Still Waiting For Justice
Seventeen years after they were charged to court for murder, Achilefu Nwogwugwu, Boniface Njoku, Chukwunyere Nwankpa and Monday Etekebe are still awaiting trial. The accused persons were alleged to have murdered Iheanacho Ochulor, a native of Umulu village in Ezinihitte local government area of Imo State, in his sleep, during the vigil for the burial of one of the oldest men in village. Although other suspects arrested in connection with the crime, Nwogwugwu and his co-travellers were charged to court and remanded in the Owerri prison, the rest were released on bail.
The case is before Justice Ogwuruike of Aboh Mbaise High Court. Three judges had heard the case before the present judge. Late Justice T C Anomnachi started the matter but could not conclude it before he died. The case thereafter, moved to Justice Okoli. It was later transferred to Justice A U Amechi (now retired) who heard the case for 11 years but could not deliver judgment in the matter before she retired in 2008.
Also the lawyer engaged in 1995 to defend the accused persons was changed due to sickness and old age. The law chamber of Uzoma Onyeike & Associates was briefed in 2007 to appear as defence counsel in the matter.
While waiting for justice, one of the accused, Chukwunyere Nwankpa died in prison on April 18 this year. He was said to be an epileptic patient. Another suspect is said to have gone blind as a result of disease he contacted while awaiting trial at the Owerri prison. Nwankpa was said to have had an epileptic attack at midnight and was deserted by his cell mates who were not aware of his health condition. He was later discovered dead probably out of suffocation.
Nnabuihe Iwuala who was an undergraduate when the accused persons were arrested said he was told by a relation of one of the accused persons that the case was still at the evidence of one of the prosecution witnesses. Nnabuihe did his youth service with Uzoma Anydike chamber in 2005, and as head of the chamber, had appeared on behalf of the accused in court. He told this magazine that he would ensure that justice was done in the case. He blamed the delay in hearing the case on inefficient judicial system in the area. “My involvement in this case was not because the people facing trial are from my place. It was rather, that the accused persons had been in custody facing criminal charges for over 10 years. However, since both the people standing trial and the complainants in the matter are all from my area I did not appear as counsel in that matter till I left that law office in July 2007,” he added.
In his book on “Justice Delivery in Imo State: The case of Aboh Mbaise High Court,” Nnabuihe decried justice system in the town. He said that only one court functions in the entire Mbaise, which is made up of three local government areas. Nnabuihe’s father was among those arrested and detained for weeks by the homicide division at the Imo State police headquarters in connection with the murder.
A quarterly report from Aboh Mbaise High Court that covers between June and September 2011 indicates that out of 420 cases listed for hearing during this period, only seven were assigned. No judgement was however, given in any of these cases. It was further observed that the judge at the court in question was also involved in the 2011 governorship election tribunal outside the state. This implied that the court did not sit for the many months throughout the period the tribunal lasted.
An Abuja based legal practitioner, Chinedu Onwukwue, told this magazine that the delay witnessed in the dispensation of justice was a collective one – the police the delayed investigation, the ministry of justice for the delay in making available the case file and the defence counsel for seeking for unnecessary adjournment. The court on its part also shares in the blame for not sitting as and when due to hear cases before it.