Security concerns forced High Court
20 in Rivers State to abandon hearing on the bail application brought by
counsels to the accused persons in the death of Soboma George, an ex-militant
leader, who was killed on August 24, 2010, in Borikiri area, in the State
Security agents had to barricade the
entrance to the court premises and other strategic points to avert security
breach during or after the trial. This was against the backdrop of earlier allegation
by prison officials, that some unknown group of persons has been threatening to
bomb any vehicle, bringing the accused persons to court.
It was on the strength of the claim
that the accused were not brought to court on November 1, 2012. And for three consecutive times, that the
prison officials failed to bring the accused persons to court, citing
insecurity as reason. But the trial Judge, Justice Godspower Aguma ordered the
Deputy Comptroller of Prisons, Port Harcourt, to bring the accused persons to
court on November 28, 2012 without fail.
At about 8am, when the reporter
arrived the venue, over 15 patrol vehicles were seen stationed at strategic
locations outside the court premises. Security agents, including Army, State
Security Service (SSS), Police and Prisons officials, armed squad, flooded the
entire court premises.
It was hectic gaining entrance, as
lawyers, judiciary staffers, journalists and visitors were thoroughly searched
and questioned on their mission to the court premises.
However, the three accused persons,
Doubra Ogbe, Emmanuel Gladstone and Pere Matthew, were brought inside courtroom
at about 9.35am, while sitting began at 9.55 a.m.
As hearing resumed, the Prosecuting
counsel, Ipalibo Karibi-Botoye, moved a motion for the amendment of the charges
before the court. He informed the court that one of his witnesses in the
matter, Faye Jack, had been shot dead about two months ago.
The counsels to the accused persons
countered the motion on grounds that it was filed in bad fate.
The trial judge, Justice Godspower
Aguma, after listening to the arguments of the prosecution and defence, adjourned
the matter till February 5, 2013, for ruling.
He expressed delight that the day’s
proceedings were not dotted with complaints of threats to the life of the
counsels in the matter. He advised parties in the case to maintain the status
quo to enable the court achieve justice in the matter.
After the judge’s pronouncement, however,
one of the accused persons, Pere Matthew, raised alarm that his life was under
threat at Owerri prisons, where he was, alleging that there had been an attempt
to poison him.
Pere also alleged that the prison
warders were maltreating him and not allowing his visitors to see him.
The judge in swift reaction,
reminded the prisons official of the accused persons’ presumed innocence till
Outside the court session, counsel
to the second accused person, Mrs. Adeola Olowu, told journalists that there
was no evidence that the deceased was dead, adding that, the matter was being
prosecuted on mere “hear-say”.
She confirmed Pere’s claim that no
visitor was allowed to see them. “How do
we achieve justice in the matter when the counsels are not allowed to see their
client. Soboma is not dead; there is no evidence before the court that he is
dead. They are prosecuting based on hear-say and the court operates with evidence
and facts not hear-say”.
Meanwhile, some lawyers have
expressed displeasure with the security situation at the court each time the
matter came up for hearing.
They advised the authorities
concerned to move the venue of the trial to a military base to allow for the safety
of persons using the courts.
One of them, Chizi Michaels Atata, senatorial
candidate of the Action Alliance in the state, said: “They should move the
trial to Bori camp where the hoodlums cannot penetrate and save the court the
Also, Sunday Wonmor another legal practitioner
based in the state, said: “They are embarrassing the court by harassing everybody.
We are not safe here with this kind of show. The authorities should look for
alternative sitting venue to save the life of those using the court”.
The penultimate sitting was aborted
due to security concerns occasioned by threats to the life Prisons authority
and parents of the accused persons.