…rejects FG’s bid to try him in absentia

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

ABUJA- A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory sitting at Maitama, on Thursday, adjourned trial of Senator Dino Melaye on the two-count criminal charge the Federal Government entered against him, sine-die (indefinitely).

Senator Dino Melaye
Sen. Dino Melaye

The court stopped further proceeding on the matter after it declined request by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, for the embattled lawmaker who is currently at the Intensive Care Unit of the National Hospital in Abuja, to be tried and convicted in absentia.

In a ruling on Thursday, Trial Justice Olasumbo Goodluck said she was persuaded by both affidavit and documentary evidence before the court that Melaye was indeed incapacitated to appear for his trial.

“This court is unable to shut its eyes to latest medical report presented by the defendant to justify his non-appearence in court for his trial”, the Judge held, adding that contrary to contention by FG, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, empowered the court to adjourn the case under such circumstance.

“This court will be acting judiciously and judicially by allowing an adjournment of this case on account of the defendant’s ill-health.

“The prosecution has not controverted by way of evidence, the state or medical condition of the defendant as at May 16 when this medical report was issued.

“It is only fair and just to adjourn this case sine-die until medical condition of the defendant is restored to enable him to be stable to stand his trial”, Justice Goodluck held.

Melaye who is representing Kogi West Senatorial District, was in the charge marked CR/106/18, alleged to have given false information to the Nigerian Police Force regarding an assassination attempt he said was made on his life on 15 April 2017.

FG alleged that he falsely incriminated the Chief of Staff to Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, Mr. Edward Onoja David, in the said assassination attempt.

According to the charge dated January 31, 2018, it was in the course of investigation that police discovered that Melaye was attempting to frame-up some persons with his claim.

Melaye was said to have told Abubakar, a son of a former governor of Kogi State in a telephone conversation how he framed Edward Onoja David in the assassination attempt.

He was docked before the court on March 1 and granted bail to the tune of N100, 000 with one surety in like sum.

Meantime, following Melaye’s absence in court for commencement of hearing on the matter on Wednesday, FG, applied for his bail to be revoked.

Alternatively, the prosecution counsel, Mr. Labaran Shuaibu, said the court should summon the person that stood surety for him to appear and show cause why he should not be committed to prison for the absence of the defendant.

However, Melaye’s lawyer, Mr. Ricky Tarfa, SAN, accused FG of concealing the true facts and circumstances of the case to the court.

He maintained that FG’s request for his client’s bail to be revoked would amount to persecution, insisting that such application could only be made in the absence of any explanation as to whereabouts of the defendant.

Tarfa said he was ready to produce the high court order that remanded Melaye in police custody.

Consequently, the court adjourned the matter and ordered that the defence lawyer should “take appropriate steps to explain the absence of the defendant”.

At the resumed sitting, Melaye’s lawyer filed two different affidavits and adduced exhibits to show that his client was undergoing medical treatment at the National Hospital in Abuja.

He equally tendered an order of the high court in Kogi that granted Melaye bail and okayed his stay in hospital for treatment.

However, FG, insisted that Melaye’s absence in court implied that he jumped bail, saying it was satisfied with observation of the head of Medical Unit at the Federal Ministry of Justice that two medical reports the defendant filed before the court did not disclose his actual health status.

FG urged the court to invoke the provision of section 352(4) of the ACJA and try Melaye in absentia.

“We urge this court to disregard the exhibits and they fall short of the requirement of section 83(2) of the Evidence Act”, the prosecution added, insisting that the medical reports, being public documents, ought to have been certified.

Though Melaye had in his 16-paragraphed affidavit and the medical report that was signed by one Dr. Olaole O. O, told the court that he is suffering from Soft-Tissue Trauma and Hypertension, however, FG maintained that the report did not disclose that he could not be able to appear in court for his trial.

FG had in count one of the charge, alleged that Melaye deliberately gave false information to the police to frame Governor Bello’s Chief of Staff as the mastermind of the assassination attempt on him at his hometown in Ayetoro-Gbede in Kogi State in April last year.

He was in the second count, accused of making false statement of facts in a phone conversation with Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, a son of the late former governor of Kogi State, Abubakar Audu, with the intention of tarnishing David’s reputation.

FG maintained that the offence allegedly committed by Melaye was punishable under sections 140 and 393 of the Peal Code Law, Cap. 89, Laws of Northern Nigeria, 1963.

The offence attracts a maximum of two years imprisonment with an option N40 upon conviction of the defendant.

One of the charges against him read: “That you, Senator Dino Melaye, male, of the Senate, National Assembly, Three Arms Zone, Abuja, on or about the month of April 2017 at the Police Force Headquarters, Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court in the cause of an investigation into the alleged assassination attempt on you, sometimes in April 2017, you gave information to the police stating that one Mr. Edward Onoja David (Chief of Staff to the Governor of Kogi State) did mastermind the attack with intent to convict him for the offence which statement you either knew or believe to be false and you thereby committed an offence punishable under section 140 of the Penal Code Law, Cap. 89, Laws of Northern Nigeria, 1963.”

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