Two prosecution witnesses in the on-going trial of 28-year-old Yewande Oyediran (nee Fatoki), a lawyer with the Oyo State Ministry of Justice who was alleged of unlawfully causing the death of Lowo Oyediran, her 38-year-old husband, have demanded for the sum of N500,000 before they will appear to give testimony in the matter.
Trial was scheduled to continue in the case before Justice Munta Abimbola of the Oyo State High Court 1, High Court Complex, Ring Road on Wednesday, but the matter stalled when the two witnesses, Chief John Adelodun Akinpelu and his wife, Esther, failed to appear to testify.
The Private Prosecutor, S.S. Akinyele, had informed the court that he needed the court’s direction in a development that he described as novel to him in all his years at the bar.
Akinyele informed the court that the witnesses, who were eye-witnesses to the events that led to Lowo Oyediran’s death, were the landlords of the couple, adding that they wrote him that they would not come to court until they were paid for their services.
“My Lord, the witnesses I am supposed to call today are not in court and I want to call them first before any other witnesses as they are eye witnesses to events that led to this matter. I will be asking for the court’s direction in this matter as there is a development that is novel to me.
“The witnesses wrote a letter to me through their counsel, Michael F. Lana, the letter is dated 22nd October, 2016. In the letter, the witnesses are demanding for the sum of N500,000 to cover what they called their past and future expenses.
“I replied the letter and told them that in view of Section 198 of the Criminal Procedure Law, the letter should be directed to the Chief Registrar of Oyo State as only the Chief Registrar and the Attorney General can determine cost. They are not in court and I want to call them before others so I need the court’s advice on this,” Akinyele stated.
Justice Abimbola in his reply agreed that the situation was indeed novel to law as witnesses do not give alternatives. “In criminal matters, witnesses do not attend court at leisure; they are bound to appear before the court to give their testimony.
“The court will issue a witness summons on the witness and the summons is compelling; failure to comply will lead to committal proceeding or contempt. That is what the law says. So, what does the prosecution want?” Justice Abimbola asked.
S.S Akinyele consequently applied for a witness summons to be issued on the two witnesses and asked that considering the nature of the case, the court should determine cost of travelling expenses in line with the provision of the law.
The court asked where the witnesses were coming from and the cost was told that they will be coming to Ring Road from Akobo with a cost of not more than N1,000.
When asked for his opinion on cost, the Private Prosecutor stated that considering the nature of the matter, he will suggest a cost of N5,000 each for the past and future expense of the witnesses, adding that it should be paid with a certified bank draft.
Justice Abimbola in his ruling expressed sadness at the development, adding that the fact of the matter made it a solemn one that should be taken seriously and shouldn’t be turned into a circus.
“This is my direction. It is very, very disheartening that in a case of this nature, such demand is being made. A witness can be summoned by witness summons which is compelling and a disregard of such summons attract a contempt of court penalty and committal proceeding.
“But considering the provisions of Section 186 (2) of the Procedure Law of Oyo State which talks of settling the transport expenses of witnesses, consideration is given to the demands.
“N5,000 is assessed as sufficient travelling expense of the witnesses from Akobo to Ring Road. I hereby order that witness summons be issued on the two witnesses and I also order that the Chief Registrar attach a N5,000 certified cheque to each of the summons,” Justice Abimbola ruled.
Consequently, Akinyele craved the indulgence of the court for a short adjournment to enable him serve the witnesses with court summons and the cheque as approved by the court.
The court granted his request and adjourned the matter since the defence led by Bioye Asanike and other lawyers watching brief; Abayomi Aliyu for the deceased’s family and Femi Aborishade for Women Arise Initiative had no objection.
“For reasons of absence of the witnesses, the case is hereby adjourned till December 5, 2016 for continuation of trial. Witness summons is to be served on the witnesses before this date,” Justice Abimbola ruled.