For Abuja residents, Gimbiya Street is just another serene double-lane road in the heart of the Nigerian capital. But for the families of the Apo Six, it will continue to be a point of deep sorrow.
The murder of six young Nigerians at the corner of Gimbiya junction, off Port-Harcourt Street between the night of June 7 and the early hours of June 8, 2005 holds nothing but horror for the families of the deceased.
The corner has become a ritual spot for remembering the “Apo Six”, a name given to the six young persons, aged between 21 and 25.
Gunned down in cold blood
They had set out for fun and merry-making that ill-fated night 14 years ago but were gunned down by ‘trigger-happy’ cops.
The incident 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.
Almost a decade and a half has passed but the gory memories of the murders have stayed with them. The crude reality has been tears because of the agony that followed.
“Out of shock, my father had stroke and died,” Edwin Meniru, the elder brother to Chinedu of the Apo six told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Meniru spoke when families and friends of the deceased gathered to commemorate the incident on Saturday.
They do this yearly on June 8 at the corner which used to be a police checkpoint in Gimbiya where the victims were killed.
Residents looked on, rather at a loss as the ritual was performed. Circles were formed, candles lit and prayers said.
Etched in memory
Emeka Ani, an age-long friend of the victims, said he always relives the horrific moments of June 8.
“When the news broke that particular morning, the whole Apo mechanic village was shut,” he said.
A nostalgic Mr Ani said “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.
“We wrestled their corpses from the police who had already buried them in a shallow grave. It was just like yesterday, talking about it now.”
Elvis Ozor, a younger brother to one of the deceased, said they will continue to celebrate ‘the Apo Six’ because the court “pronounced them innocent”.
The Apo Six – five young male auto-spare parts dealers in Apo, a satellite town in Abuja, and a young woman – hardly knew a verbal exchange with a senior police officer would lead to their untimely deaths.
The victims were inside a lounge at Grand Mirage Hotel at Port Harcourt street off Gimbiya on the night of June 7, 2005, when the then Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Danjuma Ibrahim, allegedly began making romantic advances on Ms Arebu, a fiancé to one of the Apo Six (Ifeanyi).
It was Ms Arebu’s 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”.
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 under the blaze of gunfire.
Mr Nwokike and Ms Arebu who survived the initial onslaught were ‘finished off’ in the wee hours of June 8 by two police officers who said, “they attempted to escape from custody.”
Ms Arebu was equally strangled, evidence showed.
The two officers were later sentenced to death while Mr Ibrahim was set free.
The police had claimed the victims were armed robbers “who had opened fire on the officers when accosted at the checkpoint.”
But a judicial panel of inquiry set up by former President Olusegun Obasanjo found the police account 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 allegedly ordered the killings.
All the officers were placed on suspension.
The panel report formed the bulk of evidence used in the court.
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.
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 immediate last Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami.
Only the AGF has the powers to either appeal the ruling or issue an ‘extended fiat’ to another lawyer to go ahead with the appeal.
Mr Malami has refused to do either, two years later. His tenure as AGF ended in May 29.
The families resorted to their lawyer, Amobi Nzelu, who promised to find a way to appeal the case. But he too has gone ‘cold’ for almost a year now.
On Saturday, the family members took turns to recount the void created by their losses. They demanded that government ‘compensate’ them.
Anthony Isaac said his brother, Ekene, was the bread winner of the family. He narrated how the loss has put the family under severe pressure.
“Our mother died out of shock when she heard the news,” Mr Isaac said.
He also said,”Our last born can no longer go to school because of Ekene’s death. He (Ekene) was already building a house before that incident.”
Mr Ozor described as injustice, the government’s “refusal” to compensate the families after the deceased were pronounced innocent.
“These are young men doing legitimate business whose lives were cut short by irresponsible police men.
“I looked at the court ruling and there was no provision for compensation for the families. What we saw next was that Mr Danjuma (Ibrahim) the person who ordered the killings was reinstated and paid all his allowance before he was given double promotion.
“Somebody gave an order to shoot but at the end of the day it was the persons that took the order that were sentenced to death by hanging while the person that gave the order goes scot free. This is the height of injustice and I want to tell the world about the injustice meted on us.
Mr Elvis said families of the “Apo 8”, a similar incident that occurred in 2013, were duly compensated. “So why will the government neglect us?” he asked.
Mr Meniru, the leader of the Apo Six family, described his younger brother as a “hard working” young man.
He argued that since the government, according to the judgment, accepted that it(s officers) killed the ‘Apo six’ innocently, “they should compensate the family”.
Apo Six Foundation
The families said they are planning to set up the “Apo Six Foundation”, an advocacy group against extrajudicial killings across the country.
Mr Elvis said the group will be used to advocate for the reopening of similar cases stalled.
“The objective of the foundation is to help the poor get justice against extrajudicial killings which has become a day to day scenario in Nigeria. The foundation will also stage the yearly Apo Six remembrance day to call on the government to end human right abuses by security agents.”
Mr Ozor called on well meaning Nigerians to support the foundation “technically and financially.”