Trial could not proceed in the two-count criminal charge of conspiracy to commit the offence of kidnapping and kidnapping against Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike popularly referred to as Evans and five of his alleged accomplices charged along with him today at the High Court of Lagos due to issues surrounding the representation of two of the defendants.
Evans and his alleged accomplices, Uche Amadi, Ogechi Uchechukwu, Okwuchukwu Nwachukwu, Chilaka Ifeanyi and Victor Aduba had pleaded not guilty to conspiring to kidnap and kidnapping a Donatus Dunu, keeping him for about a period of two months and collecting a ransom of 223,000 euros before releasing him. They are charged under Section 2(1) of the Kidnapping Prohibition Law of Lagos State 2017. When the charge which is pending before Hon. Justice Oshodi who sits at the Ikeja division of the court came up today for cross-examination of the prosecution’s first witness, Mr. Anselem Dunu, the elder brother of the kidnapped victim who had earlier given his evidence on the kidnap of his brother, the lawyer to the third defendant, Ogechi was absent. Upon enquiry by the registrar of the court, she informed the court that he had travelled. Furthermore, Mr. Ajanaku who represented the 4th defendant, Okwuchukwu, informed the court that the 4th defendant had asked him not to represent him any longer in the proceedings and thus withdrew his appearance. The registrar of the court confirmed this information from Okwuchukwu and Okwuchukwu confirmed it and stated that he would need about a week to get another lawyer to represent him. Mr. Ogungbeje who is representing Evans and the 2nd defendant, Uche in the charge however indicated that he would take over the representation of Okwuchukwu as well and was just waiting for his brief to be perfected.
In view of the lack of representation for the 3rd and 4th defendants, Ogechi and Okwuchukwu, trial could not continue and the director of public prosecutions leading the team from the Ministry of Justice for the prosecution, Mrs. Shitta-Bey stated that the absence of the lawyer to the 3rd defendant was a ploy to delay the trial of the suit as the lawyer was present at the last proceedings and has not sent in any letter to explain his absence.
Mr. Ochai who represents the 6th defendant, Victor informed the court that his client had complained to him that he and the other defendants were been starved by the prison authorities. He stated that they were not being fed and had eaten only once this week when a relative brought food for them on Wednesday. An officer of the prison authority who was present in court denied the allegation stating that they were fed three times daily and would not have been able to stand in the dock as they had done if the allegations were true.
The court stressed their presumption of innocence until proven guilty and stated that they should be treated as such and Mrs. Shitta-Bey stating that though the doubted the veracity of the allegations, undertook to investigate them and take appropriate action if any truth is found in it.
Earlier in the proceedings, the court had refused the bail application of the 3rd defendant, Ogechi. The court held that though the constitutional presumption of innocence enures for the benefit of the defendant, there are factors which courts of law ought to consider in exercising its discretion whether or not to admit an accused person to bail. Citing judicial authorities, the court mentioned some of the factors as nature and gravity of the crime charged, severity of the prescribed punishment, character of the proof of evidence and the antecedents of the accused person.
Resolving the issue for determination which it couched as whether there are facts to show good reason to deny the 3rd defendant being granted bail taking into consideration the totality of the affidavit evidence before the court, the court first noted that the alleged crimes are severe in nature. Looking at the character of the proof of evidence, the court referred to the statements made by the 2nd and 3rd defendants. Uche, the 2nd defendant had stated in his statement that the 4th defendant, Ogechi’s husband had rented the property where the kidnapped victims were kept in his wife’s name and had stayed on the property from time to time with his wife, Ogechi. In her statement, Ogechi had stated that she does not know how her name came about as the person that rented the property and that her husband had told her that he and the 1st defendant, Evans were into drug business. The court however noted that these statements have not been tested.
Considering the affidavits filed, the court noted that the affidavit in support of the application for bail was deposed to by Ogechi’s lawyer who did not state any special relationship with the 3rd defendant apart from the professional relationship and that there was nowhere in the said affidavit that showed that Ogechi had roots in Lagos or can produce sureties. The court held that all the affidavit hammered upon was that the 3rd defendant should be granted bail so that she can go back to Port Harcourt to take care of her child and that she needs medical attention. The court held that these facts were not cogent enough for a favorable exercise of its discretion. The court further stated that the facts in fact show that Ogechi is a flight risk and it was not ready to take the risk which has the potential of stalling the trial.
The court finally stated that it was its view that Ogechi be kept in custody for her own protection taking into cognizance the gravity of the alleged offence.
The charge has been adjourned to the 19th of January 2018 for continuation of trial.