Saturday, 20 April 2013

Treason: Uwazuruike, 6 others must face trial –Supreme Court

Attempts by the leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Chief Ralph Uwazurike, and six other members of the organisation to prevent their being tried for treason were quashed yesterday when the Apex Court by a unanimous judgment okayed their trial.

The order followed the dismissal of an appeal filed by all the accused persons in the case to quash the charge and terminate their trial. Lagos lawyer and Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN) teamed up at one point to prosecute the appeal.

The apex court which dismissed their appeal yesterday for want of merit also returned their case file to the Abuja Federal high court and ordered that their trial should be commenced promptly and conducted with dispatch.

Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, who read the lead judgment, observed that the appeal, filed by Festus Keyamo (for the MASSOP members) amounted to an “unnecessary and clearly a waste of precious judicial time since all the information imaginable that the appellants would need for their appeal had been made available to them before they appealed to the Court of Appeal.”

Other appellants in the case who are now to face trial include Ambrose Anyaso, Augustine Ihuoma, Chibuike Nwosu, Kelechi Ubabuike, Chimankpa Okorocha and Benedict Alakwem.

Saturday Mirror reports that seven principal members of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOP) including their leader, Ralph Uwazurike, were arraigned before a Federal High Court in Abuja on 8 November, 2005 on a four-count charge of conspiracy, treason, belonging to a militant group – MASSOB Army, and belonging to an unlawful society -MASSOB. They, however, pleaded not guilty and applied that they be granted bail.

They also asked the court to stop the state from prosecuting them on account of an order ex-parte made in their favour for a stay of further actions granted by a Federal High Court in Owerri pending fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by the MASSOB leaders.

They faulted the charge and prayed the trial court to dismiss it. In a ruling on January 27, 2006, the trial court refused all their prayers and dismissed their application. Aggrieved by the decision, they came on appeal before the Abuja division of the Court of Appeal asking that the trial high court verdict be set aside.

The intermediate appellate court gave its judgment on May 15, 2008 granting only their prayer for bail.

Dissatisfied, Uwazuruike and six others headed for the apex court,complaining among others, that the counts against them were improper because there was no proof of evidence accompanying the charge.
The Supreme Court, after examining the records and their arguments, entered judgment against them yesterday. Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour prepared the leading judgment of the court which was read yesterday.

In stressing the frivolity of the appeal, Justice Rhodes-Vivour held that the accused persons were provided with more information in relation to the charge, more than what they were entitled to under Section 33(1) and (2) of the Federal High Court Act.

“Though the appellants are not entitled to know the nature of evidence against them, the learned trial judge ordered the nature of evidence (information) served on the appellants, and this was done before their appeal in the Court of Appeal.

“The argument that the charge should be dismissed because it was not accompanied by proof of evidence is a mere technicality designed to defeat the course of justice. In the light of the fact that the proof of evidence has been filed and is available to the appellants, trial should proceed with dispatch.

“The result is that the two issues urged in this appeal, on behalf of the appellants, fail and the appeal must fail as there is no merit.

This appeal is dismissed,” Justice Rhodes-Vivour held. The other members of the panel – Justices Mahmud Mohammed, John Afolabi Fabiyi, Mary Ukaego Peter-Odili and Kumai Bayang Akaahs agreed with him. The police may soon go after all the accused persons to enable the state proceed against them.

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