Azugwu was fast becoming a shadow of its usual blissful and calm state as people now sleep at night with eyes wide open, the impending uncertainty and fear constantly lurking in the minds of residents could best be compared to the unannounced rain showers in the heart of the dry season as the hoodlums appeared like spirits, invading homes and unleashing terror of unimaginable proportion. The mayhem often inflicted on victims can better be imagined than felt as most unfortunate people never lived to narrate their ordeal. At some point, the usual boisterous and frenzy ambience of Azugwu community was lost with thought of social and night life only resonating in the minds of the populace.
The reason for this sudden surge in criminal activities within Azugwu and its environs remained a question so difficult for many to give a convincing answer to, some were of the opinion that the unfavorable economic realities in the country could be the reason whilst others differed from this believe contending that, the recent proliferation of light weapon and small arms in the state occasioned by the 2015 general election was the reason for the incessant attacks as the political gladiators in the state never recovered from thugs the weapons they gave to them to enable this miscreants achieve their (politicians) atrocious goal of disrupting the electioneering process during the previous election.
In the early hours of April’s 22nd 2017, it was reported that there had been a robbery attack by some group of yet to be identified gun men, this time, it was the Abakaliki residence of the Ohaozara-East development center Co-ordinator, Mr. Ihebunandu that was invaded by the hoodlums and the coordinator appeared to have been so unfortunate as the fierce bullet fired by the robbers after a successful ransack of his home never missed his forehead.
Initially, it was the poor and ordinary/unsuspecting members of the society who were harassed and dispossessed of their personal treasures and the government seemed to have done little or nothing to curtail or better still, put a possible end to the unequal crime wave in the state. The ghastly and gruesome killing of Hon. Ihebunandu became a wake-up call to the government, prompting the police and sister security agencies to swing into action.
At first, the police preliminary investigation was characterized by indiscriminate arrest and detention of massive number of people, some were freed after a very minimal interrogation while others detained for a longer period. The combined synergy of the various security outfits yielded no positive result at the moment as the crime could not be pinned to a certain individual or group of people. Fear and uncertainty intensified, people retired to their homes before dusk, the reality of how difficult it was to either track or apprehend these social deviants became dawned on everybody, within the Abakaliki metropolis as the unholy activities of the city owners (robbers) became outrageously alarming.
On the 2nd day of June 2017, the media, Ebonyi state broadcasting corporation, a state owned radio station, during its evening News Flash announced that there had been a shootout at the Ishieke campus of the state university at the wee hours of the day involving rival cult groups, stating further that series of arrests had already been made in connection with the shooting which led to the death of four disciples of the opposing cult groups.
Sequel to the arrest of the notorious kingpins Mr Chukwuka Nworie, Mr Onu Nnaemeka, Mr Alegu Kingsley and Mr Nwuda Ogobuchi by officers and men of the Nigerian police, Ishieke divisional office, preliminary Investigation was carried out and it was discovered that the boys and other members of the group who absconded on arrival of the police at the scene of crime have been the group terrorising the town. The confessional statement extracted by the police from Mr Nkwuda Ogobuchi aka “DANGEROUS” revealed that a well-known political figure in the state had been the one utilizing the instrumentality of the boys to accomplish his nefarious and heinous political gimmicks and atrocities. Mr Nkwuda Ogobuchi in his statement, further recounted how the group had on one of their operations assassinated the Co-ordinator of Ohaozara-East development center. The police acting on the information before them, made moves and arrested the other boys involved in the crime. Subsequently, the police embarked on a search of various homes of the group members and recovered three AK 47 riffles, five revolver pistol, 2 double barrel gun and bullets from the house of Mr Alegu Kingsley who presumably happened to be the armorer of the gang. With the comprehensive arrest and investigation of the shooting and other allied/ connected crimes in the state, the police authority transferred the culprits to the Abakaliki correctional center (prison) from where they were later charged to court on 10th day of August 2017. The revelation made by Mr Nkwuda Ogobuchi in his confessional statement to the police led to the further arrest of the mastermind in the person of a management committee member of Ohaozara local Government Area who at all times had been at the forefront of engineering and steering the activities of the gang.
Upon the arraignment of the criminals, they were brought before Justice Anselem Anyigor Nwigwe of the high court II who presently is the chief judge of Ebonyi state.
The gang members were before the court charged with several offence numbering up to seven counts including conspiracy, illegal possession of fire arm, armed robbery, commission of acts capable of breaching public peace and Mr Chukwuka Nworie was particularly charged with the murder of Mr Co-ordinator since under the law, it is only one single individual that can be held responsible for the death of another even when the offence has been committed by a group, the rest can only be charged with the offences of conspiracy to commit murder. The investigation earlier carried out by the police disclosed that it was actually Chukwuka that fired the shot which caused the death of Mr Ihebunandu. The matter was prosecuted by senior state counsel on behalf of the state, whereas the accused persons each hired a legal practitioner to represent him.
On the date scheduled to hear the matter, the case was adjourned at the instance of the prosecution as he was reported to be officially engaged on that date. On the next adjourned date, the matter was mentioned and hearing commenced. When the defense opened their case, Mr Nkwuda Ogobuchi was the first to give evidence, in the course of adducing his evidence before the court, Mr Nkwuda Ogobuchi stated that most of the contents of his confessional statement made to the police were obtained under duress, contending that the police tortured him while in custody and they made him to involuntarily tell the police that his group was responsible for the crimes in the state.
