THE public was outraged at his killing. It still is and it was looking forward to the bringing to justice of the perpetrators. Nothing would have pleased Nigerians, especially Lagosians more, than the unmasking of the killers of Anthony Olufunsho Williams, the engineer-politician, who was cut down in his Ikoyi home on July 27, 2006. He was killed in the heat of preparations for the 2007 elections in which he had interest as a governorship aspirant.
In fact, he was believed to be the one to beat for the governorship ticket of his party – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – but with his death, things changed. To compensate his family, some leaders of the party tried to get the ticket for his widow, Hilda. Things did not work out that way as the ticket eventually went to Musiliu Olatunde Obanikoro, who is now Minister of State (Defence).
The circumstances surrounding Williams’ death showed that he was murdered. The job was clinically executed by those who carried out the operation. They left no trace whatsoever of their dastardly act. The police were expected to untie this Gordian knot, but they have failed to do just that. Last Monday, Justice Adeniyi Adebajo of the Lagos High Court freed those charged with Williams’ murder for want of evidence. According to the judge, there is no evidence linking the defendants with the murder.
The defendants were on trial for seven years, meaning that for all those years the state wasted time and money prosecuting a case it was ill-prepared for. According to the law, a murder case has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt to earn a conviction against the defendant, who is presumed innocent until otherwise proven. The prosecution’s inability to prove the defendants’ guilt led to their acquittal by the court.
Williams was killed about the same time this paper was planning to hit the newsstand eight years ago. My first column which bears the same title as this one was on him. The column wondered if his murder would not end up unresolved like that of Dele Giwa, who was killed 28 years ago. Till today, the killers of Giwa have not been found. So also are the killers of Chief Bola Ige, former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation; Harry Marshal and Aminasoari Dikibo yet to be found. What is wrong with us as a nation that we cannot resolve the cases of murder of eminent people?
Last year, we asked the same question : Who killed Funsho Williams? following a witness’ testimony that some evidence in the murder case had been destroyed. They were said to have been destroyed doepileptic power supply. The destroyed evidence were the blood samples and the virtuous humour of the eyes of the deceased. In the light of this depressing evidence, we warned against allowing anything to truncate the defendants’ trial. The warning went unheeded. It is apparent that some people somewhere wanted the case to go the way it ended last week.
I am not saying that those who stood trial killed Williams. What I am saying is that the police and the prosecution did not do their homework well before rushing, as it were, to trial. Did they gather the necessary facts before coming to court? Did they preserve the perishable evidence, such as the ones destroyed, well? Did they make alternative provision for the preservation of the evidence whenever public power supply failed? It is the failure of the police and the prosecution to do their jobs diligently that led to the defendants’ acquittal.
Their acquittal has got the people worried. Their interpretation of this development is that the state cannot be relied upon to protect them when they are deprived of their rights. Williams was deprived of his right to life as guaranteed under Section 33 of the Constitution by those who stormed his residence in the early hours of July 27, 2006 and snuffed life out of him. What should naturally follow is for the state to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to book. But, eight years after, what do we have? The acquittal of those tried for the offence. Mind you, these people may not have even known anything about the murder.
It was apparent from the outset that the police were going to mess up the case, despite their promise to ensure that no stone was left unturned in getting the perpetrators. They had all the time in the world to investigate the case and gather all the evidence to avoid the kind of unimpressive showing the prosecution put up in court. For God’s sake, this was a murder case and the police and prosecution knew that it must be proven beyond reasonable doubt to get a conviction. Any doubt, according to the law, is resolved in the defendant’s favour.
It is to avoid a miscarriage of justice that the law allows 1,000 criminals to go scot-free than to punish one innocent person. I do not seem to understand why the police and the prosecution bungled this case. Is it that they were not prepared? Did they arraign the wrong defendants? Where then are the killers of Williams? Will they ever be brought to book? Something Justice Adebajo said in his judgment is worth reproducing here:
”The prosecution did not make any effort to tie the cause of death to the action of any individual or set of defendants. I am satisfied that the deceased has been shown to have died, but it remains at large after the conclusion of prosecution’s case as to the person or persons who caused his death. The pathologist who said the deceased died by strangulation did not allude to any of the defendants as having carried out the act, he was never asked. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that the death of the deceased resulted from the act of any of the defendants”.
It beats me why the prosecution will handle a sensitive case such as this with levity. If the killers of Williams are still walking the streets free today, we have the police and the prosecution to blame. If they had been thorough, the case would not have ended the way it did – without the killers paying the price for their dastardly act. It is a shame that the police and the prosecution failed to be alive to their responsibilities.
But, the killers should not rejoice yet. Wherever they are, the long arms of the law will get them. If not now, certainly in future. That is the law of retribution.
THE NATION 10/7/2014