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MANSLAUGHTER: COURT SENTENCES EX-BEAUTY QUEEN IBINABO FIBERESIMA TO FIVE YEARS

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JUSTICE Deborah Oluwayemi of a Lagos High Court has sentenced a former beauty queen and popular actress, Ms. Ibinabo Fiberesima, to five years imprisonment for manslaughter, involving the death of a medical doctor, Mr. Suraj Giwa.

Delivering her judgment in an appeal by the Lagos State Government against the verdict of an Igbosere Magistrate's Court on Friday, Justice Oluwayemi held that the N100,000 fine imposed by the lower court on Fiberesima w:as tantamount to judicial recklessness.

According to the judge, it is unreasonable for a magistrate to give an option of N100,000 fine to someone who has taken the life of another person through dangerous driving.

The judge added that Section 28 of the Road Traffic Law, Cap R10 Laws of Lagos State, and 2003 on which the convict was found guilty, did not give an option of fine.

Justice Oluwayemi held that the magistrate misdirected himself and might have been confused by the allocution (plea for leniency) by the lawyer to the convict that the ex-beauty queen was a working mother.

She added that when the term of imprisonment was mandatory, the court could not change it.

She said, “I hold that the magistrate exercised judicial recklessness in giving her option of fine when such is not contained in the traffic law.

”I wonder why the magistrate regards N100,000 as an option for someone who caused the death of another person by dangerous driving. Discretion should be exercised judicially and not recklessly.

“The nature of the offence is so grave that I do not know how he (the magistrate) came about with an option of fine. Justice is a three-way affair.

“N100,000 fine is not a reasonable judgment for someone who has taken the life of another person.

“I hereby set aside the judgment of the magistrate's court and impose five years imprisonment on the convict.

“I also order that the N100,000 fine paid by the convict should not be returned to her.”

The Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Command, had in 2005 charged Fiberesima to the Igbosere Magistrate's Court on a two-count charge of dangerous and reckless driving on the Epe Expressway, Lagos, that led to Giwa's death.

In his judgment, Magistrate Isaacs found Fiberesima guilty on the two -count charge and sentenced her to seven years imprisonment for count one and two years imprisonment for counts two.

The magistrate, however, gave the convict the option of paying N100,000 fine to regain her freedom. The ex-beauty queen reportedly paid the fine and was let off the hook.

But the Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Olasupo Shasore (SAN), was dissatisfied with the sentence of Magistrate Isaacs and filed a notice of appeal at the Lagos High Court.

The Lagos AG added that the magistrate's court had wrongfully exercised its discretion in a matter that attracts seven years' imprisonment without an option of fine.

The Lagos AG, therefore, urged the court to set aside the lower court's verdict and give an appropriate sentence.

But Fiberesima had in her statement of defence by her lawyer, Mr. Lanre Lambo, argued that the lower court had the opportunity to impartially observe her demeanour throughout the trial period before given her the option of fine.

Meanwhile, Fiberesima's friend, also an actor, Mr. Fred Amata, has denied the conviction.

Amata, in a telephone interview with our correspondent, said he was not aware that his friend had been sentenced.

Another source who described himself as her lawyer also denied the report.

“The matter has currently gone beyond the High Court. It is not for the High Courts to decide as things stand now,” he said.

The President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, Mr. Ejike Asiegbu, when contacted, expressed surprise at the turn of events and promised to confirm the story.

Fiberesima could not be reached as her phone was switched off most of the weekend.

By Tony Amokeodo