Edo State High Court in Benin-city, the state capital, has sentenced to death by hanging a dismissed Police Constable, Joseph Omotosho, who was a member of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the state police command.
He was accused of conspiring in the extra-judicial killings of a car dealer, Benson Obodeh, along with four others who escaped during the jail break in Benin last year.
The dismissed police constable, Omotosho, along with Corporals Adeleke Adedeji, Abena John, Oniyo Musa, Henry Shobowole were found guilty after undergoing a court trial on an eight-count charge bordering on conspiracy to steal and murder in alleged car theft incident that happened in 2015.
On May 19, 2015, Corporals Adeleke Adedeji, Abena John, Oniyo Musa, Henry Shobowole, and Constable Joseph Omotosho, who was dismissed from the police operations attached to SARS of the Lagos State Police Command, came to Benin-city to carry out an arrest on suspected criminals.
One of the persons listed for their raid was a 26 year-old Benin-city-based car dealer, Benson Obodeh, who was among the suspected criminals alleged to have stolen a Peugeot car in Lagos.
On May 21, 2015, Obodeh was reportedly arrested in his home.
On evidence account provided, it was revealed that the same day after his arrest, the news of his death filtered in, after he was suspected to have been subjected to torture that led to his death at the custody of the five police officers, his corpse was later dumped at the Central Hospital in Benin-city, with a different name written on his lifeless body when his remains was claimed by the mortician who received the body from one of the Police Corporals that allegedly killed him.
After weeks of search by members of his family, Obodeh was not found, leading to petition to the Inspector General of Police (IG) for proper investigation.
It was learned that the police had initially tried endlessly to frustrate the family from finding out the details of the murder after they refused to give the family any information regarding the boy’s whereabouts even after several petitions, until the intervention of the former IG, Solomon Arase.
According to Obodeh’s family findings, the policemen who committed the murder also stole an unregistered Peugeot 306 car from the late Obodeh; stole the sum of N200,000 cash from him; made away with his wallet containing his identity cards and two ATM cards belonging to First bank and Eco bank.
However, further evidences gathered revealed that the police forcefully obtained the ATM card pin from late Obodeh at the point of torture with a gun, and went ahead to withdraw the deceased money using his ATM card to the tune of N330,000 at separate ATM points before killing him.
According to the room trial conducted by the police authorities, the five policemen were found liable and dismissed from the service to face further court trial.
On February 12, 2021, the presiding judge, Justice Ohimai Ovbiagele, who had carefully followed the trial procedures delivered judgment on the fifth defendant, Joseph Omotosho, who was the only one present in court, as he suspended the sentencing of the four absconded policemen.
Justice Ovbiagele described testimonies provided by the claimant as firm and almost unchallenged, adding therefore that his judgment was based on “absolute fact, which the court absorbed as presented by the prosecuting counsel and all the witnesses that appeared before the court.”
Ovbiagele pointed that the accused couldn’t substantiate counter evidence against charges leveled against them.
The fifth defendant, Constable Omotosho, was sentenced to death by hanging or with chemical infusion as alternative, for conspiracy to commit murder.
Omotosho was also handed alongside the death sentences, another seven years for his role in the stealing of the deceased money in his bank accounts.
For the four others who were absent in the court, Justice Ovbiagele rely on Section 352(5) of the state criminal code which implies that ‘you can’t pass judgment in absenteeism against an offender’.
He noted that the court may not be able to pronounce sentences for the four dismissed policemen as provided in the section above.
Shortly after the judgment, representative counsels had their divergent opinions.
Abraham Oviawe standing in for the prosecuting counsel, said: “What has happened today is a confirmation of the biblical position that says the wages of sin is death. So when one conspire to take the life of another man,” with an overwhelming evidence, the court has no other option than to reach the verdict it reached.
Oviawe backed the court for suspending the judgment on the four others who are at large, describing it as a constitutional procedure taken by the court.