An Enugu East Magistrate Court presided over by Magistrate A. N. Chioke has remanded in prison custody 140 members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) over alleged treason.
The defendants, who were brought to the court in four buses, are accused of conspiracy to commit treasonable felony punishable under Section 516 (A) of the Criminal Code CAP C38, 2004 as applicable in Enugu state.
When the charge was read to the accused persons, they pleaded not guilty, prompting a defence counsel, Osita Abalu to apply for their bail on the grounds that there was no evidence to back up the charge against them.
Abalu said that the prosecution has failed to provide probable cause why the defendants should be remanded in court in line with Section 234 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Enugu state, 2017 and therefore, urged the court to exercise its powers under Section 225 to grant bail to the defendants.
The defence counsel said that though the offence for which the defendants were charged was punishable with life imprisonment, Section 88 of the law empowers the court to grant bail to the defendants.
Based on his submissions, he prayed the court to also release the four buses that was conveying the defendants. Similarly, counsel to the remaining 107 defendants, F.C. O
keke told the court that it was ridiculous for the prosecution to claim that the IPOB members attempted to over-throw the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Okeke said that the defendants were arrested on their way to a burial and wondered how that could translate to over-throwing the government, adding that “President Buhari is in Abuja, Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is in Enugu while the defendants were arrested in Nsukka.”
He described the charge as trumped-up, meant to deny the defendants their fundamental rights, asserting that the prosecution deliberately brought the matter to the magistrate court just to punish them.
“An accused person cannot be brought to a court when such court has no jurisdiction to entertain the matter just to punish them. That is the essence of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Enugu state.
“The law does not want an innocent soul to suffer. The defendants were arrested with no evidence; not even a razor blade.
They were going to a burial,” he said and urged the court to grant them bail in the most lenient means.
However, prosecution counsel, Paschal Nwachukwu asked the court to discountenance the bail application, saying that the law empowers prosecutors to bring defendants to a magistrate for remand.
He said that a court could not grant bail in a matter it had no jurisdiction. In her ruling, Magistrate Chioke declined jurisdiction in the case and remanded the defendants in Enugu Prisons while advising the legal team to the defendants to make their bail application before an appropriate court.
The magistrate ordered the release of the four vehicles to their owners on bond and on the provision of proof of ownership and the particulars of the impounded vehicles.
“The charge the defendants are remanded for is treasonable, but the prosecution did not list any exhibit of weapon of warfare against them.
The only document against them before the court is the charge sheet. This looks to me like a trumped up charge,” Chioke said.