The puzzle as to whether or not an Enugu-based oil magnate, Dr. Ignatius Nnubia was actually involved in the kidnap of Dr Francis Edemobi, younger brother of Minister of Information, Prof. Dora Akunyili on December 1, 2008 is gradually being solved as the trial of the suspects before an Enugu High Court progresses.
Dr. Nnubia and seven others are standing trial before the court presided by Justice Romanus Odugu in connection with the kidnap of Edemobi, a medical practitioner based in Enugu and the trial has reached advanced stage with the cross-examination of key witnesses. The case had suffered serious setbacks as eight different judges of the state High Court assigned by the State Chief Judge, Justice Innocent Umezulike to handle the case withdrew midway without any official reason even as the suspects continued to languish in Enugu prisons.
The controversies generated by the arrest and trial of Dr. Nnubia, his manager in-charge of Conoil Petrol Station, Enugu, Mr. Emeka Okoli, two mobile policemen attached to him and his driver, Ejike Anike, among others, are yet to be resolved as members of his family alleged that the businessman was being victimized simply because he hails from Anambra State and has a strong and enviable investments in Enugu State, especially in the oil sector.
Members of Nnubia’s family and that of Okoli, had insisted that the duo played no role in the abduction of Edemobi for which a ransom of N4, 625,000 was paid through an Enugu-based businessman, who was later arrested, charged for an offence of Obtaining By Tricks, OBT and was thereafter discharged by the court.
However, from the testimonies of the Prosecution Witness 1, Mohammed Ali who was caught at the scene where Edemobi was held hostage for four days (December 1 to 4, 2008) before he was rescued by the police, as well as that of the Investigating Police Officer, Sgt Godspower Owuzor of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS of Enugu State Police Command, several revelations had been made regarding those behind the heinous crime.
Ali Mohammed apprehended from where Edemobi was rescued on the day the principal suspect identified as Sunny DAF was shot dead by the police, was listed among suspects that were to be arraigned in court but he was delisted midway into the trial allegedly on the instruction of the Enugu State Government. The court was later told that Mohammed would appear as star witness in the case. He was subsequently released from the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Enugu where he was being treated for gunshot wounds sustained during the police raid on the hostage camp and taken to Enugu Government House Clinic where he has domiciled since the past one year.
Mohammed had in the course of the trial disowned some of the written statements he allegedly made to the police indicting Dr. Nnubia whom he had served as Security Guard at his Conoil station, saying he did not write the statements by himself as he could neither write nor communicate fluently in English. The accused turned witness, who was cross-examined by Nnubia’s lead counsel, Onyechi Ikpeazu , SAN on his earlier statement to the police and testimony before the court, said through an interpreter that the police extracted several information from him on the matter which was written and given to him to thumbprint without understanding the content.
He told the court that he was only asked by Amala Mopol, one of the mobile policemen guarding the Conoil petrol station operated by Nnubia to take water to a house in the bush behind the station without knowing the occupants of the house.
“My name is Ali Mohammed, a native of Kwanawa Tangaza Local government area of Sokoto State. My father is not a retired army, I know my father as a butcher. I can not remember when I came to Enugu because I was too small when I came into Enugu. I have lived at No. 250 Ogui Road Enugu all my life. I started working with Conoil in October 2005. I was not at my working place (Conoil) in the afternnoon of the day that I was shot. It was the Amala Mopol (one of the accused) that called me on phone and asked me to come to the filling station from where he gave me N20 and asked me to take water to a building in the bush behind the station.
“I didn’t waste time there as I gave the water to Sunny DAF at the gate of the house which I did not know the number. The house has three gates. I left immediately” Mohammed told the court.
