The Supreme Court, Friday, affirmed the sentences of life imprisonment and dismissal handed to a naval chief, Felix Olanrewaju Odunlami, for the murder a commercial motorcycle rider in Lagos.
Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, in a lead judgment upheld the decisions of the General Court Martial and that of the Court of Appeal, Lagos.
Lieutenant Odunlami (with force number: NN2121) was driving from the Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja to Apapa on July 25, 2005 when, at the Allen Roundabout, Ikeja, a commercial motorcycle ridden by Peter Edeh hit the naval officer's car from behind.
On realising that the owner of the car was a military personnel, Edeh was said to have knelt down to beg Odunlami for forgiveness.
Unable to overcome his anger, the naval officer ignored Edeh's plea; reached for his pistol holster, retrieved his pistol and shot Edeh in his mouth. He died instantly.
Passers-by, who were attracted by the naval chief's action, attacked him, burnt his car and almost lynched him, but for the timely intervention of Policemen.
Odunlami was on January 27, 2006 arraigned before a General Court Martial on a three-count charge.
He was charged with manslaughter, loss of service item (for not being able to convincingly account for four rounds of 9mm live ammunition) and conduct prejudice of service discipline.
His offences were said to be punishable under sections 68(1)(a), 103(i) AFA 105 and 106 of the Armed Forces Act Cap A 20 laws of Nigeria.
At the conclusion of his trial in July of that year, the Court Martial convicted him on counts one and two.
The court sentenced him to life imprisonment for manslaughter and dismissed him from service on count two.
Dissatisfied, he appealed to the Court of Appeal, Lagos.
In a judgment delivered on January 31, 2011, the appellate court upheld the Court Martial's decision and dismissed Odunlami's appeal.
Still dissatisfied, he filed an appeal at the Supreme Court.
In upholding the decisions of the lower courts, the apex court held that the appellant's defence of provocation could not avail him because of the facts of the case.
The court also held that the trial court could not exercise its discretion to give a lower sentence because under Section 105 of the Armed Forces Act, (under which he was charged) "the trial judge has no discretion, but to sentence the appellant to life imprisonment.
Justice Rhodes-Vivour said: "The confirming authority confirmed the sentence of life imprisonment and dismissal from service of the Nigerian Navy. It further stripped the appellant of his rank and directed that he was not entitled to his financial entitlements.
"Was this sentence excessive? Dismissal means rejection, discarding. Once an officer is sentenced to life imprisonment and dismissed from services of the Armed Forces, it would be naïve of him to expect to be entitled to his entitlements. Dismissal and forfeiture of entitlement go together.
"The well laid down position of the law is that this court will not interfere with concurrent findings of the courts below, except where the findings are perverse or not supported by credible evidence, or where miscarriage of justice has occurred.
"The Court Martial did not believe the appellant's narration of events, and I agree with both courts below that the appellant's narration of events was wrong.
"The mob that descended on the appellant was attracted to the scene when the appellant shot the deceased. The appeal has no merit. It is hereby dismissed," he said.
Four other members of the five-man panel that heard the case agreed with Justice Rhodes-Vivour on his findings.
They include Justices Mahmud Mohammed, John Afolabi Fabiyi, Mary Peter-Odili and Kumai Bayang Akaahs.