°° as AGF drops five charges against them
A Federal High Court on Wednesday slammed a fine of N200, 000 against the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF), Abubakar Malami ,SAN, for stalling the trial of the Publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore.
This is the second time the Court has imposed fine on the government. Last year, the govt. paid N100,000 cost to the defence team for delaying the trial
The proceedings kick-started on Wednesday with the presence of Nobel Laureate, Pro. Wole Soyinka and other top names in civil activism in court.
They came in solidarity with Sowore, who is being prosecuted for organising a nationwide protest tagged #RevolutionNow.
First to arrive the Abuja division of the Federal High Court, venue of the trial was Soyinka.
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He was followed by a former senator representing Kaduna Central, Shehu Sani, a former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, and another activist, Deji Adeyanju, later arrived.
Meanwhile, the Federal government has reduced the number of charges against the defendants from seven to two-counts in an amended charge dated February 11, 2020.
Justice Ifeoma Ojukwu awarded the cost following the failure of the prosecution counsel, Aminu Alilu to serve the defendants with copies of the amended charge ahead of Wednesdays proceedings.
The attitude of the prosecution consequently stalled the trial as the prosecution was forced to asked for an adjournment.
Justice Ojokwu in her ruling held that in view of the fact that the Prosecution has exhausted the number of five adjournments it is entitled to under the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, the request for an adjournment will come with a cost.
The judge who was irked by the development expressed dissatisfaction with the prosecution’s failure to serve all the necessary documents as ordered by the court over seven weeks ago.
The explanation by the prosecution counsel, Aminu Alilu, from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, had explained to the court that the amendment of the charges followed the taking over of the case from the Department of State Services in December, could not appeased the judge.
She accordingly awarded the cost of N200, 000 against the prosecution in favour of the defendants in line with section 396 of ACJA.
The Judge thereafter adjourned trial to Thursday, February 13.
Trouble started when at the resumed trial on Wednesday , the prosecution counsel, Alilu had informed the court that the AGF had taken over the matter.
According to him, to that effect, we have filed an amended two-count charge.
He, however, said he was yet to effect service of same to the defendants, while asking for an adjournment.
“With kind permission of the court, we plan to do this after today’s proceeding. That is my application My Lord,” he said.
Justice Ojukwu then asked him what he meant by his remark.
“I don’t understand? When did you take over the matter,” she asked.
Alilu, who told the court that the office of the AGF took over the case late December, attributed the delay in service to a total review of the case file.
“How long does it take to review facts of the matter? Or this is how you are going to prosecute this case?” the judge, who was visibly angry, asked.
When the AGF lawyer apologised for the delay, Ojukwu said: “I do not like an apology. You better drop your apology and do the right.”
In his argument, counsel to the defendants, Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika(SAN), disagreed with Alilu on hid application.
Fusika, who told the court that the AGF was not preparing for the trial, asked the judge to strike out the case for want of diligent prosecution.
He said he was surprised that Alilu, who signed and filed the initial 7-count charge on Sept. 21, 2019, could be telling the court that he was just taken over the case.
“I am not sure my learned friend is not the same Aminu. Aliku that signed the first charge served on us.
“They filed this and they are now coming to court to say they are taken over the case. Taken over from who? From itself?” he asked.
Fusika also told the judge that early in the morning, the defence team met the AGF lawyer to ask if he had any fresh application but told none.
He said such action was to unjustly punish the defendants.
The lawyer argued that the prosecution had, not less than three times, disobeyed the court order, even when the judge ordered for the defendants to be released.
He said even when the judge ordered the prosecution to serve on the defence all the necessary processes in the trial, the AGF still came to the court with excuses.
“We apply that the case is struck out for want of diligent prosecution. It seems they are only interested in the drama.
“We started this since August 2019. Sowore is a family man, his business is almost grounded.
“He is marooned here in Abuja because of the court order but for the effort of well-wishers, he would have been sleeping under the bridge.
“For Mr. Bakare, he cannot leave Oshogbo and Abuja. This is a way of punishing my clients before they are tried,” he remarked.
He added that the AGF had no hope in the trial.
“Do you have any hope?” he asked Ali.
According to Fusika, I will bring my clients any time they are ready with the charges.
“I will undertake for them. The prosecution is a law to themselves because they have disobeyed you many times even though they are law officers,” he said.
However, Alilu told the court that nobody approached him for a fresh application.
Justice Ojukwu then asked who was lying between the defence and prosecution counsel.
“You see why people don’t trust lawyers? How can you do something like that and now denying it?” the judge asked.
Ojukwu then asked if the court registrar was aware of the discourse between the counsel.
In his explanation, the registrar told the court that the defence team met him prior to the commencement of the case if the prosecution had filed any fresh application but that he told them to meet the AGF lawyer.
Alilu, however, argued that the prosecution was entitled to five adjournments before a case could be struck out, citing the relevant section of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).
“We have also informed the court that we are ready to proceed in this matter considering the fact that the prosecution has not been granted adjournment up to that time.
The AGF lawyer, who said the request was not really an adjournment since the matter was already slated for the next day, said all their witnesses were ready to testify in the trial.
“We make this application in the interest of justice,” he said.
Alilu then served Fusika with the amended charge in the open court.
In her ruling, Justice Ojukwu, who described the application by the prosecution as frivolous, said the action was an attempt to delay the case.
She, however. awarded a fine of N200, 000 against the AGF which must be paid before the commencement of the trial in the next adjourned date.
“It is either you tell the court that you have paid tomorrow (Thursday) or you brandish the N200, 000 in the open court and give the defendants,” she held.
Ojukwu then adjourned the hearing till February 13 for the continuation of trial.
Count one of the amended charge reads: “That you Omoloye Stephen Sowore, Male, Adult of No.1, Mosafejo street, Kiribo, Ese- Odo LGA, Ondo State, Olawale Adebayo Bakare (A.K.A Mandate), male, adult of Olaiya Area, Oshogbo LGA, Osun State and others at large, under the aegis of Coalition fir Revolution (CORE), sometimes in August 2019 in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of Nigeria within the jurisdiction of this honourable Court did conspire amongst yourselves to stage a revolution campaign on 5th day of August 2019 tagged “#Revolution Now” aimed at removing the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria during his term of office otherwise than by constitutional means.
While in count-two, the prosecution accused the defendants thus; “That you Omoloye Stephen Sowore, Male, Adult of No.1, Mosafejo street, Kiribo, Ese- Odo LGA, Ondo State, Olawale Adebayo Bakare (A.K.A Mandate), male, adult of Olaiya Area, Oshogbo LGA, Osun State and others at large, under the aegis of Coalition for Revolution (CORE), sometimes in August 2019 in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of Nigeria within the jurisdiction of this honourable Court did conspire amongst yourselves to staged a revolution campaign on 5th day of August 2019 tagged “#Revolution Now” aimed at removing the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria during his term of office otherwise than by constitutional means.
The offence of Treasonable felony, contrary to section 41(a) of the Criminal Code Act Cap C38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and punishable under the same section of the Act.