Mohammed denied his earlier statement to the police that apart from that Sunday that he took the water to Edemobi’s captors, he did not see Ejike (Nnubia’s driver) at the scene throughout the time their victim was held, a statement that seriously contradicted his claim that he only went to the place once to deliver water. He vehemently denied another statement credited to him in the statement thus: “I did not tell the police that I have been kidnapping people before, including the son of one Emeka and that it was the same jeep that we used in kidnapping Edemobi. I also did not tell the police that I was arrested today where we were holding one man hostage. I didn’t tell the police all these and I cannot remember saying that.”
A mild drama however ensued in court during the cross-examination process as Mohammed was shown his written statement tendered by the police in which he admitted that he participated in the kidnap of which he denied ownership of the thumbprint on the statement. The development forced Nnubia’s counsel to request the court to order the collection of Mohammed’s thumbprint afresh to compare it with the one on the statement. The court granted the application and his thumbprints were obtained five times on a plain paper which was admitted as an exhibit along with his written statement.
Mohammed He was only brought to the court last week where he testified of his involvement in the case narrating that his boss, Nnubia held talks with two persons he identified as Sunday DAF and Onye Army at the time Edemobi was kidnapped but could not say what they discussed. But Nnubia had told the court that he was in Lagos on a business trip throughout the kidnap saga and could not have held any meeting with anybody in Enugu. He tendered his flight tickets to prove that he was out of Enugu at the time of the incident. He also tendered a print-out of calls on his phone lines from MTN and GLO. The police report also confirmed that there was no communication between Nnubia and the kidnappers throughout the time Edemobi was abducted.
But while being cross-examined, Sgt. Owuzor, the Investigating Police Officer, IPO said even though the police got the print-out of calls made by Nnubia on his GSM lines during the period, the information was not useful to his investigation of the matter. The IPO also admitted that the police did not engage the services of a ballistician to scientifically determine the manufacturer the ammunitions allegedly discovered at Nnubia’s residence and who used it last, informing the court that such investigation was not necessary. He, however, admitted that police investigations did not reveal that there was any communication between Nnubia and the kidnappers during the period.
“It was not necessary to engage a ballistician because I was not investigating whether the pistol I recovered from Nnubia’s home at Ihembosi is a gun or whether it has been used. I only worked on information,” the IPO said under cross-examination, adding that he went in search of guns at the suspect’s house based on information that the kidnappers used a gun during the attack on Edemobi. Although the IPO said he recovered a pistol from Nnubia’s home at Ihembosi, he told the court that what the police recovered from the scene where the victim was held was a locally-made double barrel pistol with four expended cartridges and three live cartridges.
On whether the police obtained a valid search warrant from the magistrate court before searching Nnubia’s house, Owuzor said that the investigation team he led to Anambra to search Nnubia’s home at Ihembosi and Independence Layout, Enugu obtained a search warrant from SARS office, State CID, Awka and not from any court even though it bore a signature and stamp of a magistrate court.
“The search warrant was not signed. We obtained it through our office, the Nigeria Police Anti-Robbery Squad, State CID Awka. The Police don’t issue search warrant but they helped us obtain this. I don’t know the court that issued it. There is a signature but there is no name and magisterial district on it. What is written on the warrant is Awka,” said the IPO.
Asked by the defense counsel if he was authorized to search a house without a valid search warrant, Owuzor said “yes but with a condition”, explaining that “when you know that there are arms kept somewhere and there is possibility of removing it in the process of getting search warrant, under this condition a superior officer can lead you to conduct the search which is what we applied in this case.”
On Edemobi’s claim that the kidnapper used a black Mercedes 190 to kidnap him whereas Mohammed claimed that it was a Takoma Jeep belonging to Nnubia that they used in abducting him (Edemobi), Sgt. Owuzor said the police relied fully on the statement by Mohammed in conducting their investigations.
When asked by Nnubia’s counsel if he was aware of the additional statement made by Mohammed exonerating Nnubia from the crime and went ahead to apologize for implicating him in the matter, the IPO said he was not aware of any additional statement from Mohammed which was removed from the case file as alleged by the counsel.
