Justice Hakeem Oshodi of the Lagos State High Court in Ikeja has thrown out the application of billionaire kidnapper Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, praying the court to quash the two counts charges preferred against him by the Lagos State Government.
The state charged Mr. Onwuamadike also known as Evans and five others to court on August 30, 2017, for kidnapping, conspiracy, and related offenses to which Evans earlier pleaded guilty but on October 19 he changed his guilty plea to not guilty for the second offense.
At the commencement of trial on Friday, November 3, counsel for the Department of Public Prosecutions, Ms. Titi Shitta-Bay, informed the court that although the matter was slated for trial but defense lawyers have filed series of applications which she termed confusing and conflicting.
Ms. Shitta-Bay said that the counsel to the kidnappers’ kingpin, Mr. Ogungbeje Olukoya, had served her with two contradicting applications. One, she said, an application praying for the court to quash the charges and in the same breath he is seeking bail and accelerated hearing of the case in another application.
"The matter was adjourned for prosecution to open trial. Our witness is in court. However, we have been served with series of confusing and conflicting applications on behalf of the 1st and 2nd defendants."
"On behalf of the 1st defendant, we were served with an application asking the court to quash information before the court. We have responded by filing a counter affidavit. In another application, they are asking the 1st and 2nd defendants to be admitted on bail and acceleration of the trial."
"It is in my humble observations the application is conflicting one another. One is asking to quash, the other is asking for acceleration. The application is frivolous and an abuse of court and an attempt to delay court processes," Ms. Shitta-Bay said.
Defending his applications, Mr. Ogungbeje said the application asking for an order to quash the charges has been responded to and due for hearing but the application asking for accelerated hearing was not due for hearing.
While explaining himself, the judge, Justice Hakeem Oshodi, who seemed amazed, intercepted asking if he indeed filed the two applications.
"Mr. Ogungbeje, you mean you filed an application to quash and also an acceleration of trial without waiting for my ruling? Use processes accordingly" he scolded.
Mr. Ogungbeje insisted that he was right to have filed the applications and went ahead to argue the application seeking the court to quash charges against Evans upon the leave of the court
He argued that the charges constitute a gross abuse of court process.
"The prosecution filed similar charges at Igbosere High Court. Nothing stops the prosecution to have put the alleged charges before a single judge,” he said.
"The law is against filing multiplicity of suit against the same person. The Supreme Court also affirmed that instituting different charges before the same party simultaneously is an abuse of court process” he further contended.
He also argued that there is no prima facie case against his client. Mr. Ogungbeje said his client's name was not mentioned in any of the documents compiled in the proof of evidence neither did any of the victims mentioned his client.
"There is no ground for prosecution. How can prosecution want 1st defendant to stand trial in a case that there is no ground for proceeding. The same witnesses listed are the same listed in the court at Igbosere". He employed the judge to look at the proof of evidence to see if his client has a case to answer.
"Finally, on the 19 of October, the prosecution brought application to amend what was before your lordship. The effect of amending what was before the court initially, the prosecution made a fatal error by not attaching another proof of evidence. In the new charge, there is no proof of evidence. The non-availability of proof of evidence before your lordship is fatal to the case of the prosecution, Evans lawyer said.
“It goes without saying that there is no ground for prosecution. The prosecution cannot be brave enough to tell the court that there is proof of evidence of the new charge,” he concluded.
He also made a similar argument for the 2nd defendant, Mr. Victor Nonso Aduba.
The state counsel opposed Mr. Ogungbeje, stating that the authorities cited by the defense lawyer are relevant only in civil suits. She stated that the only law guiding criminal prosecution is the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).
"The prosecution is allowed under section 152 of ACJA to file separate charges for distinct offenses. The defendant committed the offenses at different time. The defendant is facing trial for murder, attempted murder, and kidnapping is just one of the offenses before the defendant at Igbosere,” she said.
She added that the crimes Evans and his accomplices are being tried for at Igbosere court were committed in 2014 while the one he is answering before the Ikeja court was committed in 2017. She also said Evans was arraigned alongside other defendants, not in the ongoing matter.
"It is incorrect to say the witness are the same. The only common witnesses are the police officers who did the investigation. The provisions quoted by my colleague are irrelevant because the prosecution of Criminal cases have long moved on,” the director of DPP.
She also explained that the defense counsel cannot say there is no prima facie case against the defendant. Ms. Shitta-Bay said there are statements from his kidnap victims and his confessional statements. She added that there is an evidence for ransom paid and the person who negotiated the ransom also gave a statement.
Having heard the counsel arguments, the presiding judge dismissed the applications seeking to quash charges against Evans and Mr. Aduba.
“I have heard the argument of both defendants and I must say that with all due respect to the defense counsel, he went out of the law. he misconceived the law and turned the law upside down."
On the need for the prosecution to have attached another proof of evidence to the amended charge, the judge ruled that proof of evidence is a separate document and since it was not amended. It remained relevant before the court.
Justice Oshodi also held that the prosecution has established a prima facie case against the defendants and as such the defendants have the responsibility to prove their innocence. He explained that establishing a prima facie case is not a proof of guilt but that the persons alleged have a case to answer.
The matter was adjourned to November 17 for the continuation of trial.