The 183 persons from Osun State arrested last Thursday by Imo State Police Command for alleged unlawful assembly and other electoral offences, were again arraigned, yesterday, before an Owerri Magistrate’s Court.
The first drama that unfolded was the appearance of two lawyers – one each from the office of the State Director of Public Prosecution, DPP, Mr. Nnamdi Akobundu and the Deputy Director, Legal Services, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Mr. Emmanuel Ogbodu.
Opposing the appearance of the State DPP in the matter, Ogbodu hinged his stand on Section 211 (3) of the Constitution and Section 150 of the Electoral Act.
“Section 150 of the Electoral Act specifically empowered INEC to prosecute all electoral offences. The offences contained in the charge are federal offences. The State DPP does not therefore, have any business to prosecute the matter for INEC,” Ogbodu said.
Continuing, the INEC lawyer told the court: “In view of the enormity of the offences, we would not like the DPP to be part of the prosecution.”
However, the accused were granted bail in the sum of N50,000 each and two sureties in like sum..
Responding, the DPP told the court that the first three charges were drawn from the state laws, while the last two were electoral offences.
“If we go by the democratic principles which INEC represents, we are in the majority, especially as we have three in our favour and two for INEC,” Akobundu said.
In his own submission, counsel to the accused persons, Chief Uche Onyeagucha, pleaded with the court to settle the issue of the prosecution so that the matter could go on unhindered.
After this initial legal battle, counsel on all sides agreed that the legal team from INEC and the DPP will sort themselves out before the next adjourned date.
Another development was the withdrawal of the initial three count charges in suit OW/503c/2013 slammed on the 183 accused persons which were replaced with a five count charge, OW/520c/2013.
Although the defence did not oppose the fresh charges, they however applied for bail, especially as they were bailable offences.
Chief Onyagucha equally applied that all the buses impounded and the telephone handsets seized from the accused persons be returned to their owners.
Ogbodu vehemently opposed the application, adding that the matter before the court was serious and should not be treated with kid gloves.
“The nature of the case is very serious. There is also the issue of the number of the accused persons. It will be difficult, if no impossible together allow them back if granted bail”, Ogbodu said.
He however submitted that if the court was favourably disposed to grant them bail, it must be on very stringent condition.
Ruling on the application, the presiding Magistrate, Mrs. Maureen Onyewuotu, said she was mindful of the congestion in Owerri Federal Prisons.
Onyewuotu ordered that whosoever would sign the bail bond must be resident within the Court’s jurisdiction, produce evidence of payment of tax for three years, produce two of his passports, national identity card, drivers licence, evidence of payment of utility bills. [Vanguard]