By Taiye Agbaje
Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Wednesday, ordered the Federal Government to pay a N200, 000 fine to Omoyele Sowore, Convener, #RevolutionNow, and his co-defendant, Olawale Bakare.
Justice Ojukwu, who gave the order after Aminu Alilu, counsel to the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), sought for an adjournment to enable him serve the defendants the amended charges.
Justice Alilu held that the action was an attempt to delay the case.
She described the application for an adjournment as “frivolous.”
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Sowore, alongside Bakare, was initially standing trial on seven counts of treasonable felony, fraud, cyber-stalking, among others.
He was arrested by the Department of State Services (DSS) on Aug. 3, 2019, ahead of a nationwide protest.
They were, however, released, on Dec. 24, 2019.
At the resumed trial, 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 apology. You better drop your apology and do the right.”
In his argument, Counsel to the defendants, Adeyinka-Olumide Fusika, disagreed with Alilu on his application.
Fusika, who told the court that the AGF was not prepare 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 taking over the case.
“I am not sure my learned friend is not the same A.K. ALILU that signed the first charge served on us.
“They filed this and they are now coming to court to say they are have just 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 was 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 be 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 Alilu.
According to Fusika, I will bring my clients any time they are ready with the charges.
“I will undertake for them. The prosecution are 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 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 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 Feb. 13 for continuation.
NAN reports that the two-count charge by the AGF include: Conspiracy to commit treasonable felony, contrary to Section 516 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap. C38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, and 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.
NAN also reports that the court witnessed the attendance of Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka; former Chairman, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Odinkalu and Senator Shehu Sani, among others.