Posted by News Express | 2 June 2017 | 1,226 times
A Lagos High Court sitting in the Igbosere area of Lagos Island has issued a bench warrant for the arrest of a suspect over the March 8, 2016, Lekki building collapse in which five persons were killed.
Justice Sybil Nwaka ordered the arrest of Shola Olumofe, who is the second of 10 suspects indicted for the incident, after dismissing his motion on notice challenging the court’s jurisdiction, among others, to try him.
The others are Richard Nyong, Henry Odofin, Molabake Mortune, Omotilewa Joseph, Marius Agwu, Lekki Gardens Estate Ltd, Get Too Rich Investment Ltd, HC Insight Solutions Ltd and Artech Insignia Ltd.
The judge also adjourned till June 14 for the suspects’ arraignment.
They, excluding Olumofe, were brought to court on May 24 but could not be arraigned because Olumofe challenged the court’s jurisdiction to try him.
Olumofe, through his counsel Chief Richard Ahonaruogho, challenged his inclusion among those to face six charges of failure to obtain building approval and involuntary manslaughter.
He raised five issues, including that there was a pending notice of preliminary objection challenging the court’s jurisdiction to try him and that his presence was not crucial to the determination of the motion, particularly because he was already represented by counsel.
But Justice Nwaka resolved all the issues in favour of prosecution counsel, Lagos State Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General, Adeniji Kazeem, who argued that Olumofe’s presence to stand trial was indispensable.
The judge held, “The dispensation of the defendant’s presence to stand trial or trial in absentia is a negation of fair hearing.
“The second defendant is jointly charged with nine others. Counsel has not provided cogent and compelling reasons why the defendant/applicant’s presence must be dispensed with.
“I see this style, this attitude, of the second defendant, as a ploy to ambush the court and put a clog in the wheel of justice. It must be condemned in its entirety.
“An accused person must be present in court when his matter is being tried. However, he has a right to remain silent
“The application is hereby dismissed. A bench warrant is hereby ordered against the second defendant and the surety is to show cause.”
There was mild drama when Chief Gboyega Okenla, counsel to Odofin and HC Insight Solutions Ltd, asked that the state government ought to prosecute itself and the Lagos State Building Agency alongside the defendants.
He said, “I think maybe at this stage, it is pertinent that we should join all the necessary parties in this suit.
“The Lagos State Building Agency and the Lagos State Government should also be arraigned. Does the state, which is vicariously liable, have a moral right to institute this action? ”
But, Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) E. K. Shitta-Bey, objected.
She said, “It is well settled that constitutionally, it is the Attorney-General’s discretion to determine who should be charged with an offence. It is not in the place of counsel to speak against people who are not here to speak for themselves.”
She said the prosecution would present an opening statement before trial begins to answer Okenla’s question, among other issues.
Nyong’s counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) urged counsel to “keep our gunpowder dry.”
He added, “There is no room for the opening statement as suggested by the prosecution in our criminal justice system. We will be opposing it.”
The court directed the prosecution to serve Olumofe and any other defendant yet to receive the charge.
She adjourned till June 14 for arraignment. (Channels TV)
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