This testimony by Mr. Nkwuda raised a lot of constitutional and evidential issues. Constitutionally, the import of this evidence is that his fundamental right to dignity of human person and freedom from torture and inhuman treatment have been circumscribed and violated. On the other hand, the rules of evidence and procedure opines that, for a confessional statement of an accused person to be admissible, the statement must have been voluntarily obtained by the investigating authority or other statutory bodies saddled with the responsibility of doing same.
With this grave denial of his confessional statement by one of the accused person, a door of legal argument was thrown open to the lawyers. At this juncture, the court was left with no option but to suspend the hearing of the substantive suit and opened the floor for a trial-within-trail in other to ascertain the voluntariness or otherwise of the confessional statement in dispute. Lawyers on both sides canvassed argument for their respective clients supporting their submissions with legal and judicial authorities. Justice Nwigwe, after carefully listening to the legal battle of words and wit from lawyers on both sides, gave his ruling and admitted the confessional statement in evidence since the doubt as to whether or not the statement was made voluntarily had been cleared.
As the case progressed in court, when it got to Mr Chukwuka Nworie to give evidence, the accused raised a defense of ALIBI which in law means that he was never with the group on the said date that Mr Ihebunandu was assassinated. This defense could not stand since the law already provided that before the defense of alibi can avail an accused person, the defense must be raised at the earliest possible time when the accused had just been arrested by the police, raising this defense after police arrest and investigation and probably in the court during trial has often been viewed by the court as an afterthought, that the defense of saying “I was not there when it happened” (alibi) should be made to the police first and not to be raised in the court for the first time. The prosecuting counsel cited the case of judicial authorities to buttress his argument.
With the demolition and rejection of the defense of alibi raised by one of the accused persons, the court further adjourned to a later date.
This said adjourned date was the day that Justice Anyigor Nwigwe’s court heard the case of murder pressed against Mr Chukwuka Nworie, a die-hard member of the gang. Reasonable number of Abakaliki and Azugwu residents avowed to be present in court on the day that the killer of the acclaimed peaceful coordinator (Mr Ihebunandu) will be facing trial.
The court was filled with mammoth crowd the day that the murder case was heard. In the course of trial, the prosecuting counsel through the police investigating office tendered in evidence a torn wrist watch and a revolver pistol gun recovered from the premises of Mr Ihebunandu the day he was killed. The torn wrist watch was identified to belong to Mr Alegu Kingsley a member of the notorious gang but the investigation by the police showed that Mr Nworie fired the shot that caused the damage. When Mr Nworie entered the dock, his lawyer argued that Nworie was not responsible for the death of Mr Ihebunandu, that any member of the gang could have caused Mr Ihebunandu’s death since the incident was a crime perpetrated by a group of individuals, this argument brought the court to a puzzle as it would have been entirely wrong to base the conviction of Mr Chukwuka Nworie on the sole evidence of the police I.P.O. Also, the fact that Chukwuka denied firing the shot that killed Mr Ihebunandu raised another question which gave the case a new dimension. With police evidence alleging that it was Mr Chukwuka who killed the deceased and Chukwuka denying firing the shot, it became a cumbersome task for the court to ascertain who actually shot and killed Mr Ihebunandu among members of the group.
Although the law has always portrayed itself to be omniscient. Worthy of note is the fact that a judge is only a judge and no more, he only interprets laid down rules of law to ensure and enhance strict compliance with legal principles, trying to decipher who among the accused persons killed the deceased in a crime he was not present to witness will only amount to an exercise in futility.
For this cloud of imprecision and pessimism to be cleared, Mr Efiong Etiosa, a forensic finger print expert (latent print examiner) and the owner of vanguard lab services was engaged by the court. After a six weeks painstaking and critical examination done by Mr Etiosa, he was able to come up with a result confirming that the actual culprit was Mr Nkwuda Ogobuchi, a member of gang who was never on the suspicion list as the one who fired the devastating shot.
With this piece of finding and evidence before the court, Justice Nwigwe in line with extant legal rules allowed an amendment of the charge by the prosecuting counsel to read that Nkwuda Ogobuchi had been the man behind the thick smoke.
It was after the forensic exercise and subsequent amendment of charge that Mr Ogobuchi was accordingly convicted of killing Mr Ihubunandu and sentenced appropriately. The rest of other members of the group were individually found guilty of the charges preferred against them including the political bigwig (the man behind the scene) and all were also convicted and sentenced accordingly.
A careful perusal of the above narration will aptly reveal that the place and role of forensic science in the investigation of modern crimes and criminality cannot be overemphasized. It is highly unarguable that our world today is driven by technology, this rapid advancement in technology has also brought about astronomical increase in the cases of organized crimes with cyber insecurity taking the lead.
The sophisticated nature of criminal activities of the present time is capable of overwhelming our courts, the security agencies and the entire criminal justice system without a corresponding action in the way and manner in which crime prevention and detection is handled. The absence of forensic science in the investigation of modern crimes is capable of promoting the “scot-free and scape-goat theory’’ as the innocents can go behind bars for crimes they never committed. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and it is better to set free 10 guilty people than to convict one innocent fellow.
The advent of forensic science has gone a long way in improving and enhancing criminal proceedings that requires exceptional caution and care. A society with reduced crime is possible, a crime free society is attainable. Although this objective is not largely dependent on the deployment and use of forensic science in crime detection but can contribute tremendously and monumentally.
By Ajah Scholastica