By Abdulwahab Abdulah and Jane Echewedo
There was twist of event Thursday before an Ikeja High Court when the suspected kidnap kingpin, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, a.k.a Evans and his accomplices made a u-turn and pleaded not guilty to a two-count charge of kidnapping and conspiracy preferred against them by the Lagos State government.
The government had on August 30,2017 arraigned Evans alongside Uche Amadi, Ogechi Uchechukwu, Okwuchukwu Nwachukwu, Chilaka Ifeanyi and Victor Aduba before Justice Hakeem Oshodi of an Ikeja High Court, where three of them pleaded guilty, except Uchechukwu, the only female defendant, Ifeanyi and Aduba who pleaded not guilty.
The prosecution had accused Evans and his accomplices of committing the offence of conspiracy and kidnapping of one Duru Donatius at about 7.45pm on February 14 on Obokun Street, Ilupeju, Lagos.
The prosecution said the defendants “between February 14 and April 12 on Obokun Street, Ilupeju, while armed with guns and other dangerous weapons, captured and detained Mr Duru Donatius.”
The defendants were also accused of collecting a ransom of 223,000 euros before Donatius could be released.
However there was a mild drama while the prosecution was being re-arraigned on an amended charge yesterday, Evans and co-defendants changed their plea.
In the amended charge, the defendants, who were remanded in prison by the court after the earlier arraignment are still facing a two-count charge offence bordering on conspiracy and kidnapping.
The defendants who were earlier charged under Sections 411 and 271(3) Criminal Law Cap C17 Laws of Lagos State 2015 are now being charged Section 2(1) of the Kidnapping Prohibition Law, No 13, Laws of Lagos State 2017.
Unlike the State Criminal Law 2015 which prescribed 21 years for convicts, the Kidnapping Prohibition Law, No 13, Laws of Lagos State 2017 prescribed death sentence if victims die in the custody of kidnappers.
At yesterday’s proceedings, the prosecution led by the Director, Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP), Titilayo Shitta-Bey informed the court that they have filed an amended charge against the defendants and served their counsels, adding that they were ready to commence trial.
But the defence counsel, Messrs Olukoya Ogungbeje, Joseph Otogblu and A.A. Ozogbu opposed the prosecution saying that the prosecution served them the amended charge only yesterday morning in court.
Except for Mr. Olanrewaju Ajanaku, counsel for 4th defendant, other defence counsel prayed the court for adjournment to enable them confer with their clients and response to the amended charge.
The defence counsel also told the court that they all have different applications pending before court which they argued will be overtaken by events if trial should commence.
Responding, Shitta-Bey opposed the defence and urged the court to allow the charges to be read and for the defendants to take their fresh plea.
The DPP argued that there was no material change in the nature of the charge against the defendants.
Justice Oshodi in his short ruling, screened the various pending applications of defence and all struck out.
After this, all the defence counsel urged the court for adjournment to enable them respond to the amended charge just served on them.
Justice Oshodi, citing section 36 of the Constitution granted their prayer and adjourned the matter till November 3 for trial.