By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
ON March 21, the presiding Magistrate, Otor-Udu Magistrate Court, Delta State, His Worship, Duku Tadafe (Mrs) erred in law when she discharged and acquitted a kidnap suspect, Mrs. Grace Obi, who was arraigned in her court with Ogbona Onu for allegedly masterminding her own kidnap and collecting N1.5 million from her husband, Mr. Jude Obi, a staff of Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR.
Delta State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, was furious over the order and took the magistrate to the cleaner. Senior Magistrate Tadafe realized her mistake and managed to get the two accused persons back to the court, March 26. However, the police prosecutor refused to re-arraign and prosecute the matter, saying his superior had asked him to back off the trial.
Left with no other option, the magistrate nullified her March 21 order, discharging and acquitting a kidnap suspect, 33-year-old Mrs. Grace Obi and Ogbona Onu. Saturday Vanguard digs into the controversy.
In a fresh order made on April 1, Senior Magistrate Tadafe, said: “I have carefully considered my order striking out and discharging the accused persons in charge No. MUD/130/2014 and discovered that it was erroneously made as I have no jurisdiction to adjudicate on the matter as it were, as it borders on kidnapping under section 13 (2) of the Anti-Kidnapping and Anti-Terrorism law , No 8 of Delta State, 2013, which is outside my jurisdiction.
“Consequently, it is my order directing the Commissioner of Police and his officers to re-arrest the accused persons and re-arraign them for the said offence of kidnapping on the same charge, having set aside my order made on the 21/3/2014,” she stated.
Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, had in a statement, few days after the repudiated order, said the police investigated the matter and found N1.2 million out of the N1.5 million extorted from Mr. Jude Obi with the accused, while N300,000 was used to settle the kidnap gang.
Saturday Vanguard investigation showed that Mrs. Obi and Ogbona Onu were arraigned in the court, March 21, in charge number, MUD/13C/2014, on a three-count charge of conspiracy and kidnapping.
The complainant and husband of the 1st accused, Mr. Jude Obi, who wrote a letter of withdrawal to the court, dated March 14, mounted the witness box, March 21, telling the court that he had forgiven his wife and Ogbona, and did not want to prosecute the matter any further.
He said he did not want a broken home and based on his formal withdrawal of the case against the accused persons, the magistrate discharged and struck out the case.
Delta State Police Command kicked against the verdict with the Legal/Prosecution unit in a letter by T. O.B Okey, March 26, applying to the court for the record of proceedings of March 21, ostensibly to challenge the order.
The court, however, on the same day, relying on the authorities of HRH Eze Dr. Frank Adele Eke vs. Godfrey Chizieze Ogbonda (2006) 11-12 SC and Jonah Eguasie and another vs.Onyense Elele (2000) FWLR, part 10 at 1967, which gives the court power to set aside its order when is done without jurisdiction since such an order amount to nullity, set aside her March 21 order.
Her words, “Also, I have considered the inability to re-arraign the accused persons as my prosecutor, Cpl. Godwin Ovuefere, informed me that he has directive from his superior that brought the letter asking for record of proceedings of 21/3/2014 not to participate in the matter again despite the court insistence on that fateful day that he should participate.
“But he disobeyed the order of court and refused to participate in the matter because on that 26/3/2014, the accused persons were in court for the court to vacate its order made on the 21/3/2014 and order the accused persons to be remanded but the prosecutor frustrated the court by refusing to participate in the matter based on the alleged directive from the police officer that brought the letter from Asaba and there is no way the court can remand without the prosecutor,” she stated.
National coordinator of the Forum for Justice and Human Rights Defence, FJHD, Mr. Oghenejabor Ikimi, whose organization conducted inquiry on the matter in conjunction with the Centre for the Vulnerable and the Underprivileged, CENTREP, following Saturday Vanguard’s April 7 report said, “Our findings are that on the 24th of March, 2014, His Worship having realized the error, ordered the prosecutor, CPL Godwin Ovuefere to invite the said accused persons to court in a bid to vacate her earlier order discharging the accused persons and to re-arraign them.
“On the 26th of March, 2014, the two accused persons appeared in court in obedience to the above order, but the said prosecutor, CPL Godwin Ovuefere, declined to prosecute them on the ground that he had the orders of his superiors at the State Police Command Headquarters, Asaba not to prosecute same; thus frustrating the business of the court in respect of the said accused persons as there was no way the court could have remanded the accused persons without the prosecutor.
“On the 1st of April, 2014, His Worship, relying on the cited authorities, had no option than to formally set aside his earlier order made on 21st of March, 2014 discharging the accused persons as his earlier order was done without jurisdiction and as such, the said order was a nullity and thereafter, His Worship ordered and directed the Commissioner of Police, Delta Police Command Headquarters and his Officers to re-arrest and re-arraign the accused persons for the said offence of kidnap,” he said.
According to the group, “His Worship further directed the Assistant Chief Registrar of Court to prepare and serve the court proceedings of the day on the DPO, Ovwian Police Division and Commissioner of Police, Delta State for compliance.”
Ikimi noted, “The above order was timorously served on the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, Ovwian Police Division and the Commissioner of Police, Delta State on the 3rd of April, 2014.”
He said, “Surprisingly, rather than comply with the above order, the Commissioner of Police, Delta State, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, addressed a press conference castigating His Worship and indicting the State Judiciary.”
His words, “In the light of the foregoing, we call on the Commissioner of Police, Delta Police, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba to immediately carry out the order of His Worship by re-arresting and re-arraigning the above duo in court, rather than grand standing in the public domain.”
In expressing dissatisfaction over the earlier discharge and acquittal of Mrs. Obi, Aduba had said, “On March 7, 2014, a case of kidnapping of one Grace Obi ‘f’, aged 33yrs was reported at Area Commander’s Office, Warri. Investigation into the case revealed that the kidnapped victim, Grace Obi, actually masterminded her kidnap in a bid to extort money from her husband.”
“This assertion is re-enforced by the fact that out of the N1.5m paid as ransom for the release of the victim who spent three days in the custody of the phantom kidnapping gang – N1.2m was recovered from the victim herself, while N300, 000.00 was allegedly used to settle the gang for their role,” he said. His words, “The kidnapped victim and a member of the gang, who were arrested, made confessional statements, giving a graphic narration of the incident.
“After several overtures made by some highly placed citizens persuading the Command to compromise the case, the Command refused to bulge mainly on the grounds that we deemed it necessary to send a clear message across on the Command’s uncompromising stance on cases of kidnapping.”