The Federal Government has hired an Abuja-based member of the inner bar, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, as private lawyer to prosecute the Group News Editor, Mr. Tony Amokeodo and Political Correspondent, Mr. Chibuzor Ukaibe, of Leadership newspapers, over allegation of forging a document containing a presidential directive.
The journalists are also accused of fraudulent publication of a bromide of the controversial document, inciting members of the public against the government to dislocate the nation’s peace and forgery of the seal, signet or sign manual purported to be the signature of President Jonathan Goodluck.
But, the government which concealed a number of crucial documents containing details of the forgery allegation against the journalists, however, failed yesterday to arraign them as they insisted on full disclosure of the entire case against them before they would know the type of plea to enter.
Besides, the journalists, who were represented in court by a team of seven lawyers led by Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, also opposed the bid by the government to arraign them on the account that they needed sufficient time to study the charge against them since the new counsel, Chief Awomolo, SAN, had further amended the charge and served them few minutes before the court sat.
Hidden from the journalists yesterday were statements of star prosecution witnesses lined up by government to testify in the matter, the report of the handwriting analysts upon which the charge is anchored and three crucial annexures which the Federal Government refused to disclose.
But, Falana, SAN, yesterday argued that the federal high court procedure rules and section 36 (6) (b) of the 1999 Constitution command that every person charged with a criminal offence shall be entitled to adequate time and facilities, including full proof of evidence for the preparation of the defence.
He said they would need to study the amended charge containing six counts instead of the earlier charge which contained 10 counts and all the facilities including the full proof of evidence in the matter.
“My lord, the constitution did not say that the accused shall not be entitled to full proof of evidence. It is also not available to the prosecution to release the proof of evidence instalmentally,” he said yesterday. But Chief Awomolo told the court that the government had complied with the law by providing everything necessary for the arraignment to take place.
Although, he agreed that they were entitled to sufficient time to prepare their defence, having just been served the amended charge yesterday, he nonetheless argued that they were not entitled to the said crucial documents they sought for the arraignment to take place.
Awomolo, who claimed yesterday that the summary of the statements of prosecution witnesses made available to the two journalists were sufficient to make the arraignment possible, however, said that if the journalists were still insisting on full disclosure, he said he would want them to address the court on the narrow legal issue.
The trial judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, adjourned further hearing in the case till April 30, even as he gave the Federal Government 24 hours to file its argument on the issue of full disclosure of proof of evidence before arraignment while the journalists are to respond within three days.
The judge said that he would rule on the application at the next adjourned date after they must have adopted their arguments, saying that the journalists would be arraigned immediately after the ruling.