JUSTICE Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday dismissed the no-case-submission filed by the detained leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Charles Okah and his co-defendant, Obi Nwabueze, who are standing trial for their involvement in the Independence Day bombing at the Eagle Square Abuja in 2010.
In his ruling on the no-case application by the duo, Justice Kolawole, handling the matter ordered them to open their defence in the terrorism charges filed against them by the Federal Government.
Okah, Nwabueze, Edmund Ebiware and Tiemkemfa Francis-Osvwo (aka General Gbokos) were first arraigned before the court on December 7, 2010 over their alleged involvement in the October 1, 2010 blast which left about 12 people dead and several others injured.
Francis-Osvwo died later in prison custody, while Ebiware, who had his trial conducted separately, is serving life sentence upon his conviction in 2013, leaving Okah and Nwabueze on awaiting trial.
Justice Kolawole held in his ruling that the prosecution counsel, Dr Alex Izinyon (SAN) had established a prima facie case linking Okah and Nwabueze with the alleged offence.
In dismissing the submissions, in support of the no-case application, Okah’s counsel, Emeka Okoroafor and Oghenovo Otemu, who is representing Nwabueze, the trial Judge held that, “The prosecution has made out prima facie case through testimonies of witnesses which linked the defendants with the charges, which requires them to offer explanation.
“At this stage of proceeding, court is not required to add probative value to the exhibits or form opinion on evidence adduced by witnesses but only required to consider whether the prosecution has made out prima facie case linking the defendants with the charge.
“It is my view, that the testimonies of the second, fourth, sixth, 11th, 15th and other prosecution witnesses have adduced prima facie case to warrant the first and second defendants to enter defence,” the judge held.
Consequently, Kolawole said the respective no-case submissions made by the defendants are not well founded and that they are to prove their innocence in the charges preferred against them by the Federal Government.
The court fixed July 5 and 6, 2017 for the defendants to open their defence.
It will be recalled that Okah and his co-defendants were charged on December 6, 2010 on an amended 8 counts charge bothering on terrorism.
After several interlocutory applications, on April 23, 2015, trial began with the prosecution counsel calling 17 witnesses.
In urging court to uphold their no case submissions, the defendants cited overwhelming contradictions in evidence of the prosecution witnesses, insisting that there was no credible evidence to prove the allegations against them.
They argued that the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses were badly discredited that no court can rely on them to adjudicate on an issue adding further that, by virtue of provisions of Section 35(1) of the Evidence Act, the burden of proof lies on the prosecution to discharge.
They had posited through their counsel that the presumption of innocence is sacrosanct until the prosecution places substantial evidence to link them up with the alleged offences.
The prosecution, in its address, prayed the court to dismiss the no case submission on the ground that, “That the main issue at this stage is to determine whether the prosecution has made out prima facie case to require defendants to offer some explanation in relation to the charges preferred against them by the Federal Government.
According to the counsel to the prosecution, counts 1 to 8 relate to Section 15(1)(2) of EFCC Act, which borders on receiving of funds and using same to finance act of terrorism.
“On September 13, 2010, evidence of Zenith Bank Plc staff showing the withdrawal of N2 million by Okah for Nwabueze; the testimony of PW2, who did the construction of the compartment on the Mazda car parked in Okah’s residence; evidence of Pw15, the person who Okah sent a consignment from Lagos to Port Harcourt through ABC Transport, etc, all linked the defendants to the alleged offence.
“The provisions of Section 35(1) of Evidence Act is grossly inapplicable at this stage. Burden of proof required at this stage is to show prima facie case. The fact that exhibits were recovered after 23 days of the bomb blast cannot be said that they have nothing to do with the bomb blast, Izinyon told the court.
According to him, “Nwabueze was the chief coordinator of Warri blast on March 15, 2010 and October 1st blast in Abuja as shown in his extra judicial statement.
“A person in possession of timers knows exactly what it is used for; that it is used for making explosives, therefore, they have some explanations to make in view of these testimonies and exhibits, which they can only make when they open up their defence,” Izinyon stated.