Outrage greets 12 years jail term for Salome Abuh’s killers
• Concerns over punishment of poll offenders
Lawyers and Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA) have reacted to the 12 years hail term handed out to killers of former Kogi State women leader of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mrs. Salome Abuh. The stakeholders, apart from expressing outage, sued for judicial review of the judgment for stiffer punishment for the convicts.
On March 23, 2021, the State High Court 1, sitting in Idah, Kogi State, presided by Justice Fola Ajayi, convicted and sentenced one Ocholi Edicha to 12 years and six months in prison over his involvement in the burning and killing of the PDP women leader in Ochadamu, Ofu Local Government, Kogi State, Mrs. Salome Acheju Abuh in 2019.
Mrs. Abuh was on November 18, 2019, shot and set ablaze at her residence in Ochadamu, Ofu Local Government Area, Kogi State. Shortly after the incident, the police paraded six suspects, including Mr. Edicha.
Speaking while parading the suspects in Lokoja, the state Commissioner of Police, Akeem Busari, said the Police in collaboration with local vigilantes arrested them on November 22, 2019. He gave their names as Ocholi Edicha, Adamu Haruna, Onu Egbunu, Musa Alidu, Attai Haruna Egwu, and Attah Ejeh.
During the trial, the prosecutor called five witnesses to prove the case against the culprits, just as the Court admitted the oral testimony, eyewitness accounts, and the first information report from investigating police officers.
Although the defendant denied making statements to the Nigeria Police, he was quick to challenge and accept some aspects of his confessional statement, which was not only admitted by the court but also held to be sufficient to secure the defendant’s conviction.
Mr. Edicha was convicted for criminal conspiracy, armed robbery, and culpable homicide, whereupon the defendant was sentenced to 12 years and six months imprisonment for the offences.
Delivering his judgment, Justice Ajayi convicted the suspect for culpable homicide, not punishable by death, instead of murder.
Surprised by the seemingly light sentence, some lawyers vowed to challenge the judgment, describing it as not only shocking but also not enough punishment for the offenses Committed.
Also, the prosecuting counsel said he was surprised by the judgment, insisting that his office would challenge it since according to him, the sentence cannot be equated to the offences committed, which bothered on killing.
News of the brutal murder of Mrs Abuh, 60, a mother of four, also riled the world as the United Nations (UN) condemned the killing. During her visit to President Muhammadu Buhari on November 24, 2019, the UN Deputy Secretary, Aminat Muhammed, registered the global body’s concerns even as the President condemned and ordered “scrupulous investigation” of the heinous crime.
Angry Governor Yahaya Bello expressed disappointment over what he termed “mindless attacks by rival parties in Ochadamu”. Speaking through his spokesman, Kingsley Fanwo, Bello had assured that the culprits would be punished regardless of their party affiliations.
His words: “We feel disturbed at reports of violence in Ochadamu that has led to the loss of lives and property in the community. It was reported that a supporter of the All Progressives Congress was stabbed to death, while party members were jubilating over the outcome of the governorship election. The reprisal attack by alleged APC members, which led to the death of an innocent woman, is criminal and condemnable. Our government would not shield party members who break the laws of the land.
Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr. William Anya, a Deputy Police Superintendent, described the killing of Mrs. Abu as a result of a reprisal attack after a prior clash between supporters of two major political parties.
He said six persons were arrested in connection with the attack, which claimed one life and robbery.
Justice still faraway
DESPITE the March 23 sentencing of the ringleader, Ocholi Edicha, it seems justice is still far away for the Abuhs and other living victims of the violence-ridden November 2019 Kogi State governorship election.
Journalist and scholar, Dr. Tunde Olusunle said the sentencing “is totally unfair, unacceptable, unjust and totally inadequate, (when) weighed against the heinous gravity of the crime.
“First, was Ocholi Edicha the sole culprit in the killing of Mrs. Salome Abuh? What happened to the other culprits? Secondly, given the premeditated savagery, the sheer barbarity, preposterous inhumanity, which characterised the murder of Madam Abuh, the sentence, is akin to a walk in the park for such a crime.
“The poor woman was shot like a game in the forest; abandoned to bleed to death and callously incinerated in her house by her assailants. This matter elicited national and global outrage and the world would view a mere 12 years imprisonment for the convicted felon, as a slap on the wrist. For fairness and justice, the matter needs to be revisited. Incarceration is inadequate punishment for this crime,” he declared.
To an Abuja-based lawyer, Barrister Deji Ajare, the judgment is worrisome. He stated: “In my opinion, the judgment is a travesty of justice and nothing more. For a case of willful and premeditated murder, what deterring effect can such a judgment have?
