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Sunday, 24 November 2013

Killer Breaks Loose: Man Who Murdered In-Law Granted Bail, Absconds

Basil-Ogbonnaya--612x300

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.
That’s not the news now. The news is that to the chagrin of Ogbonnaya’s widow, Uzoma, their three year old daughter, Precious and many lovers of justice, 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.”
Uzoma  feels betrayed by a system which made her believe that justice would be done . “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.
Though Uzoma tried hard to suppress the tears, they kept rolling down her cheeks as she muttered each word in anguish. “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.
Adeniran explained what likely led to the delay in filing the charges. According to him“When an investigation is completed, the police sends the file to us. We look at the case file and issue legal advice and then file the information. Obviously, that process takes time. We were in the middle of that process when the bail application was filed. And we basically indicated that we were working on it and that we would file the information. But we had not filed the information as at the time the bail was granted.
“So, we opposed the bail and that was why it was not an unconditional release; it was a conditional release. There were reasons attached to the release of the suspect in this particular case.” Is it possible for a court to grant  bail before a case is formally brought before it? Adeniran answers in the affirmative. “Yes, the judge can grant  bail even before someone is arraigned.”
Sunday Sun  asked under what  conditions  bail could be granted and Adeniran said “I don’t know that for now. It wasn’t something that we could get from the bar ready. Remember that these things happened sometimes back. If you want, maybe we can ask for a CTC (Certified True Copy) and furnish you with that.”
The controversy was exacerbated as  the lawyer engaged by the family of the victim, Mr  O. R. Kalu  also claimed that the DPP lawyers did not oppose the bail. He further claimed that he was left in the dark by the office of the DPP. After the accused person’s first appearance at the magistrate court, Kalu said he had “written a letter to the office of the DPP, telling them that we were interested in this matter. I asked them to contact me whenever they were charging the case to the proper court  and to inform me of any development in the matter. They acknowledged the letter and gave me a copy.
“When the defense  filed the application for bail, the DPP did not contact  me despite the fact that he knew that the defense counsel   will not serve me any papers. He will rather serve the DPP. But the DPP office never reverted to me.”
Kalu said he was unaware that the accused was granted  bail until “sometime  towards the end of last year and  that people  became apprehensive saying that they saw the accused  somewhere at Ketu. When I checked at the Ikoyi Prison where he was remanded, I found out that he had been released on bail.”
Kalu then traced the case to Justice Candide-Johnson’s court and said he discovered that “the affidavit in support of the bail application was all fabricated. They deceived the court with the facts deposed to in the affidavit. And of course, I think there was no reaction from the DPP. There was no counter-affidavit. It means that there must have been a compromise somewhere along the line. It’s a murder case and it would not have been easy for the accused to just walk away like that.”
The conditions were not that difficult, he said adding  “He was required to provide two sureties in the sum of N500,000 who must have  landed property and must be  relations of the accused. That must be the reason they brought the wife of the accused and one man who claimed to have a street named after him at Ikotun. They fabricated a landed property and brought forged papers to the court. They succeeded because they were able to bribe the bailiff whose responsibility it is to verify the deeds to the properties.  He will come back and tell the court that the properties were genuine. In this particular case, everything before the court was all lies. A lot of compromises must have taken place and a lot of money must have changed hands.”
Sunday Sun sought the views of a human rights lawyer, Wale Ogunade on the developments on this matter. What could have led a court of law to grant bail in a murder trial which had barely started? What does the law say about bail and murder cases?
Ogunade said  “Generally, murder cases are not bail-able because they are in the realm and species of a capital offence. Capital offences are not bail-able. They include armed robbery, murder, sometimes manslaughter and of course treason. When it comes to issues of bail for these offences, judges are very circumspect, very careful in granting bail.”
“For him to be a free man, a lot of things could have gone wrong. How many times did the court sit to know that the prosecution was not serious with the case? But even if the prosecution was tardy, that does not mean that a bail should be granted. How many times did the court sit on the matter? The judge can say “Well, I have carried out my investigation, I found out that this is a trumped up charge”. That again, does not give him the right to act on his own.
“So, to me, this is an exception of the situation on ground. If it is just that the prosecution could not move its case, then the judge ought to have given them enough time to put their house in order because the man was in custody. Since  bail was granted, the man  refused to attend his trial, which again is serious. It shows that the man has no respect for the law of the land. Then there is something wrong somewhere. If the prosecution is not complaining, then the complainants, the family of the victim should do something. It is the duty of the complainant to complain to the world. So that people who matter will take it up.
“I am sure that because of  this publication, the chief judge of the state, the commissioner of police and  the attorney-general of the state will intervene in this matter. These three people are the heads of the various agencies involved in this matter. Let them beam the searchlight on this case and find out what has gone wrong. We want to know the truth because things can’t continue like this in this country, else  we are done for.  The rule of law must prevail. If it does  not, then people will do anything with impunity because we encourage the culture of impunity”.
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: The Sun

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