By IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
ABUJA—An Abuja Chief Magistrate Court, yesterday, remanded the chairman of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Omuma local government area of Rivers State, Mr. Charles Amoefule, and Assistant Secretary of the party in the state, Mr Godwin Leo, in prison custody.
The court, which was presided over by Magistrate Babashani Abubakar, ordered that the duo, who are perceived to be loyal to Governor Rotimi Amaechi, should remain in Kuje Prison till tomorrow when their joint bail application will be determined.
Spirited efforts by their lawyer, Ms Regina Okotie-Eboh, to secure their release proved abortive, as police vehemently opposed it, insisting that the accused persons were at risk of being jailed for 17 years should the court find them guilty of the one-count amended charge in the First Information Report, FIR, it entered against them.
Their trial is sequel to a petition sent to the Inspector General of Police, IG, Mohammed Abubakar, on July 15 by one Kelechi Nwogu, who is said to be loyal to the Minister of State for Education, Chief Nyesom Wike.
Police alleged that the accused persons conspired with one Onwukwe Anyanwu, said to be at large, and caused an announcement to be made on two radio stations in Abuja that the State Executive Council of PDP in Rivers State had been dissolved and reconstituted.
It told the court that the first accused, Charles, in the said announcement which was made on July 11, 2013, declared himself as the new state chairman of the party, information the prosecution said incited disturbances in Rivers State and resulted in breakdown of law and order.
According to the police, the alleged offence, which bothers on criminal conspiracy, false statement, impersonation, inciting disturbance and criminal intimidation, ran contrary to sections 97, 164, 179, 114 and 397(b) of the Penal Code Law.
After the accused persons pleaded not guilty to the charge, they relied on the decided case-law in Abiola vs FRN, 1995, 1-NWLR and the case of Bamaiyi vs State, 2001, 8-NWLR, and pleaded the court to allow them to go home.
Their lawyer informed the court that the police had on August 7, granted the first accused person administrative bail few hours after he was re-arrested upon his discharge by another Chief Magistrate Court at Wuse Zone 2, adding that he voluntarily appeared in court yesterday to face trial.
Okotie-Eboh further relied on section 341(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code, CPC, and insisted that the offence leveled against them was ordinarily bailable, stressing that they ought to be deemed innocent until proven guilty.
Opposing the oral bail request, the prosecutor, Assistant Inspector, Usman Jubril, maintained that the accused persons failed to depose to an affidavit indicating their willingness to face trial, contending that whereas the third accused was still at large, “it was war before we could get the first accused person arrested.”
After listening to both parties, Magistrate Abubakar adjourned the case till tomorrow for ruling.
Meanwhile, the court had earlier struck out the initial FIR filed against the second accused person, following an application by the police which expressed its decision to consolidate the charge against the two PDP chieftains and try them together.
Prior to their re-arraignment, a mild drama had ensued after the court struck out the previous FIR and discharged the second accused.
Immediately he made attempt to exit the court room, plain clothed policemen sandwiched him, a situation that led to commotion within the court premises.
Owing to the noise, Magistrate Abubakar summoned the warring parties, including the policemen, back to the court and threatened to send all of them to jail.
“If you want to cause problem in my court, I will make sure all of you are arrested and let no one come to beg me afterwards. I don’t want any noise in this court premises. Should any one of you dare me, I will not hesitate to lock the person up, even if Mr President comes to this court to make noise I will not hesitate to wield my powers against him.
“This is my territory, I have security men outside on standby, so for the last time, all of you should be warned,” the Magistrate fumed.
It will be recalled that the accused persons were surreptitiously bundled out of Rivers State by armed men about a week ago, a development that fueled insinuations that they were kidnapped.
It was learnt that they were kept at the Police Headquarters in Abuja for few days and sequel to threats by Amoefule to drag the police to court for breaching his fundamental human rights, he was rushed before the Magistrate Court last Friday and compelled to enter his plea to a one count criminal charge even as police informed the court that his co-accused was at large.
Similarly, the police dragged his co-accused, Leo before another Magistrate court sitting at Wuse zone 6, where it equally told the court that Amoefule was at large.
Though Leo’s case was adjourned till yesterday to enable the court to determine his bail application, police thwarted his possible release by filing an amended charge against him.