By IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
ABUJA—Planned arraignment of two Leadership Newspaper reporters, Tony Amokeodo and Chibuzor Ukaibe, accused of forging a document purported to have emanated from the Presidency, suffered another set-back, yesterday, owing to the inability of the Federal Government to comply with an order the trial court issued on April 16.
Rather, the Federal Government, yesterday, told the court that it had decided to further amend the charge against the accused person with a view to reducing the counts from 10 to six.
Meanwhile, both the government and Leadership Newspaper have engaged the services of two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, respectively to handle the matter for them.
Whereas a former Attorney General of Lagos State, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, took over the prosecution of the case, likewise, renowned human right activist and former chairman of the West African Bar Association, Mr Femi Falana, announced appearance for the accused persons.
Meantime, though the accused persons were in court yesterday, however, they could not take their plea considering that they were served with the further amended charge against them right inside the court room.
Though Awomolo, SAN, informed the court that he equally served the accused persons with the proof of evidence, list of witnesses, list of exhibits and statement of witnesses that will testify against them, as well as copies of the said “vexatious publication”, however, Falana, SAN, who confirmed the service of the charge, noted that contrary to what Awomolo told the court, the accused persons were yet to be served with the proof of evidence against them.
Consequently, he opposed moves by the prosecutor to take plea of the accused persons, stressing that the Federal Government was yet to avail them with necessary processes to enable them prepare their defence.
“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 two and four, which are 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. Most 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.”
“Nevertheless, Awomolo countered Falana’s submission, contending that for the purposes of taking their plea, the accused persons are not entitled to the statements of prosecution witnesses.
“This is because the summarized 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 argued.
After listening to both parties, Justice Ademola Adeniyi ordered the prosecution to file a motion within 48hours on whether the accused persons are entitled to the statements of prosecution witnesses, while Falana should also reply within 48hours.
The judge further released the accused journalists to the Company’s Legal Adviser, Jibril Umar who he ordered to produce them on the next adjourned date, April 30.
Specifically, the Federal Government alleged that the accused persons committed felony to wit: “forging of document titled Bromide of the Presidential Directive and place same on the front page of Leadership Newspaper of April 3, 2013.”
The Federal Government alleged that they knew that the said document was false, but published same, “with the intent that it may in any way be used or acted upon as genuine and thereby committed an offence and punishable under section 467 of the Criminal Code Act Cap ‘C’ 38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.”
Besides, it told the court that the accused persons conspired amongst themselves and committed felony by forging/making of a false document, having on it the seal, signet or sign manual which purports that it was a presidential directive from the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 516, 461 (1) (b), 467 (3) (a), 468 of the Criminal Code Act Cap ‘C’ 38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
Though the Federal Government, hitherto, listed four accused persons in the previous charge it filed against the Newspaper house on April 12, however, it eventually de-listed the 3rd accused, Taiwo Ogunmilo Omilani, who it said was at large.
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