On Friday, a dismissed police constable, Joseph Omotosho, was sentenced to death by hanging by a Benin Criminal High Court for his complicity in a case of extra-judicial killing preferred against him and four others at large.
Omotosho, an operative of the defunct Lagos State Police Command Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, was accused of conspiring in the extra-judicial killings of a Benin-based car dealer, Benson Obodeh, alongside four other Prisoners Awaiting Trial, PAT, who escaped during the November 19 jailbreaks in Benin City when hoodlums who hijacked the EndSARS protest broke into the two correctional facilities in the Edo State capital.
Omotosho alongside, Corporals Adeleke Adedeji, Abena John, Oniyo Musa, Henry Shobowole, were found guilty of the eight-count charge bordering on conspiracy to steal and murder over an alleged car theft incident that happened in 2015.
Synopsis of the criminal trial of the five convicts showed that on May 19, 2015, the now dismissed corporals from the police operations attached to the defunct Special Anti-robbery Squad, SARS, of the Lagos State Command, were on a mission in Benin City to carry out an arrest of some suspected criminals.
The 26-year-old Benin based car dealer, Benson Obodeh, was said to have been listed among the suspected criminal gang which allegedly stole a Peugeot car in Lagos after a robbery operation.
Obodeh was arrested on May 21, 2015, at his home.
Evidence adduced in the course of the trial revealed that that same day after his arrest, the news of his death filtered in, after he was suspected to have undergone series of torture that led to his death at the custody of the five police officers.
Obodeh’s corpse was later dumped at the Specialist Hospital, Benin City, with a different name scripted on his lifeless body, according to the account given by the mortician who received the body from one of the police corporals that killed him.
Frustrated by their inability to locate him, his family members commissioned petitions to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) for proper investigation.
Part of the frustrations, the family claimed in their petitions to the IGP was the refusal of the police to give any information as to the whereabouts of the car dealer.
The former IGP Solomon Arase stepped into the matter and ordered the then Edo Police Command Commissioner of Police, Samuel Adegbuyi, the O.C. Legal Edo State command, DSP Kenneth Dika and DSP Solomon Omatseye to respond to the petitions and provide all the information requested by the family.
That led to the discovery that the policemen who committed the murder also stole an unregistered Peugeot 306 car from the late Obodeh, the sum of N200,000 cash and made away with his wallet containing his identity cards and two ATM cards belonging to First Bank and Ecobank.
The five convicts were revealed to have forcefully obtained the ATM card PIN from the late Obodeh at the point of torture and at gunpoint and went ahead to withdraw the deceased’s money using his ATM card to the tune of N330,000 at separate ATM machines, before killing him.
After the room trial conducted by the police authorities, the five cops were found liable and dismissed from the service to face further court trial.
On February 12, 2021, the trial judge, Justice Ohimai Ovbiagele, delivered judgment on the fifth defendant, Joseph Omotosho, who was the only one present in court while he suspended the sentencing of the four absconded criminal policemen, who had escaped from prison custody.
Justice Ovbiagele described testimonies provided by the claimant as firm and almost unchallenged, adding, “therefore, his judgment was based on ‘absolute fact’ which the Court absorbed as presented by the prosecuting counsel and all witnesses that appeared before the court”.
Ovbiagele pointed that the accused couldn’t substantiate counter-evidence against the charges levelled against them.
The fifth defendant, Omotosho, was sentenced to death by hanging or with chemical infusion as an alternative on the charge of conspiracy to commit murder. He was also handed alongside the death sentence, another seven-year jail term for his role in the stealing of the deceased monies in his bank accounts.
For the four others who were absent from the court, Justice Ovbiagele relied on Section 352(5) of the State Criminal Code which implies that you cannot pass judgment in absenting again an offender.
He noted that the court may not be able to pronounce sentences on the four dismissed cops as provided in the section above.
Shortly after the judgment, counsels in the matter had their divergent opinions.
Abraham Oviawe standing in for the prosecuting counsel, said, “what has happened today is a confirmation of the biblical position that says the wages of sin is death. So when one conspires to take the life of another man, with overwhelming evidence, the court has no option than to reach the verdict it reached.”
Oviawe backed the court for suspending the judgment on the four others who took to flight, describing it as a constitutional procedure taken by the court.
On his part, counsel to the defendant, Lede Pique said they would appeal the judgment.
After five and a half years of waiting for justice, the family of the murdered Benson Obodeh expressed delight at the judgement, but however, felt disappointed that the first to fourth defendants were absent and couldn’t be served justice.
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