In a judgment that lasted over four hours yesterday, a Lagos State High Court in Igbosere sentenced two men, Okwumo Nwabufo and Olisaeloka Ezike to death by hanging for the July 2012 killing of Cynthia Osokogwu in FESTAC Town area of Lagos.
Miss Osokogwu, aged 25 at the time, was the only daughter of a retired Major General in the Nigerian Army. She became the poster girl for the first social media casualty after she was raped and murdered by her Facebook friends at Cosmilla Hotel, Lakeview Estate in FESTAC Town.
The two convicts were in February 8, 2013 arraigned alongside Orji Osita and Ezike Nonso for the murder. They were arraigned on a six-count charge of conspiracy, murder, stealing, recklessness, negligence and possession of stolen goods.
Cynthia, whose body was found tied in both hands and legs in the hotel room, was a post-graduate student of Nasarawa State University. Earlier, the prosecutor led by the then Lagos State Attorney General, Ade Ipaye, called 10 witnesses, who testified against the convicts. The court, presided over by Justice Olabisi Akintade, sentenced the two accused as charged.
Before passing judgment, the judge asked the defendants if they had anything to say. The first and second defendant’s counsel, Victor Okpara and Emeka Eze made a plea of mercy.
Okpara said the first defendant was a first -time offender and had “tremendous energy to do something worthwhile with his life. I urge this court to grant him a reformative sentence.”
Reaching the judgment, she said: “I pronounce the judgment of this court upon you, Okwumo Nwabufo and Olisaeloka Ezike. Both of you should be hanged by the neck till you are dead. May the Lord have mercy on your souls.”
She, however, discharged and acquitted the two other accused persons, Orji Osita, a pharmacist said to have sold the drug the convicts used to subdue the deceased, and a brother to one of the convicts, Ezike Nonso, who was said to have received the stolen phones of the deceased.
Police detectives, led by the then Area Commander of FESTAC Town, Mr. Dan Okoro, had with the aid of technology, arrested the four suspects. Nwabufor, who the deceased had met through the BlackBerry Messenger service and Facebook, had organised Cynthia’s trip to Lagos.
For months, he and Cynthia had chatted through these social media platforms and soon she had also accepted his cousin, Olisaeloka, as a friend. Nwabufor had told Cynthia that he was a student at Lagos State University (LASU), and that he had connections that could help her with her fashion business. But she never knew that Nwabufor had been stalking her for months, patiently gaining her confidence through frequent chats and postings.
Nwabufor gave Cynthia an offer that she couldn’t refuse: a flight ticket to Lagos and decent hotel accommodation, where he would bring his business associates to meet her. CCTVs installed at the hotel, where Cynthia was killed, assisted detectives in their investigations.
The detectives told newsmen that after spending the night with Cynthia’s body, the suspects left the hotel in the morning. Then, they placed a call to the hotel reception and told them to get “the body of that bastard” out of the room.
Meanwhile, Cynthia’s mother, Mrs. Joy Osokogu, had been making frantic efforts to reach her on phone for five days. The phone was switched off. On the seventh day, the suspects answered the phone and told her that Cynthia was sick. Soon, they were asking her to pay ransom.
Within three weeks, the police were able to arrest the suspects through cell phone records and CCTV footage of them leaving the hotel. The police arrested other men in connection with the crime, including the pharmacist who sold the Rohypnol to the killers without a prescription, their driver, and a man who assisted the murderers in selling what they stole from Cynthia.
After the arrest, several other women came forward to say how they survived when they also fell victims into the hands of these same criminals, who had robbed them after they were drugged and tied up.
The suspects were charged to court on November 5, 2012, exactly one month after Cynthia was buried. The murder trial began on February 8, 2013, with the state calling the hotel’s receptionist as the first witness.
The crime buster, Okoro, now a Deputy Commissioner of Police, got a national honour from then President Goodluck Jonathan for his accomplishments as a detective and his rejection of a N15 million bribe that was allegedly offered by one of the suspects.