where the matter started. From there, I learnt that the man was arraigned before a magistrate court in Ebute Metta, Court 14 on April 11, 2011 a month after the incident. But because of the nature of the case, the magistrate court could not try the case as it does not have jurisdiction over murder cases.
“What they usually do is that they will take it for DPP’s advice. At Panti, I spoke with one Mayowa Elejede, the investigating police officer. He also told me that the DPP’s advice was issued in December 2011; that the man should be charged to the state high court. Though the DPP’s advice was given on December 13, 2011, they received it at Panti on February 13, 2012.
“The matter was assigned to Hon. Justice Candide-Johnson. He is the judge handling the matter and the same person that granted the accused bail. The charge sheet is dated December 13, 2011. I did not get the first date that the man appeared in court. When I went to conduct a search on the file, I only saw 26 pages. Every other thing, even the bail application and the response were not in that file.
“When I asked the registrar, the registrar told me that those would be in the archive. I went to the archive to ask, and I could not get anything. I knew that they could not have been in the archive because the matter is still ongoing. It has not been concluded. The matter has been before the same judge.
“I was particular about the bail application and the response from the Attorney-General’s office. What grounds were raised in the application and for which the bail was granted? There are some conditions you need to meet before you can be granted bail. I didn’t see the bail processes. When I insisted on seeing the papers, the registrar told me that the judge had issued a bench warrant on the accused person. But it is not about bench warrant.”
Adedeji further revealed what she gathered from a DPP lawyer concerning the bail. She added “The day I went to conduct the search, I met one of the lawyers from the office of the AG. The lawyer told me that on the day the bail was up for argument, they were not with their file. So, when they could not respond, the judge acted without listening to them and granted the accused bail. According to him, the judge refused to grant them adjournment to enable them to respond to the bail application. But I have not been able to get anything to substantiate what the lawyer told me.
“From what I have gathered so far, the accused person was granted bail in June 2012. So, if the matter came before the judge in February last year; and by June of the same year, he was already in a hurry to grant the accused bail in a murder case that was well publicized, then something seems to be amiss.”
The lawyer herself was baffled by the incident. “Even as a lawyer, I am still trying to understand what has happened. There are so many people awaiting trial in our prisons for even minor offences and the court has not granted them bail. So, why will bail be granted someone who murdered another person? I can’t understand it.”
However, contrary to what Sunday Sun gathered from Mrs. Adedeji, Lagos State Ministry of Justice insisted that their lawyer was in court the day the bail was granted and had done his best in opposing the bail application. But that the court had granted it despite his protest.
Speaking with Sunday Sun, the Senior Special Adviser to the state governor on legal matters, Akingbolahan Adeniran insisted that “The counsel involved was in court and he opposed the bail application on that particular day.”
“We hadn’t done all that we needed to do because we ought to have filed the information in respect to the offence and we hadn’t done that.” This is despite Adedeji’s account that the charge sheet she saw was dated December 13, 2011.
Even though the rule of law cannot bring back Basil Ogbonnaya to his three-year old daughter, Precious, who was only seven months old when life was snuffed out of him, it can at least ensure that more kids are not made fatherless before they even learn to say “Daddy.”
Source: Daily Sun Newspaper