The case of alleged defamation instituted by the Akwa Ibom State Government against a sport’s journalist, Kufre Carter, was stalled on Monday, June 1, 2020 following the failure of the state's Commissioner for Health, Dr Dominic Ukpong, who accused the journalist of defaming him to appear in court to give evidence.
Carter, a sport’s presenter with XL 106.9 FM Uyo, was arrested by the Department of State Services on April 27, 2020 over a purported private phone conversation with an anonymous medical doctor, which the Akwa Ibom State Government alleged castigated the Commissioner for Health over his poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chief Magistrate Winifred M. Umohandy admitted Carter to bail in the sum of N3m with one surety in like sum.
The magistrate asked that the surety must be a Permanent Secretary with the Akwa Ibom State Government or a civil servant of Grade Level 17.
The court also asked that Carter obtains a letter from the village head attesting to his identity.
Unable to fulfill the stringent bail conditions, his lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, immediately applied to the Akwa Ibom State High Court for variation.
To the consternation of many, the Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State, Uwemedimo Nwoko, appeared in court and opposed the variation of the bail conditions.
However, on Monday, May 18, 2020, Hon. Justice Archibong Archibong of the High Court of Akwa Ibom State rejected Nwoko’s arguments and varied the stringent bail conditions which the judge found to be “stringent”, “excessive” and “unaffordable” and reduced the bail bond to the sum of N200, 000 to be executed by a surety who should be resident within the jurisdiction of the court.
The high court also asked the journalist to obtain a letter of identification from a prominent person in the state.
Despite fulfilling his bail conditions on May 22, 2020 the DSS Command in Akwa Ibom State refused to release the journalist due to enormous pressure from the Akwa Ibom State Government.
Carter only regained freedom on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 after Alhaji Yusuf Bichi, Director-General of the DSS directed the Command in Akwa Ibom State to comply with the court order and release Carter.
However, when the case resumed on Monday, the state government could not present witnesses in court.
Lawyer for the government, Mr Godwin Udom, who stood in for the Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State, Uwemedimo Nwoko, informed the court that the government was not ready to commence trial.
He said that the Commissioner for Health, who is their principal witness, was attending a virtual meeting with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and could not attend the court.
He therefore pleaded with the court to adjourn the case to a latter date.
In his reaction, lawyer to the journalist, Effiong, expressed reservation over the failure of Ukpong to show up in court, saying since he had the time to instigate the filing of the charge, he should also have the time to attend the court and give evidence.
Effiong asked the court to take note of the absence of the commissioner and other witnesses from the court.
He told the magistrate that although he was not opposing the application for adjournment, the court cannot wait indefinitely for the prosecution witnesses.
Magistrate Umohandy adjourned the case to Friday, July 17, 2020 for commencement of trial.
The court also ordered the prosecution counsel to furnish the defence counsel with all facilities and documents that they intend to rely upon before the next adjourned date.
The arrest and prosecution of Carter had attracted widespread condemnation from activist and civil society groups including the Committee to Protect Journalist, the International Press Centre, Amnesty International, Socio Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Peoples Alternative Fronts and the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria.