A judicial drama that has lasted almost 12 years will reach a milestone on Thursday when Justice Ishaq Bello of the FCT High Court, Abuja, is scheduled to deliver judgement on the infamous Apo Six killings.
The court was to deliver the judgement on February 13, but Justice Bello pushed it forward to the new date.
The case centres on the alleged extra-judicial killing of five young auto-spare parts dealers in Apo, a satellite town in Abuja, and a young woman by officers of the Nigerian Police on the night of June 7, 2005.
The victims, Ekene Isaac Mgbe, Ifeanyi Ozor, Chinedu Meniru, Paulinus Ogbonna, Anthony and Augustina Arebu, were said to be returning from a night club when they were stopped at a police checkpoint.
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 the 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 five officers for extra-judicial killings.
The indicted officers are Danjuma Ibrahim, Othman Abdulsalami, now at large, Nicholas Zakaria, Ezekiel Acheneje, Baba Emmanuel, and Sadiq Salami. The defendants had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
But 12 years later, the trial continued to drag on in court.
The protracted trial has been hindered by institutional challenges, ranging from series of adjournments, problems over conveyance of defendants from the prison to court and difficulty in getting witnesses to testify.
Although the killings had caused a national outrage, after 12 years, the public has almost forgotten that the trial of the accused officers is still going on.
And the families of the dead have all but given up on justice.
The “Apo Six’’, as the youthful victims have come to be remembered in and outside Nigeria, had set out for fun and merry making that ill-fated night almost 12 years ago.
But Nigerians would later be riveted by the horrific news of their deaths at the hands of the police.
The public outcry that followed the incident prompted then President Obasanjo to order an official inquiry.
The five officers accused of the killings and eight other police witnesses eventually testified before the panel of inquiry that Mr. Danjuma Ibrahim, the most senior of the accused officers, had allegedly ordered the killings of the youth.
According to the report of the panel, the victims were at a nightclub located at Gimbiya Street, Area 11 in Abuja that night of June 7, 2005 when they had a face-off with Mr. Ibrahim after the only female among the victims, Augustina Arebu, turned down romantic advances of the senior police officer.
Mr. Danjuma had allegedly stormed out of the night club to a police checkpoint at the end of the street and told the officers on duty that he had sited a group of armed robbers in the area.
According to the panel’s report, which forms the bulk of the evidence in court, when the six unwary young people later arrived at the checkpoint in their car, Mr. Ibrahim allegedly had the car blocked and ordered the officers to shoot at the occupants.
Four of the six died on the spot, but two of them, Mr. Ozor and Ms. Arebu, survived the initial onslaught.
The report had it that Mr. Ozor had immediately called to alert his friends after surviving the burst of gunfire. It was the last time they would hear from him.
According to a NAN report, the police officers later testified at the criminal trial that the two survivors were later taken to a location outside town where they were executed.
The officers allegedly later planted guns on the six bodies and had photographer take pictures of “armed robbers” killed in an exchange of gunfire with the police.
NAN reported that the photographer was later to raise an alarm and released the pictures.
In a curious twist, Anthony Edem, one of the officers close to the case, died after testifying to extra-judicial killings.
An autopsy report from the National Hospital Abuja confirmed that Mr. Edem died of poisoning and is one of the numerous exhibits before the court.
The pictures of their mangled bodies of the victims cannot be published due to their gruesome state.
“There is nowhere else to look except at the bodies. There is a close-up of a face, gaping exit-wound at the temple,” Amobi Nzelu, lawyer to the families of the victims, was quoted in a BBC article of May 9 2005.
“Limbs and torsos covered in blood. Dead eyes stare upward. This is a human being, look what they did.”