After the series of public criticism that greeted the murder of four students of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) last October, some relief came the way of seven out of the 18 of the accused persons being prosecuted for the crime.
A Chief Magistrates’ Court sitting in Port Harcourt yesterday discharged the seven accused persons for want of evidence of complicity in the crime. The four students — Tekena Elkanah, Toku Lloyd, Chiadika Biringa and Ugonna Obuzor — were murdered by a mob at Omuokiri, Aluu in October last year which had accused them of being armed robbers caught by the community’s vigilante group.
The claim became controversial as other versions of the event came out. The murdered students were said to have gone to demand the payment of a debt owed one of them from a man. The man was said to have raised false alarm, claiming that the students were robbers. The community, it was said, had suffered frequent harassment by armed robbers. The news of the arrest of the alleged armed robbers soon drew out the entire community and in no time, the four students were at the village square after the verdict of guilt had been passed on them by the traditional ruler of the community.
When the accused persons appeared in court last December, the trial Chief Magistrate, Emma Woke of Court I, referred the file to the state Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) for advice and adjourned the matter until February 28. At the resumed hearing yesterday, the chief magistrate discharged seven of the 18 accused persons after reading the advice of the DPP. Those discharged include the only female accused person, Cynthia Chinwo, George Nwadei, Ekpe Daniel, Gabriel Ochi, Endurance Edet, Lucky Agwurum, and Finebone Jeffrey, aka Soso.
The chief magistrate said from the advice dated January 25, the seven persons were arrested and charged to court based on mere suspicion, adding that no prima facie case of murder had been established against them.
“It is a trite law that suspicion, no matter how strong, cannot take place of legal proof without concrete evidence to substantiate it, and as such, they were victims of circumstance and, therefore, charging and prosecuting them will be an exercise in futility,” Woke ruled. But many have raised the question whether or not those so freed by the chief magistrate were actually innocent or they were beneficiaries of police’ poor prosecutorial competence.