The federal government yesterday further delayed the arraignment of two LEADERSHIP journalists who allegedly committed forgery of a presidential directive.
Group news editor, Tony Amokeodo and Political reporter Chibuzor Ukaibe were expected to be arraigned yesterday at a federal high court in Abuja on a 10-count criminal charge but when the matter came up, the prosecuting counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) told the court that he has filed a further amended charge of 6-count dated April 22, 2013 but was filed yesterday, April 23.
He further applied to withdraw the earlier 10-count charge dated April 16, 2013 against the journalists and their employer, LEADERSHIP group Ltd.
Following no objection by the journalists’ lawyer, Chief Femi Falana (SAN), the trial judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola granted withdrawal of the 10-count charge and replaced same with the further amended 6-count charge.
Awomolow further notified the court that the prosecution has served the amended charge on the accused persons yesterday 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, 2013.
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”.
However, this line of argument did not go down well with Chief Awomolo who claimed that fir the purposes of taking their plea, the accused persons were not entitled to the statements of prosecution witnesses.
“This is because the summarized 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.
After listening to both parties, Justice Ademola ordered the prosecution to file a motion within 48hours on whether the accused persons are entitled to the statements of prosecution witnesses, while Falana should also reply within 48hours.
The judge further released the accused journalists to the Company’s Legal Adviser, Jibril Umar and 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 adjourned the case to April 30, 2013.