The families of six young Nigerians killed unlawfully 15 years ago by the police in the nation’s capital, Abuja, say they want the matter revisited now that the country’s attention is on solving wanton police brutality.
The #EndSARS movement has been on for over two weeks, with street protests across the country demanding an end to police brutality.
The families of the Apo Six, as the victims of the 2005 killings became known, say they want those responsible for the killing punished and compensation paid for the extrajudicial deaths of their lives ones.
Danjuma Ibrahim is not a member of the newly disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) widely accused of vicious killings and endless police brutalities.
He is the police official, (a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) at the time) who ordered the shooting of a man, his fiancé and four of his friends 15 years ago.
In one of the most heinous extra-judicial killings Nigerians can remember, Mr Danjuma, on the night of June 7, 2005, unleashed trigger-happy-cops on six innocent youth who have come to be known as the “Apo Six” after his love advances on Augustina, the only female among them, were rebuffed.
The incident took place at Gimbiya street, Area 11 in Abuja. The night was meant to be a night of merrymaking for Ifeanyi Ozor, Chinedu Meniru, Augustina Arebu, Anthony Nwokike, Paulinus Ogbonna, and Ekene Isaac Mgbe.
But Nigerians would later be riveted with the horrific news of their deaths in the hands of the policemen.
The police had claimed that the victims, aged between 21 and 25 years, were members of an armed robbery gang that had opened fire on the officers when accosted at a checkpoint.
But a judicial panel of inquiry set up by former President Olusegun Obasanjo found the police account to be false and recommended the trial of six officers involved for extra-judicial killings.
Mr Ibrahim and five other officers, Othman Abdulsalami, Nicholas Zakaria, Ezekiel Acheneje, Baba Emmanuel, and Sadiq Salami were indicted.
Twelve years later on March 9, 2017, after a protracted case, the FCT High Court presiding judge, Ishaq Bello pronounced the six victims, innocent.
He convicted and sentenced two officers to death but said there was not enough evidence to convict Mr Danjuma and two others. One other officer remains at large.
The families of the victims, who saw the judgement as the height of injustice, have been trying to appeal but their efforts have been frustrated by the justice ministry.
Spearheaded by young Nigerians, the #EndSARS protests which started two weeks ago have become widespread national demonstrations over a longstanding pattern of police brutality before and after the ‘Apo six’ incident.
The protests gained support from international figures, including sport and entertainment celebrities but started turning violent after hoodlums began to attack protesters in Lagos and Abuja. And days after the protests started, the police were still brutalizing the protesters.
The government has announced some concessions, including the dissolution of the notorious SARS unit and the constitution of judicial panels by a number of states to investigate police abuses. But protests continued, largely grounding Lagos, Abuja and parts of Edo State as demonstrators demanded more concrete actions.
The country became more tense after Nigerian soldiers opened gunfire on unarmed protesters at Lekki toll gate, one of the key protest sites in Lagos, on Tuesday leaving several casualties.
Some of the other demands of the protesters are the prosecution of killer cops, the release of all protesters in detention, compensation to victims of police brutality and an overhaul of the police.
The families of the APO six victims saw the latest outcry against police brutality as an opportunity to reignite their quest for justice.
This is especially after the Presidential Panel on SARS Reform recommended 37 police officers for dismissal and 24 for prosecution following 113 complaints on alleged human rights violations from across the country.
Another panel, chaired by the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Tony Ojukwu, in a report released on Tuesday, also gave a far-reaching recommendation including monetary compensation of about N265m to victims of human rights violation.
Other recommendations by the panel include: Prosecution of 33 SARS officers, 26 cases for further investigation, 57 in which victims are to be compensated, 2 cases in which pending court orders are to be obeyed by the police.
Also, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has vowed not to sign off the 2021 budget before the National Assembly without adequate compensation for victims of police brutality.
“Once again, we will intensify efforts to get justice for our loved ones especially now that cases of police brutality and extra-judicial killings is on the front burner,” Elvis Ozor, the younger brother to Ifeanyi of the APO six told PREMIUM TIMES.
He said the families are filing a fresh complaint to the human rights commission for the Apo Six case to revisited. He said they are also appealing for them to be duly compensated since the court declared their loved ones innocent.
Lawyer and rights activist, Frank Tie-Tie, described the Apo six killings as the height of impunity with regards to extrajudicial killings by the police.
“Even when the case was ongoing, some of the officers were granted bail, and the international condemnation of the judgement that freed Mr Danjuma shows that it was an injustice,” he told PREMIUM TIMES Thursday evening.
The rights activist said police brutality became entrenched “among us because officers involved in heinous crimes such as Mr Danjuma were never punished and victims of their families were never compensated”.
“The current protests, which have turned violent, is the price Nigeria has to pay for failing to do these two things. The government has never been sincere in addressing atrocities of law enforcement agencies who have misused their powers,” he noted.
He said the current situation presents a golden opportunity for the government to “assuage protesting Nigerians who feel that the system has been skewed against them and believes that it is only those who are connected to the ruling class either in government or traditionally can get away with any form of crime.”
The lawyer said the situation also presents the Apo Six families with the opportunity to demand compensations and appeal for a revisit of the judgment that freed Mr Danjuma.
Mr Danjuma has remained under the radar after the FCT judge set him free of all charges three years ago, for lack of evidence to pin him with the Apo six murders.
This is despite the fact that the other five officers accused of the murders and eight more police witnesses testified that Mr Danjuma, the most senior officer, ordered the killings.
According to the report of the panel of inquiry set up by then-president, Olusegun Obasanjo, the victims were at a nightclub located at Gimbiya Street in Abuja that night when they had a face-off with Mr Ibrahim after the female victim, Ms Arebu, allegedly turned down romantic advances of the police officer.
Mr Ibrahim had allegedly stormed out of the nightclub to a police checkpoint at the end of the street and told the officers on duty that he had “sighted a group of armed robbers in the area”.
According to the report, which formed part of the evidence in court, when the six unwary youths later arrived at the checkpoint in the 406 car, Mr Ibrahim allegedly had the car blocked and ordered the officers to shoot at the occupants.
Four of the occupants of the car died on the spot, but two of them, Mr Nwokike and Ms Arebu, survived the onslaught. They were later killed on June 8 by two police officers who said “they attempted to escape from custody.”
In November, 2017, eight months after the FCT high court judgement, the police confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that Mr Danjuma had been reinstated. It said the reinstatement was approved by the Police Service Commission which relied on the judgement of the Court that freed him.
Mr Danjuma’s rank was restored, his accumulated salaries from June 2005, were also paid, a police memo published by Sahara Reporters showed.
A month later, he was promoted from the rank of Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) to the rank of Commissioner of Police.
Not done yet, a few months after, Mr Danjuma was decorated with the rank of Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG), according to a Daily Trust Newspaper report.
Families in Anguish
While Mr Danjuma walks free, the families of the victims remain in anguish.
Every year on June 7, they gather at the Gimbiya junction, the exact spot their loved ones were gunned down in cold blood to remember the deceased who were mostly the breadwinners of their families.
Mr Ozor told PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday that he felt “cold” after a friend said he saw Mr Ibrahim hale and hearty at Banex plaza in Abuja about a month ago.
“I can’t believe he walks free after all he has done…”, Mr Ozor, a younger brother to one of the Apo said in a teary tone.