Nigerian Govt. amends charges against LEADERSHIP Newspapers, stalls arraignment of accused journalists

Posted by Simon Imobo-Tswam, Abuja | 24 April 2013 | 4,551 times

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The Nigerian Government yesterday amended the charges against the LEADERSHIP duo of Tony Amokeodo and Chibuzor Ukaibe, reducing the charges from 10 to 6.

Amokeodo and Ukaibe, Group News Editor and political reporter with LEADERSHIP Newspapers respectively, were scheduled to be arraigned for allegedly committing forgery of a presidential directive.

But when the matter came up at a Federal High Court in Maitama, Abuja, on a 10-count criminal charge, the prosecuting counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), told the court that he had filed a further amended charge of six-count dated April 22, 2013 but filed yesterday, April 23.

He consequently applied to withdraw the earlier 10-count charge dated April 16, 2013 against the journalists and their employer, LEADERSHIP Group Ltd.

Since the opposing counsel, Chief Femi Falana (SAN), raised no objection, the trial judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, allowed the withdrawal of the 10-count charge and replaced same with the further amended six-count charge.

Awomolo further notified the court that the prosecution had served the amended charge on the accused persons, including the proof of evidence, list of witnesses, list of exhibits and statement of witnesses for the 1st and 2nd accused persons, as well as the contentious publication of LEADERSHIP of April 3, 2013. He prayed the court for the accused persons to take their plea.

Although Falana confirmed service of the records, he told the court that the case was not ripe for arraignment as the further amended charge of six-count charge was served on the accused persons just a few minutes before the court commenced sitting.

Falana argued further:

“More importantly, the record of the documents listed by the prosecution is incomplete. The proof of evidence before the court is incomplete. Whereas seven items are listed on the record, the statement of prosecution witness (PW1) is not attached. There is also a list of exhibits to be tendered. There are four of them. Items 2 and 4, that is the report of the analyst witness and the report of the police.

“Since the prosecution in compliance with an order of this court filed a proof of evidence, the accused persons are entitled to all the statements of the prosecution witnesses and all the exhibits to be tendered by the police. Importantly, the handwritten report of the analyst.

“What is before the court does not meet the requirement of section 36(6)(b) of the CFRN, which stipulates that an accused person should be given adequate time and facilities to enable him prepare his defence.

“Before the court sat this morning, we had already requested for those documents from the prosecution and the police counsel promised to give them to us. The essence is for us to see these documents and sit with the accused persons to advise them on the type of plea they will enter.”

But Awomolo countered, claiming that for the purposes of taking their pleas, the accused persons were not entitled to the statements of prosecution witnesses.

“This is because the summarised statement of witnesses has disclosed why the accused persons were in court. They may be entitled to these statements during the trial but not at the pre-trial stage,” he told the court.

After listening to both parties, Justice Ademola ordered the prosecution to file a motion within 48 hours on whether the accused persons are entitled to the statements of prosecution witnesses, while Falana should also reply within 48 hours.

The judge further released the accused journalists to the Company’s Legal Adviser, Jibril Umar, who is to produce them on the next adjourned date.

Justice Ademola also ordered that the representative of the 3rd accused person (LEADERSHIP group), Mr. Mike Okpere, should also appear at the next adjourned date.

The court adjourned the case to April 30, 2013.

•Photo shows the accused journalists, Tony Amokeodo and Chibuzor Ukaibe.

Source: News Express

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