Last Friday, a State High Court in Benin City, Edo Sate, sentenced to death a police corporal, Joseph Omotosho who served with the now defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit, over extra-judicial killing.
Omotosho and four other police constables, alleged to still be at large, were found guilty by the Court following their trial on an eight-count charge of conspiracy, murder and stealing.
The said police constables were found guilty for killing a car dealer, Benson Obodeh, in 2015. The late Obodeh was suspected by the police to belong to a criminal gang.
The four other dismissed constables – Adeleke Adedeji, Abena John, Oniyo Musa, and Henry Shobowole – were also convicted but not sentenced because they were not present in the court.
In 2015, the defendants (all Police Corporals) had arrested the deceased, Mr. Benson Obodeh, who was said to be a car dealer, on allegation of stealing. They took him to the Edo State CID Office, Benin, where their attempt to extract a confession from him by torture led to his death on the 21st of May 2015.
The defendants, thereafter, deposited the corpse at the morgue in Central Hospital Benin and tagged the corpse by a wrong name, Benson Agu. It took several months before the family of the deceased could trace the corpse.
They then travelled to Port Harcourt and, on 22nd and 23rd May 2015, used the deceased’s ATM card to withdraw the sum of Three Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira (N350,000) from his account.
According to court documents, they were said to have escaped while on trial from one of the Medium Security Correctional Centres in Benin City during the October, 2020 jailbreaks, in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests.
Reacting to the ruling by the Benin High Court, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Office of the Vice President, Mr. Laolu Akande, described it as progress.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Akande wrote, “Welcome this important court ruling where 5 DISMISSED SARS officers were convicted and one already sentenced to death. We expect more of such because indeed “justice is the first condition of humanity.” We commend police authorities for earlier dismissing the convicts. Progress.”
Recall that on October 15, 2020, following the #EndSARS protests nationwide, the National Economic Council (NEC) chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo directed the immediate establishment of State-based Judicial Panels of Inquiry nationwide to investigate complaints of Police brutality or related extra-judicial killings, while ensuring justice for all victims of the dissolved SARS and other police units.
Also, NEC further directed that the states maintain an up-to-date database to set up a Victims Support Fund to compensate those who have suffered from police brutality, especially SARS.
The court ruling was the product of FG’s efforts, including VP Osinbajo-led NEC on the need to ensure that there is justice for victims of police brutality
Similarly, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, on October 11, 2020, had announced the nationwide disbandment of the SARS which was notorious for alleged cases of extra-judicial killings and police brutality.
Owing to Osinbajo-led NEC’s intervention, at least 28 states have already established state judicial panels of enquiry to look into cases of police brutality nationwide.
VP Osinbajo is publicly known to be an ardent advocate in government working to ensure the Police Force took the necessary administrative actions to reduce cases of police brutalities with the necessary political support of President Buhari.
VP Osinbajo has spoken on different occasions on the need for adequate police reforms and justice nationwide
Following the #EndSARS protest, the VP met the Inspector-General of Police alongside the President which led to the first Presidential Address by President Buhari to address the issues raised by the protesters.
Also, during a meeting with the US Department of State delegation on October 23rd, 2020, Osinbajo assured Nigerians and the international community of the federal and state governments’ plan on police reforms to ensure citizens’ rights are respected.
The VP noted that that these reforms will be a “game-changer in ensuring an end to impunity” and that the measures put in place so far will yield the “best possible results” on police reform in Nigeria.