Leadership Reporters Charged with Forgery
Leadership Newspaper and two members of its editorial staff, Mr. Tony Amokeodo and Chibuzor Ukaibe, were Tuesday charged before a Federal High Court in Abuja with forgery.
The media outfit and the two journalists were alleged to have conspired with another reporter, Taiwo Omilani, said to be at large, to forge a document titled, ‘Bromide of The Presidential Directive’.
In a 10-count charge, Amokeodo and Ukaibe, who are news editor and political reporter respectively, were accused along with their media organisation of publishing the document in the April 3, 2013 edition of the newspaper, knowing it to be forged and false with the intent that it might in any way be used or acted upon as genuine and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 467 of the Criminal Code Act Cap C 38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
Count one of the 10-count charge, which accused the journalists of violating Section 516 of the Criminal Code Act Cap C 38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 of allegedly forging the document and putting it out as genuine, provides for seven years imprisonment if found guilty.
Count two further alleged that the accused persons violated Section 467 of the Criminal Code Act Cap C 38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, and provides for 3 years imprisonment if found guilty.
Also, counts 5, 7 and 9 specify jail terms of seven years respectively upon conviction, while count 8 of the charge specified a 14-year jail term upon conviction.
However, before their plea could be taken, Amokeodo, who was listed as the first accused in the charge, told the trial judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, that he and his colleague were detained Monday night and were driven to court on Tuesday morning from detention without any information on the charges brought against them.
The prosecutor, Mr. Joe Nwadike, informed the court that the police rearrested the journalists whom he alleged had jumped bail having failed to keep to the terms of the administrative bail they had been granted when they were first arrested on April 8.
While alleging that it took the efforts of a combined team of investigators and security operatives to effect their arrest on Monday night, Nwadike also told the court that the accused persons’ lawyer had been served with copies of the charge and the notice of their arraignment.
The journalists’ plea was, however, not taken upon the discovery by the court that the company, Leadership Group Limited, the third accused, had not been served.
Consequently, the court directed that the media organisation be served to compel the appearance of a director of the company to represent it.
Nwadike, thereafter, requested for an adjournment to enable the police effect service on the company and also asked the court to order the detention of the journalists pending their arraignment and plea taking.
Mr. Samuel Ogala from Mr. Femi Falana’s chambers, who represented the journalists, however, opposed this submission and pleaded with the court to grant the accused persons conditional release pending their formal arraignment and pleas.
Justice Ademola, in his ruling, refused Nwadike’s request and released the journalists to Mr. Umar Jibril, a lawyer and company secretary to Leadership Newspapers, and adjourned till April 23 for their arraignment.
However, reactions trailed the arrest of the journalists on Monday, with the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) describing it as 'systematic and unwarranted harassment,' and called for their immediate and unconditional release.
The group said it had issued a global alert on the matter through the mechanism of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) to call international attention to the plight of the journalists.
Describing the action of the Police as “sheer abuse of power,' MRA's Deputy Executive Director, Ms Jennifer Onyejekwe, in a release, said it was clear that the police had no evidence of wrongdoing against the journalists but resorted to a strategy of harassment and intimidation to prevent them from carrying out their professional duties.
'The police know that they have no power to hold the journalists for more than 24 hours without a court order. They have therefore resorted to undermining the constitution by detaining them, releasing them and again detaining them.
'This is sheer abuse of power and we are calling on the global freedom of expression community to condemn this high-handedness on the part of the Nigerian government and its law enforcement agencies,' she said.
Reminding the police that the media is constitutionally empowered to hold government accountable, the MRA official warned them not to allow the institution to be used to prevent the media from carrying out its responsibilities.