Ifeanyi Ozor and Augustina Arebu could have been celebrating 15 years of marriage, if they were alive.
The event would have been colorful even with restrictions on public gatherings caused by the coronavirus pandemic, giving Ifeanyi’s flamboyant lifestyle, his immediate young brother, Elvis Ozor, told PREMIUM TIMES.
At just 25 and 22, when their love story was still budding, Ifeanyi and Augustina were gunned down in cold blood along with four of their friends by trigger happy police officers 15 years ago today in one of the most heinous extra-judicial killings Nigerians can remember.
The night of June 7, 2005, was meant to be a night of merrymaking for the potential couple and their friends. But Nigerians would later be riveted with the horrific news of their deaths in the hands of the policemen.
The “Apo Six” killing as people began to refer to the case shook the country at the time. To the public, it was another sad case of extra-judicial killing.
But life, as it was, for the families and loved ones of the victims – Ifeanyi Ozor, Chinedu Meniru, Augustina Arebu, Anthony Nwokike, Paulinus Ogbonna and Ekene Isaac Mgbe, would never be the same.
The crude reality has been tears. The night marked the beginning of month-long meetings, court appearances and adjournments, physical and emotional exhaustion, nightmares, and more deaths.
Worst still, families of the victims say justice is not yet served.
A decade and a half have passed but the gory memories of the murders have stayed with them. “Out of shock, my father had a stroke and died,” Edwin Meniru, the elder brother to Chinedu of the Apo six told PREMIUM TIMES.
Love story turned sour
Ifeanyi Ozor – the eldest of his five siblings – hails from Eziagu in Enugu State, South-east Nigeria, though the family was raised in Zamfara State, North-west Nigeria.
After years of apprenticeship, Ifeanyi and his four friends in their early and mid twenties had become car parts merchants at the Apo mechanics’ village, in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
They all met and became friends in Abuja so when Augustina, Ifeanyi’s new girlfriend, arrived from Benin that night of June 7, they all decided to give her an unforgettable treat.
“My brother’s relationship with Augustina was new but the way he talks about her makes me believe she is the one. He had the vibe of excitement and expectancy that evening,” Mr Elvis said.
The friends headed for their usual rendezvous – a lounge at Grand Mirage Hotel at Port Harcourt street off Gimbiya street, Garki, Abuja.
It was there that the then Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Danjuma Ibrahim, allegedly began making romantic advances on Augustina, Ifeanyi’s fiancé.
It was her first visit to Abuja and her first meeting with her lover.
After a faceoff ensued when she turned down the love advances, Mr Ibrahim allegedly stormed out of the night club.
He went to the checkpoint at the end of the street and told officers on duty he had “sighted a group of armed robbers in the areas”, a report by the judicial panel of inquiry set up by former President Olusegun Obasanjo revealed.
When the six unwary victims, on their way home, arrived at the Gimbiya checkpoint in a Peugeot 406 car, Mr Ibrahim allegedly had the car blocked and ordered the officers to shoot the occupants after an argument.
Four of them, unarmed, died at the spot in a blaze of gunfire.
Anthony and Augustina, who survived the initial onslaught were ‘finished off’ in the wee hours of June 8 by two police officers who claimed, “they attempted to escape from custody.”
Augustina was equally strangled, evidence showed.
When Elvis, Ifeanyi’s younger brother arrived Apo market later in the morning, there was an unusual crowd. There was also a cold feeling. People spoke in low tones and threw awkward glances at him, he narrated.
“At first nobody said anything until a reliable friend called me aside and told me that my brother was shot. We then went to the Garki police station only to confirm that he was dead,” a teary Elvis said.
“Ever since then, I am yet to recover from the shock I felt that moment.”
The news of the incident drew immediate public outrage. A riot erupted across the city.
“When the news broke that particular morning, the whole Apo mechanic village was shut,” said Emeka Ani, an age-long friend of the victims. “There was no business for more than a week due to the crisis and riots that followed.”
“We believed in those boys. We knew they were innocent. We moved to all the police stations in Apo and Garki.”
PREMIUM TIMES cannot publish pictures of the bodies of the victims due to their mangled, gruesome state.
The police hurriedly buried them at the back of their station to cover up their tracks but a panel of inquiry ordered that they be exhumed months later so as to run an autopsy.
The autopsy found that they were shot at close range contrary to police claim that they were armed robbers, “who they engaged in a gun battle at a distance.”
Mr Meniru, who survived the first onslaught quickly called his elder brother, Edwin, to inform him what was happening but life was also snuffed out of him by the rampaging cops.
He was shot at close range in the mouth.
“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, the then-lawyer to the victims’ families, was quoted in a BBC article of May 5, 2009.
“Limbs and torsos covered in blood. Dead eyes stare upward. This is a human being, look what they (police) did.”
The judicial panel of inquiry found the police account that the victims were armed robbers to be false and recommended Mr Ibrahim and his men for trial.
The five accused officers and eight other police witnesses testified that Mr Ibrahim ordered the killings.
All the officers were placed on suspension.
After more than a decade of protracted court proceedings that left the victims’ families emotionally and financially drained, the “Apo Six” were pronounced innocent.
Two of the officers involved were convicted and sentenced to death on March 9, 2017, in a landmark judgment of the FCT High Court.
But the presiding judge, Ishaq Bello, said “there was not enough evidence to convict Mr Danjuma”, who allegedly ordered the shootings.
This will mark the beginning of another tortuous road to justice for the families who had rejected the judgment.
While they were making efforts towards appealing the case, the police confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that Mr Danjuma had been reinstated into the force.
It said the reinstatement was approved by the Police Service Commission which relied on the judgement of the court that freed him after finding him not culpable.
Mr Danjuma’s rank was restored, his accumulated salaries from June 2005, were also paid with plans to send him on a refresher course, a police memo published by Sahara Reporters showed.
In December of that year, he received double promotion.
From the rank of Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), he was promoted to Commissioner of Police and then to Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG), according to a Daily Trust report.
The families see this as the height of injustice.
All moves made towards appealing the ruling were reportedly frustrated by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami.
The families resorted to their lawyer, Amobi Nzelu, who promised to find a way to appeal the case but has not done so.
Now an annual ritual
Meanwhile, the families and friends of the victims have resorted to holding a yearly ritual in their remembrance at the exact spot in Gimbiya junction which used to be a police checkpoint where the ‘Apo Six’ were killed.
“Today (Monday), we will observe our yearly ritual in remembrance of our loved once,” Elvis told PREMIUM TIMES Sunday evening.
“We will light seven candles, six will represent the ‘Apo Six’ while the seventh will represent God Almighty. We will sing praises because our happiness at the end of the day is that they were declared innocent.”
“From there, we will move to Nepa Junction and then to some orphanage homes.”
He said the families will keep pursuing the case because asides the fact that the man who ordered the shooting was freed, the families are yet to be compensated as recommended by the panel of enquiry.
“My brother Ifeanyi was the breadwinner of the family. We have not yet recovered since his death that is why we are not giving until justice is fully served,” Elvis said.