Forgery: FG Hires SAN To Prosecute Leadership Journalists, Reduces Charges To Six
SAN FRANCISCO, April 23, (THEWILL) - The Federal Government has hired a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, to prosecute the two journalists working with Leadership Newspaper. They are the Group News Editor, Tony Amokeodo and Political reporter, Chibuzor Ukaibe, who are standing trial at a Federal High Court in Maitama, Abuja on a 10-count criminal charge bordering on forging a presidential directive.
But the trial was stalled when the case came up for hearing on Tuesday as the prosecuting counsel, Awomolo, who told the court that the charges against the journalists had been reduced to six, said he had filed a further amended 6-count charge dated April 22 but was filed Tuesday, April 23.
He further applied to withdraw the earlier 10-count charge dated April 16, against the journalists and their employer, Leadership Group Ltd.
And following a no objection plea by the journalists’ lawyer, Chief Femi Falana (SAN), the trial judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola , granted the withdrawal of the 10-count charge and replaced same with the further amended 6-count charge.
Awomolo told the court that the prosecution had served the amended charge on the accused persons Tuesday morning including the proof of evidence, list of witnesses, list of exhibits and statement of witnesses for the 1st and 2nd accused persons, as well as publication of Leadership of April 3.
He further asked the court that the accused persons take their plea.
However, Falana who confirmed service of the records told the court that the case was not ripe for arraignment because the further amended charge of 6-count charge instead of 10 was served on the accused persons a few minutes before the court sat yesterday morning.
“More importantly, the record of the documents listed by the prosecution is incomplete. The proof of evidence before the court is incomplete. Whereas seven items are listed on the record, the statement of prosecution witness (PW1) is not attached. There is also a list of exhibits to be tendered. There are four of them. Items 2 and 4, that is the report of the analyst witness and the report of the police.
“Since the prosecution in compliance with an order of this court filed a proof of evidence, the accused persons are entitled to all the statements of the prosecution witnesses and all the exhibits to be tendered by the police. Importantly, the handwritten report of the analyst.
“What is before the court does not meet the requirement of section 36(6)(b) of the CFRN, which stipulates that an accused person should be given adequate time and facilities to enable him prepare his defence.
“Before the court sat this morning, we had already requested for those documents from the prosecution and the police counsel promised to give them to us. The essence is for us to see these documents and sit with the accused persons to advise them on the type of plea they will enter," Falana said.
But Awomolo replied that for the purposes of taking their plea, the accused persons were not entitled to the statements of prosecution witnesses.
“This is because the summarised statement of witnesses has disclosed why the accused persons were in court. They may be entitled to these statements during the trial but not at the pre-trial stage," he said.
After listening to both parties, Justice Ademola ordered the prosecution to file a motion within 48 hours on whether the accused persons are entitled to the statements of prosecution witnesses, while Falana should also reply within 48 hours.
The judge again released the accused journalists to the company’s legal adviser, Jibril Umar, asking him to produce them on the next adjourned date.
Justice Ademola also ordered that the representative of the 3rd accused person (Leadership Group), Mr. Mike Okpere, should also appear in the next adjourned date.
The court then adjourned the case to April 30.