The ongoing trial of suspected killers of four students of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) suffered a setback Thursday when the trial judge, Justice T. S. Oji, withdrew from the case.
Oji of the Port Harcourt High Court, who announced her decision at the resumed trial in Port Harcourt, said her hands were tied because she had close relationship with the two parties in the matter, some accused persons and the victims.
She explained that it was safer to refer the matter back to the Chief Judge rather than favouring any of the parties.
“It is safer to send the matter back to the Chief Judge for re-assignment than favour any party in this matter. The accused persons I know. The victims I know. My hands are tied in this matter. I am sitting between the devil and deep blue sea,” she said.
The students, Ugonna Obuzor, Lloyd Toku Mike, Tekenah Elkanah and Chiadika Biringa, were murdered by an angry mob in Umuokiri-Aluu, a host community of UNIPORT on October 5, 2012
The accused were Lawal Segun, Ex-Sergeant Lucky Orji, Ikechukwu Louis Amadi, David Chinasa Ogbada, Abiodun Yusuf, Joshua Ekpe, Abang Cyril, the traditional ruler of Umuokiri-Aluu (Alhaji Hassan Welewa), Okoghiroh Endurance, Ozioma Abajuo and Chigozie Evans Samuel.
Oji expressed her displeasure when she discovered that one out of the 11 accused persons, Ikechukwu Louis Amadi, did not have a lawyer to defend him, saying she would return the case file to the Chief Judge.
She said she would rather return the case to the Chief Judge than try it because she would not take sides on the matter.
The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), I. Otorubio, who led his team, announced their appearance in the matter, but no counsel mentioned the accused name, Ikechukwu Louis Amadi, a situation which attracted the attention of Justice Oji.
She explained that her decision on returning the case to the Chief Judge was not because she lacked the competence to handle the it, but due to the sensitive nature of the case.
Oji further said the case had received widespread publication and had attracted much attention, adding that the image of the judiciary should be protected.
She said, “It is a matter of widespread publication. The judiciary wants to maintain its image. It is not a matter of incompetence, but because of its sensitive nature.”
She expressed confidence in the Rivers State Judiciary to try every case, stressing that the vital point in the Aluu case was not that justice was done, but that it must be seen to be done.
“I will not satisfy anybody. Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to have been done. The Rivers State Judiciary has very capable hands to try all matters,” Oji stated.
The case which was originally at the Port Harcourt Magistrate Court was transferred to the High Court because the lower court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the case, but the Chief Magistrate Court had on Thursday, February 28 discharged seven, out of the 18 persons arrested in connection with the killing of the students.
Trial judge Chief Magistrate, Emma Woke, had said the decision of the court was based on the advice from the Rivers State Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).
After reading the DPP advice dated January 25, 2013, before the court the judge discharged the seven, explaining that they were arrested and charged to court based on mere suspicion.
The advice however, indicted the traditional ruler of the Umuokiri-Aluu, Alhaji Welewa and 10 others for negligence in preventing the act and for active participation in the murder.