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Twist in the Akpabio’s Murder Case

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The family of the murdered Akpabio brothers rejects the setting up of a security committee to investigate the multiple murder incident and demands explanation for the release of a suspect earlier arrested

The committee  set up by the  Akwa Ibom State Security Council to investigative the March 25 murder of three brothers of Helen Ukpabio, the Calabar-based film producer and founder of Liberty Gospel Church and two other youths of Mbente village in Nkari clan, Ini local government of  the state has finally commenced work on the matter. The extra-judicial murder was   believed to have been masterminded by persons suspected to be members of the Nigeria Police and the State Security Service, SSS.

Although Godswill Akpabio, Akwa Ibom State governor,  gave the committee two weeks to complete the assignment beginning from May 30, when it was set up, work did not begin due, perhaps, to the death of one of its members in the recent Dana plane crash in Lagos. At what appeared to be the first meeting of the committee with complainants accused and the suspects in the murder case, Nsima Ekere, chairman of the committee and deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State, said the panel was strictly a Security Council affair and would not welcome journalists or others not invited to give evidence before it.

Ekere said the state government set up the committee because of the pathetic story of the killings - to help unveil the circumstances that led to the murder, those that carried out the act and for what reasons. Members of the committee, which sits in the conference room of the deputy governor’s office include Ekpenyong Ntekim, Akwa Ibom State attorney-general and commissioner for Justice, M.A. Abdullahi, commander of 6 Battalion, Nigerian Army, Abak, M.I. Lekwot of the Nigerian Navy and S.O. Solarin of the Nigerian Airforce. Ekere said the SSS and police bosses in the state could not sit in the committee because their organisations were being accused of involvement in the killing.

However, the family of Essien Akpabio, the 84-year-old former police officer and father of the murdered – Charles, Joseph and Emmanuel Akpabio is not favourably disposed to the security council investigation committee. After his appearance before it on behalf of the Akpabio family on July 5, Victor Ukutt, the family’s attorney, told Newswatch that the committee was an illegality. He insisted that what needed to have been done right from time was for the police to arrest and prosecute those involved in the murder since the family provided their names and identity. “We have looked at the constitutionality and legality of the Akwa Ibom State Security Council to investigate and make recommendations to government as it has to do with the killing in Ini local government.  We have looked at the legal issues - the constitution, as the terms of reference and the work of the committee and found that the constitution of the committee is altogether unconstitutional and illegal. The court has interpreted similar cases, occasioned by previous governments and noted that such action or actions were illegal and unconstitutional.  Allegation of crime, especially heinous crime like murder or genocide as in this case, are very serious crimes that only the police and the court can investigate and apportion blame.

He cited previous such cases to support his position.” The court in the case of Garba versus University of Maiduguri stated, inter alia, that the University of Maiduguri cannot set up an administrative panel of inquiry to look into allegations of arson, murder, wanton destruction of property, assault, looting and stealing. That power is only vested in the court established by the Constitution and also by the police. And, therefore, the apportioning of blame on those students was unlawful and in fact, the court had to order the students to return to the university,” he said. He was referring to the sack of the university’s students by the authorities after a riot.

Also, a letter addressed to the Security Council chairman, dated July 5 and signed by Ukutt said: “As was stated by the Supreme Court in the case of Garba & ORS V. University of Maiduguri (1986) 1 N.S.C.C 245, Sofekun v. Akinyemi & ORS (1980) N.S.C.C 175, Justine Egbuniwe & ORS V. Federal Government of Nigeria & ors (2010) 2 N.W.L.R (PT. 1178) 348, the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal were unanimous in their decisions that where allegation of crime is in issue, no state is permitted by law and the Constitution to set up administrative body of inquiry to look into and make recommendation to the government. “But rather, it is the duty of the Police to investigate the allegation of crime pursuant to the power conferred on the police under the Police Act and a trial in a court of law established pursuant to Section 6 of the 1999 Constitution as amended”, it said.

