A Federal High Court sitting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State on Tuesday sentenced seven persons, including three policemen to death over kidnapping.
Four others, including a woman hired by the gang for N50,000 to cook for the victim – Deaconess Ime Anietie Ekanem, while negotiation for her ransom was on, has also been sentenced to death.
The court presided by Justice Joy Unwana (extended jurisdiction) acted in the State instituted Suit No HU/13c/2012 against 8 members of the gang in 2012.
Those sentenced included: Cpl Emmanuel Charlie, Ekaette Edet Moses, Fidelis Emmanson Jeremiah, Cpl Bassey Sunday (377812), PC Mfon Bassey (478463), Ndu Okon Johnny, Unyime Edem Etukakpan, and Itohowo Godwin Akpakwa.
However, the confessional statement of the 8th accused, Mrs Itohowo Akpakwa, which was admitted as exhibit, said she visited her friend in a Bar at Idakeyop Aka where she gave the 7th accused – Unyime Edem Etukakpan money to buy medicine for his ill health.
Though Akpakwa denied knowledge of the plot to kidnap the victim but no fewer than three other members of the gang told court that they did not know her name at the time she visited the final meeting at Aka but insisted that she (Akpakwa) was the one who identified her friend (victim) and gave direction to her house in Obio Etoi village, Uyo.
The culprits were all convicted on three-count charge of conspiracy to commit felony, kidnapping, aiding and sponsoring kidnapping.
It was gathered that the culprits dragged out their victim out of the Toyota Sienna car driven by the husband, in front of the family house at about 6.30 PM and whisked her away in a Volvo Wagon Car to Afaha Udoeyop in Ibesikpo Asutan LGA where she was kept, under armed guards, in an isolated building pending agreement and payment of Ransom.
The anti-kidnapping unit of the state CID, it was learnt swung into action as telephone negotiations between the kidnappers and the victim’s husband brought down the initial demand from more than twenty million naira (N20m) to about N1.8 million to be paid on 2 installments.
Plain clothed operatives of the State CID were shocked to discover that the first 2persons who approached the Afaha Ibesikpo Market square, venue for the ransom delivery were their colleagues at the state CID. Shortly after the encounter, the change in venue for delivery of the ransom was relayed to the husband of the victim by phone.
Police investigation report, it was gathered, indicated that after changing the venue thrice, the first installment of 800,000 naira was delivered at Itam, in another LGA.
From the totality of evidence before the Court, it was observed that the gang might have gotten away with the crime had the proceed been equitably shared. It was also revealed that serious disagreement in the sharing formula led to friction.
Consequently, a member of the gang, who at the time of sharing, was in the Uyo Prison on a different criminal matter, returned home to discover that he was short changed. He then gave details of the plot and how it was carried out to the police, and later became the star witness for the State.
The 8th and only accused who escaped the capital punishment, Mrs Itohowo Akpakwa- a staff of the University of Uyo, was earlier granted bail. Samuel Ikpo Esq of counsel to Mrs. Akpakwa had insisted that there was no reason his client should languish in prison when there is no direct evidence linking her to the commission of the alleged crime.
Her bail was secured when Ikpo successfully argued that in the absence of a prima facie evidence against his client, it became baseless and punitive to curtail her freedom. Inspite of persistent argument to the contrary by Eyo Asuquo Esq for state, insisting that Mrs Akpakwa is the ‘woman’ mentioned by other suspects, the court was not persuaded, and therefore had no grounds to deny her bail.
Reviewing arguments on both side, the court noted that evidence of most suspects was that the woman who attended their meeting at Aka before the kidnap operation was the one who identified the victim, and also supplied information about her residence and movement. It noted that 2 state witnesses (policemen) also confirmed to court that they heard from suspects that the 8th accused supplied information and also identified the victim.
Justice (Mrs) Joy Unwana echoed the position of Samuel Ikpo, who pointed out that hearsay evidence by state witnesses must not only be discountenance, but that of other suspects who did not mention the name of his client.
Furthermore, the court was convinced by his position that in the failure of police to conduct Identification Parade to give other suspects the opportunity to identify the ‘woman’ they allegedly saw, his client cannot be declared as the ‘woman’ in question.
The court was of the view that there was no ground to convict Mrs. Akpakwa, and accordingly discharged and acquitted her. On the other hand, convinced that the state has successfully proven beyond reasonable doubt, the 3 count charges, the other 7 were convicted.