Just convictions – The Nation

•That you legally carry arms does not give you the right to turn fellow citizens to cannon fodders

Trigger-happy policemen now have to think twice before shooting, going by the way the courts are convicting those among their ranks, arrested and prosecuted for extra-judicial killings. A most recent example is that of Sergeant Vincent Manu, sentenced to death by a high court in Lafia, Niger State, for unlawfully killing a businessman, Stephen Anakwe, in Karu Local Government, after labelling him an armed robber. Manu had been arraigned alongside five other police officers on a count charge of criminal conspiracy to kill the businessman while on patrol duty. The others included Inspector Danladi Lenkem, Inspector Edula Ateku (who died in prison custody during the trial), Corporal Samson Magga, Corporal Musa Audu and Christopher Maikasuwa.

Justice James Abundega who tried the case said the prosecution had proved its case beyond reasonable doubt that Sergeant Manu who shot the victim was guilty of murder. He rejected the defendant’s plea of self-defence. He however discharged and acquitted the other accused persons.

“In the circumstances, the court finds the defendant guilty of the charge of causing the death of late Stephen Anakwe on the 13th of January 2012, he is accordingly convicted,” Justice Abundega said. He added: “It needs be said that the defendant came to his present circumstances on the account of apparent abuse of power and unbridled show of might”.

Before now, some other police officers had been convicted for extra-judicial killings. For example, an FCT High Court convicted and sentenced two out of five policemen accused in the extra-judicial killings of six Apo traders in 2005 to death in March, last year. The accused, Ezekiel Acheneche and Emmanuel Baba, were convicted of homicide punishable by death under section 22 (1a) of the penal code while others were discharged. Justice Ishaq Bello, while delivering judgment, held that the action of the convicted men was condemnable because there was no evidence that the traders did anything to constitute a threat to police at the time they were shot dead.

And, in September, last year, a Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt found a five-man patrol team of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) guilty of extra-judicial killing of two friends, Michael Akor and Michael Igwe, in Oyigbo Local Government Area of the state. The court also awarded N50 million compensation to the families of the deceased.

Nigerians are daily regaled with stories of policemen and other security personnel turning their gums at defenceless citizens at the slightest provocation. As a matter of fact, life has no meaning to some of the security personnel who boast openly that they will just ‘waste’ the lives of people who refuse to cooperate with them, sometimes on clearly illegal orders. Many bus conductors and drivers who refused to give bribe to policemen at check points had been killed. Extra-judicial killings are even recorded at police cells or when policemen are obtaining confessional statements from suspects. It is also a statement of fact that many innocent Nigerians had been silenced through what the police and other security personnel call ‘accidental discharge’.

It is sad, as Justice Abundega observed, that policemen who are supposed to protect defenceless citizens and apprehend criminals end up killing the same people they are paid and armed to protect. These convictions may not resurrect the dead; they should at least serve as deterrence to other police and security officers who love pulling the trigger without any just cause.

We need more of such convictions to end this kind of impunity. Policemen and other security operatives must be made to understand that the arms they bear can only be used responsibly.

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