Ukutt also picked hole in the state attorney general’s membership of the committee. “The attorney general of Akwa Ibom State who is also a member of this investigative body is by Section 221 of the Constitution, Federal Republic of Nigeria, the chief prosecutor of Akwa Ibom State. He cannot sit as an investigator having a quasi-judicial power and at the same time being the chief prosecutor for the state. We do hope the state attorney general will properly advise the Akwa Ibom State government on the implication of this noble step of the state government but carried out in a wrong and unconstitutional way,” he said.

The letter concluded, “While we appreciate the interest of the state government in unravelling the personalities behind this heinous crime, the panel set up by the state government is with due respect unconstitutional and unlawful and consequently, the Akpabio family will not wish to testify before the panel as any decision reached therein will be null and void in the eye of the law and liable to be set aside by the parties affected.” The letter was widely copied various authorities and state agencies including the National Assembly.

Newswatch learnt that the police had arrested a man from Ifa village of the same Nkari clan, alleged to have accompanied three white men purportedly working as expatriates for AG Vision Nig. Ltd., (the Contractor handling the construction of a dam in Nkari Clan) on March 24 who came to look for the Akpabio brothers and their father. Otu and the three white men were said to have invited the murdered youths to a meeting in Ikot Ekpene, some 45 minutes drive from their village the following day for a discussion that had to do with the progress of the dam. The Akpabio brothers and the two others were said to have been youth leaders of the village. It was at this meeting that police and SSS agents swooped on them.

Reports said their captors first shot and maimed them in the legs and drove in Hilux vans back to Mbente village where Charles and Joseph were shot dead in the presence of their aged parents.

Their mother, 72 was said to be weeping and pleading that the lives of her children be spared. Emmanuel and the other two young men were said to have been taken to a boundary village between Nkari and Obot Akara local government where they were shot dead. Their families are also asking for their bodies. Ukutt stated in his widely circulated letter that a suspect  was arrested by the Akwa Ibom Police Command on June 16 and released on June 24, after making confessional statement to the police.

However, the police have denied ever arresting anybody. Umar Gwadabe, the state’s commissioner of Police told Newswatch, “It is not true. Police have not arrested anybody. We have carried out our investigations but could not associate anybody with that killing.” Gwadabe said the police have been in touch with the State Security Service, SSS, in the state, which also denied involvement of their men in the killing. He suggested that the Akpabio family conduct a DNA test on the dead bodies to ascertain who owned the bullets that silenced the young men.

Gwadabe said Akwa Ibom State was becoming very peaceful, the police having successfully battled the pockets of armed robbery, cultist activities and kidnappings that were witnessed in the state. He said the murder of the youths was very embarrassing. The police commissioner was barely three weeks in the state when the case was reported.

In a previous report, Newswatch had quoted Onyema Orji, former spokesman of the command, as saying “The police are a disciplined organisation and we have an internal cleansing mechanism. So, any member of the force that will be involved in extra-judicial killing will be tried and prosecuted. If there is any such report of any policeman or a group of policemen engaging in the extra-judicial killing of any innocent person, we will act accordingly. This matter has actually raised a lot of dust. We are investigating it.”

But the Akpabio family said the question of who shot the lads or who sent them were not under any contest as the murderers and those who sent them have been mentioned several times in their complaints to government agencies in their search for justice. The July 5 letter sent to the Akwa Ibom Security Council, dated July 5 mentioned a sitting senator, a former governorship candidate and his brother as sponsors of the murder.

The name of the SSS agent that led the team and allegedly shot them has also been mentioned in the letter.  During Newswatch’s previous visit to the state SSS headquarters, the authorities said they were yet to hear of the killings. But sources said they have since admitted the said agent was their own. “We would appreciate if the Akwa Ibom State Security Council headed by Chief Godswill Obot Akpabio, state governor, could direct the commissioner of Police Akwa Ibom State Command to arrest the felons whose identities we have earlier stated.” The Akpabios also said they wanted the government to prevail on the police to release to the body of Emmanuel.

The letter also gave reasons the Akpabio brothers were murdered. According to it, the father of the deceased owns 80 percent of the total economic crops including cocoa and land mass acquired for the dam being constructed in Nkari clan. It claimed that the Federal Ministry of Water Resources recently approved about N500 million for payment of compensation to owners of the land acquired for the dam. It said the Akpabio brothers were eliminated so that the family could be excluded from the compensation.


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