Reminded that Nnbia had told the police where he was on the day before the kidnapping and on the day of the incident as well as the day after and asked whether the alibi was investigated, the IPO answered in the affirmative saying “Yes I did and I confirmed the alibi but Mohammed said he never accused him going for kidnapping the victim physically but that he masterminded it and was calling them on phone.” Owuzor said Nnubia (the 3rd accused) also tendered a flight ticket from Arik Airline to show when he travelled out of Enugu which was duly investigated and confirmed.
Owuzor, while insisting that Nnubia was arrested and charged based on Mohammed’s confessional statements indicting him, however, admitted before the court that Nnubia’s driver, Ejike Anike, the 6th accused person, was erroneously charged for alleged conspiracy, armed robbery and kidnapping. He said that the driver was charged in error based on interim police report which was different from the final report, adding that even though he (IPO) recommended that he should be charged along with other suspects, “his name was not in our investigation report both preliminary and final police report, it was a human error.”
On the 4th accused person and Nnubia’s manager, Emma Okoli, the IPO said he did not execute a search on his house due to time factor, adding that investigations did not reveal that Okoli was among those that kidnapped Edemobi. He said that Okoli’s arrest was also based on the statement by Mohammed, the first accused now turned to Prosecution Witness by the state government.
The victim, Dr. Edemobi, on his part, was silent on the involvement of Nnubia, his manager (Okoli) and driver. When cross-examined by Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, Edemobi who identified himself as an Associate Professor, said he did not see the Takoma Jeep belonging to Nnubia on the day he was kidnapped as he was abducted and taken away in a black Mercedes Benz 190 car.
He further told the court that he was not blindfolded by his abductors, adding that he saw one of the kidnappers pointing a gun at him and that was the person killed when the police rescued him (Sunny DAF). He said that after he was rescued, Ali Mohammed (PW1) led him and the police to Conoil where some aides of Nnubia including the two mobile policemen attached to him were arrested.
Below are the excerpts of the cross-examination between Ikpeazu, SAN and Dr. Edemobi, which suggested that the aggrieved drug barons in Onitsha may have sponsored the kidnap of the medical doctor in Enugu.
Counsel: Your sister Dora Akunyili was once NAFDAC Director General?
Counsel: Do you know that at that material time when your sister was DG NAFDAC she burnt some medicines/drugs which were found to be fake?
Counsel: The said kidnappers told you that they were working for persons whose drugs were burnt and that they are drug dealers at the Bridge Head Market, Onitsha.
Counsel: You said there was somebody with authoritative voice that came the day you were kidnapped?
Edemobi: He came after I was kidnapped but at the scene I was kept on that day.
Counsel: That person came also the next day.
Edemobi: I cant remember but I can remember he came the day I was kidnapped.
Counsel: They also told you that they were coming from Onitsha?
Edemobi: No, they didn’t but I remember very well that they said they were getting signals from Onitsha based drug dealers.
Counsel: You had the opportunity to see the accused persons in the course of making statement at the police station.
On the ransom paid to secure his release:
Counsel: Your family paid ransom to Mr. Cornelius Okeke alias Owo who said he was in touch with the kidnappers?
Edemobi: My family absolutely did not pay ransom. One of my friends who is a Bank Manager, Johnny Okoye paid money to Cornelius Owoh who claimed he was in touch with the kidnappers but later the money was refunded through the SARS after my rescue.
Counsel: What was the amount?
Edemobi: It was N4, 620,000. N4m for the kidnappers and N620, 000 which they claimed was for logistics.
Meanwhile, the presiding judge, Justice Odugu, has assured of accelerated trial of the case to ensure that those not found culpable were not unnecessarily punished and the guilty given their rightful place in the jail. The judge has therefore adjourned the matter to September 15, 16 and 28 for further hearing and it is expected that both the prosecution and defense counsels would address the court on resumption having concluded cross-examination of all witnesses in the matter.