……as defendants allege plot to frustrate their trial
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA- The Federal Government, on Tuesday, re-arraigned four pro-Biafra agitators- Bright Chimezie, Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi- on a three-count amended charge bordering on treasonable felony.
The quartet, who hitherto faced trial alongside the ‘missing’ leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, took fresh plea before the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court.
It will be recalled that trial Justice Binta Nyako had on February 20, okayed separate trial for the four defendants, following the inability of both the prosecution and the defence lawyers to produce the IPOB leader whose whereabouts has remained unknown since September last year.
Meantime, FG, in the charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/383/2015, alleged that the four defendants, alongside Kanu (now at large) and others at large, “on diverse dates in 2014 and 2015 in Nigeria and London, United Kingdom, did conspire amongst yourselves to broadcast on Radio Biafra monitored in Enugu and other areas within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, preparations being made by you and others at large, for states in the South-East and South-South zones and other communities in Kogi and Benue States to secede from the Federal Republic of Nigeria with a view to constituting same into a Republic of Biafra and you thereby committed an offence punishable under section 516 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004”.
In count-two of the amended charge dated March 16, FG alleged that Chimezie and Kanu had between the months of March and April, 2015, imported into Nigeria and kept in Ubuluisiuzor in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State, a Radio transmitter known as TRAM 50L, which they concealed in a container that was declared as used household items, contrary to section 47(2) (a) of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
Besides, FG alleged in count-three that Madubugwu had sometimes in the month of October 2015, had in his possession at his house in Ubuluisiuzor in Ihiala LGA of Anambra State, one Emerald Magnum Pump Action Gun with Serial Number TS 870-113-0046 and one Delta Magnum Pump Action Gun with Serial Number 501, as well as forty-one cartridges/ammunition without lawful authority or licence and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 27(b) (i) of the Firearms Act, Cap. F28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.
Meanwhile, before they pleaded innocence to the charge, the defendants, through their various lawyers, alleged plot by FG to frustrate their trial.
They decried that over one month after the court severed their trial from that of Kanu, FG waited to serve them with a copy of the charge in the courtroom.
The defendant noted that the court had at the last adjourned date, ordered the prosecution to serve the amended charge on them, at least two weeks before the commencement of the trial.
“My lord, contrary to your order, this charge which was filed four days ago, was only served on us this morning”, counsel to the 1st defendant (Chimezie), Mr. Chidiebere Igwe fumed.
Mr. P. A. N. Ejiofor and Maxwell Okpara, who represented the 3rd and 4th defendants, respectively, contended that the charge was legally defective, noting that section 390 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, provided that such charge must be served at least 7 days before trial.
“My lord, it is our position that there is no charge before this court. It is incompetent because it was not brought within the time prescribed in the law.
“Refusal by the prosecution to serve us the charge on time was nothing but a deliberate ploy to continue to keep our client on detention
“The essence of the whole delay in serving us this morning is to frustrate this case.
“In view of this unnecessary delay occassioned by the prosecution, I urge my lord to grant my client bail at least on his health ground”, Ejiofor added.
Okpara noted that FG has amended the charge five times.
On his part, the prosecuting counsel, Mr. M. S. Labaran apologised for the later service of the charge on the defendants, saying he was unable to trace offices of their lawyers.
Earlier, Labaran drew attention of the court to what he termed “a vexatious publication in the social media”.
He told the court that one cChinasa Nwobi, who he identified as an IPOB member, snapped and posted a picture of an Ignorant DSS operative involved in the case, urging other IPOB to target and kill him for masterminding the arrest of their members.
Labaran tendered a photocopy of the said social media publication.
However, counsel to all the defendants challenged the claim which they said was aimed at distracting the court.
After he had listened to all the parties, Justice Nyako held that FG knows what to do, stressing that the said publication had nothing to do with the proceeding before her.
The court subsequently remanded all the defendants in prison custody and adjourned till Thursday to commence full-blown trial of the matter.
Kanu’s lawyer, Mr. Ifeanyi Ejiofor was in court on Tuesday to witness the proceeding
FG had in one of the charge it earlier entered before the court, alleged that Kanu had “on or about the 28th April, 2015 in London, United Kingdom did in a broadcast on Radio Biafra monitored in Enugu, Enugu state and other parts of Nigeria within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, referred to Major General Muhammadu Buhari, GCON, President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as a paedophile, a terrorist, an idiot and an embodiment of evil, knowing same to be false and you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 375 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C. 38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004”.