The date was June 7th 2005, six young Nigerians unaware of the terrible fate that lay ahead set out for a night of fun and merry making. It turned out to be their last.
The nation woke up to the horrific news of their deaths at the hands of the police who claimed the five men and woman, gunned down in cold blood, were dangerous hoodlums who opened fire first.
Ekene Isaac Mgbe, Ifeanyin Ozor, Chinedu Meniru, Paulinus Ogbonna and Anthony and Augustina Arebu perished in a hail of bullets at the barrels of the very people whose job it was to protect them.
The case which came to be known as ‘Apo Six’ captured the attention of the public for a long time.
BBC’s Andrew Walker who saw glossy pictures of the bodies said:
“The pictures are truly gruesome – we cannot publish them. There is nowhere else to look except at the bodies. There is a close-up of a face, gaping exit-wound at the temple. Limbs and torsos covered in blood. Dead eyes stare upward.”
It is said that truth is stranger than fiction and the truth of how these young, vibrant men and woman were murdered is no less strange.
Following the deaths and the subsequent public outcry, an official panel of inquiry was set up by then-president Olusegun Obasanjo. Five officers accused of the killings and eight other police witnesses testified that the senior officer involved, Danjuma Ibrahim ordered the killings.
During the judicial panel hearings, some police officers fed information to Mr Nzelu, who represented the families of the Apo Six.
The panel heard that while the victims were at a nightclub located at Gimbiya Street, Area 11 in Abuja, Mr Ibrahim who was off duty propositioned Augustina but she turned down his advances. His pride hurt and ego bruised, the randy officer set out to exact revenge.
He went to a police checkpoint at the end of the street and told officers there were a group of armed robbers in the area.
When the six young people came in their car, he drove into them, blocking their way and ordered the police officers to shoot.
Four of the six died on the spot while Ifeanyi and Augustina survived. Ifeanyi called his friends after surviving the burst of gunfire but that was the last they were to hear from him. The pair were taken to a police station and held hostage.
According to a report by the UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial execution, the police called Augustina’s family and demanded N5000 to let her go.
Her family could not raise the money. They were taken to a piece of rough ground outside town where they were executed, police officers testified at the criminal trial.
Augustina was strangled.
Then the police planted guns on the bodies of all six of the bodies and pictures were taken of them by a police photographer.
The photographer who took the pictures was later to raise alarm and release the pictures. In a curious twist, Mr Anthony Edem, one of the officers close to the case was poisoned after deciding to confess. An autopsy report from the National Hospital Abuja confirmed he died of poisoning.
The police tried to dispose of the bodies in a hastily arranged burial but coincidentally, a friend to Elvis Ozor, Ifeanyi’s younger brother was at the bush to ease himself and witnessed the police burying their friends in a cemetery that, by chance, was near their workshops in the Apo area of Abuja.
“My friend was going to the bush, to go to the toilet, when he saw the police digging a hole and preparing to bury some people,” Elvis said.
“They recognised my brother. When the police said they were armed robbers, no-one believed them – they knew my brother was not like that.”
“When I arrived at work, word had spread, but I didn’t know. I arrived and everyone was looking at me,” he said.
Word got out and an angry mob soon sparked a riot in which two more people were shot dead by the police.
Had it not been for someone who chanced upon the policemen while going to answer the call of nature, the case would have been buried with the victims and the perpetrators would have gotten away with yet another extra judicial killing.
The judicial panel of enquiry rejected the police’s story and the government apologised on behalf of the police for their killings.
The government paid $20,300 compensation to each of the families.
It recommended the officers be arrested and face a criminal trial. That was as far as justice got.
The Attorney-General of the Federation had in 2005 filed a nine-count charge bordering on conspiracy and culpable homicide against the six police officers namely Danjuma Ibrahim, Othman Abdulsalami , Nicholas Zakaria, Ezekiel Acheneje, Baba Emmanuel and Sadiq Salami.
They were charged with the killing of the six youths.
Over a decade later the families of the victims still await justice as the case drags through the courts.
On Wednesday June 29th 2016, Justice Ishaq Bello of the FCT adjourned the adoption of final written addresses to October 11th.
Sadly, the case is one out of many instances of extra judicial killings which are hardly ever punished.
At the time of the killings, Eric Guttschuss of Human Rights Watch said the reluctance to punish police officers “emboldens” other officers to kill.
Eleven years on, it seems not much has changed.