Four years and ten months. That’s how long the families of Chiadika Biringa, Ugonna Obuzor, Lloyd Toku, and Tekena Elkanah have had to wait for their day of justice. In October 2012, four students from the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), popularly known as the Aluu4, were beaten and burned to death by a lynch mob at the Aluu community in Port Harcourt for an alleged robbery.
The Vanguard reports that on Sunday, July 30, 2017, a Rivers State High Court convicted Chinasa Ogbada, Ikechukwu Louis Amadi and Mr Lucky Orji– a police sergeant, for their active involvement in the murders. The presiding judge, Justice Letam Nyordee, sentenced them to death. He acquitted the other defendants– Joshua Ekpe, Cyril Abang, Saviour Johnny and Abiodun Yusuf. The convictions and acquittals were based on video footage of the crime.
Justice Nyordee criticised the behaviour of the Joint Military Task Force (JTF), Aluu Police Post, Isiopko Divisional Police Headquarters and C4I security, who although present at the scene, failed to de-escalate the situation. He added that their inaction prevented a fair trial for the four deceased students. A trial that may have acquitted them. No punishment was meted to the law enforcement and security agencies.
Victory is bittersweet. Bitter because the time it took to convict the killers is yet another reminder of the failing legal system and the government’s passive attitude at curbing vigilante justice. It is revisiting the helplessness that causes people to take justice into their hands. It is also a reminder that those killed by mob action, whether guilty or not can be betrayed by the police.
Justice is sweet because it is a rare triumph for the families of mob-action victims. Many such cases never make it to court. The cases that get to court spend too many years in deliberation, before being thrown out of court for ineffective investigation. The Aluu 4 families, however, can finally get closure without the injustice hanging over their heads. This also sets a strong precedent against mob lynching; if not in Nigeria at large, then in Rivers State.
Perhaps the video’s infamy and the resolute national and international calls for justice led to the eventual conviction of the perpetrators. Perhaps it was the prosecution’s persistence at obtaining justice. Whatever the case, the federal and state governments must take proactive measures to not only prevent mob justice by reforming the police and the legal system but also ensure that unlawful killings are met with urgent judicial action.