A Federal High Court in Abuja has directed that the 23 staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) accused of accepting N360m bribe from Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State are to be tried in the state.

In a ruling on Monday, Justice John Tsoho upheld the objection raised by the INEC staff against their being tried in Abuja since their alleged offense took place in Rivers State.

The Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) on March 7 this year, filed a seven-count charge against the 23 INEC staff for allegedly receiving N360m bribe from Wike in connection with the December 10, 2016, rerun elections in River State.

Before they could be arraigned before the Federal High Court in Abuja, the defendants challenged the prosecution’s decision to conduct the proceedings in Abuja, when they were accused of receiving money in Rivers State.

They sought the transfer of the case to Rivers State, a request the Prosecution objected to and insisted on their trial in Abuja.

In his ruling, Justice Tsoho held that the charge ought to be filed in the capital of Rivers State, Port Harcourt, where the alleged offenses were supposedly committed.

The judge said the prosecution was unable to provide any cogent evidence of insecurity in Port Harcourt to justify the filing of the charge in Abuja.

He said the prosecution failed to support, with evidence, its claims that there was “pervasive insecurity” in Port Harcourt and that the city has become ungovernable.

The judge said the “frightening pictures” attached to the prosecution’s counter-affidavit have no proof of location and time of the incidents.

He added that there was no evidence presented before the court to back the prosecution’s claim that there were daily reports of threat by cult groups in the state.

Justice Tsoho said, in the absence of such evidence, provisions of Section 93 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 and Section 45 of the Federal High Court Act, providing that charges must be filed in the area or place where the alleged offences were committed “shall apply”.

He consequently ordered the transfer of the case to Port Harcourt Division of the Federal High Court for the arraignment of the defendants.

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