“This judgment is quite worrisome and while one cannot say for certain that there has been any influence, it would not be unreasonable for bystanders to suspect that there has been some political influence, especially given the political undertone of the offence.
“It’s comforting though that MOJ (Ministry of Justice) officials have promised to appeal the judgment, let’s hope that justice will eventually prevail.”
As expected, the controversial March 23 judgment also elicited emotions from some other victims of the violence recorded before, during, and after the November 16, 2019, Kogi State governorship election.
For instance, a victim of the post-election mayhem in Ochadamu, citizen Yakubu Ogwu, an Abuja-based Estate Surveyor, whose house also got razed alongside that of the slain Salome Abuh, has cried out for justice.
Ogwu lamented that his home was amongst houses set ablaze in Ochadamu, two days after the election, noting that it was a miraculous escape for him as he left the village for Abuja immediately after casting his vote. His immediate neighbour, Mrs. Abuh was not as lucky, because she was burnt alive within her house.
Ogwu stated: “The burning of my house and that of the slain Mrs. Abuh happened the same day in the same village. November 18, 2019. Newspaper reports had it that four more houses were also raised in the neighbourhood. It was a joint thing. They burnt my house, just as they burnt the woman’s house.
“My house is 1 to 2 kilometres from Mrs Abuh’ s house. The difference is I was not killed. If I had been killed I would be in the news as well. My family has continued to live with the trauma; I could not go home with my family and after waiting on the police all these months since the arrests, I decided to take my case to the public court.
“I have spent millions of naira trying to rebuild my burnt house in the village. The state authorities have not bothered to inquire about what happened to the house thereafter. All that I want is justice. Diligent prosecution of anybody found to be involved in the robbery and burning of my house is all I seek. I cannot sue, because it was done in mob action. I can’t identify the culprits. The police have arrested some, some are still working free, some names have been mentioned, and that is why I called for diligent prosecution. This should not be too difficult a thing to do.”
The whereabouts and safety of a frontline politician, Hon joseph Funsho Solomon-Adesanya, has remained a source for worry for his family and associates. Mr. Solomon-Adesanya, a PDP chieftain, whose father, Pa Solomon Gbadebo, was an active member of the defunct Action Group (AG) in Lagos during Nigeria’s First Republic, is believed to have fled his hometown, Egbe, Yagba West Local Government for Lagos on November 10, 2019, following a tip that he was marked for kidnap by unidentified armed thugs.
A family source told The Guardian that he left Kogi State for Lagos following tipoff on the alleged plot to arrest and detain him. But, contrary to initial fears that Solomon-Adesanya was among members of the opposition allegedly arrested or kidnapped by political thugs on the eve of the election, the politician was forced to go into hiding for fear of persecution.
His wife, Mrs Alice Iyabo Solomon-Adesanya, said though her husband is in touch with the family, she would not speak further about his location. Also, a family source, who craved anonymity, spoke on the bitter experience of another victim, Mr. Alex Ayodele, a PDP leader, who was arrested from his Mopamuro country home two days to the election.
Ayodele was one of the 32 persons reportedly arrested from Mopamoro on the eve of the election.
Election observers had alluded to the bitter rivalry between the two major political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and opposition PDP, and declared the election as the most violent and controversial in the state’s history.
HURIWA, in its reaction through Emmanuel Omwubiko, said the Kogi State High Court verdict, which sentenced the mastermind of Mrs. Abuh’s killing to 12 years was suspicious and questionable.
HURIWA said: “The judiciary he judiciary in Kogi State has put itself on trial by delivering a verdict that is completely unconstitutional, a verdict that is suspicious, a verdict that is not a sufficient deterrent to future recurrence of such dastardly criminal act of premeditated murder.
“The PDP woman leader was killed deliberately only because of her political affinity and there’s no justification for her premeditated murder. And we wonder how a case of murder is now punishable with a mere slap in the wrist. So I think this shows that the State High Court is completely compromised, has totally tarnished the image of the judiciary. The judiciary is supposed to be a separate arm of government and not giving judgments based on what some people in the other arms of government want it to do.
“Those who were suspected to have carried out that act of political terrorism are said to be working for the incumbent governor, who was also running for office. Then the governor, who eventually won the election after widespread violence, promised that he would not leave any stone unturned, but it is quite clear that stones have been left unturned because those who actually carried out this mass killing are walking free, if not just for one person that has just been prosecuted. The quality of the verdict is completely questionable, unacceptable, ridiculous, and unfortunate.”
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