Federal High Court Lagos Thursday, heard that the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is allegedly shielding vital evidence in a drug counterfeiting case pending before the court.
The National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) told the court at the resumed trial of a businessman, Chukwunonye Madubuike, charged with production of Emzolyn cough syrup with codein.
The defendant was re-arraigned on March 14, 2019, before Justice Maureen Onyetenu, on a one count charge of selling Emzolyn with codeine cough syrup.
Recall that in 2018, a ban was placed on the production and importation of cough syrup containing codeine after a BBC undercover investigation into its role in an addiction epidemic.
The BBC investigation “sweet sweet codein” by a reporter Mr Adejuwon Soyinka, showed the syrup being sold on the black market to be used by young Nigerians to get high.
A joint probe by BBC’s investigation unit, Africa Eye, and BBC Pidgin prompted a ban on the drug.
NAFDAC consequently, arraigned the defendant in 2018 before Justice Babs Kuewumi, who has now been transferred to the Ado-Ekiti division of the court .
He had pleaded not guilty before both Justice Kuewumi and Oneyetenu.
Trial was however, stalled in the suit, following an election petition tribunal in which Justice Onyetenu featured.
Defendant was subsequently re-arraigned in March 2019 before Justice Onyetenu who granted issuance of a a subpoena to compel the BBC journalist who uncovered the report on “sweet sweet codein” to come and testify in court.
When the case was called on Thursday, NAFDAC prosecutor Mr Washington Adume, announced appearance for the prosecution.
On the other hand Mr Eubena Amadu appeared for the defence, while a lawyer from the Chambers of Udo Udoma & Bello Osagie Solicitors informed the court that he was appearing on behalf of the BBC reporter, the applicant.
He then informed the court of a motion seeking to dismiss the subpoena issued on the journalist.
Meanwhile, the prosecutor told the court that it had already prepared its proof of evidence, filed and served same on the defence, and was prepared with its witnesses to go on with trial.
Adume told the court that he has been facing challenges with obtaining vital pieces of evidence from the BBC reporter, who is also listed as a witness for prosecution.
He told the court that lawyers to BBC have now filed the instant motion which they served on them, seeking to dismiss the “subpoena duces tecum ad testificandum”, issued on Souinka.
He said this ought not be the case as the act of drug counterfeiting and sale of banned drugs violates extant laws of the country and should not be shielded by a journalist in any guise.
He urged the court to allow progress in the trial and not adjourn because of the applicant’s motion, since the journalist was not a party to the charge before the court.
Meanwhile, defence counsel informed the court that since the proof of evidence had just been served on him, he would require time to study same.
Consequently, the court adjourned the case until June 17 for trial and urged prosecution to respond to the applicant’s motion.
In the said motion on notice, lawyers to the journalist avers that the reporter is entitled to freedom of expression and also has a right not to disclose sources of information used in reports.
In the charge, the defendant was alleged to have committed the offence on April 24, 2018.
He was alleged to have sold Emzolyn with codeine cough syrup at Sheraton Hotel in Akiti Avenue Lagos, a place not licensed or registered by the appropriate authority.
The prosecution said that the offence contravened the provisions of sections 2(a) of the Counterfeit and Fake Drugs and Unwholesome Processed Foods (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, Cap C34, Laws of the Federation, 2004