FG Withdraws Felony Charges against Journalists

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The Federal Government on May 2, 2013 withdrew a six-count felony charge against two journalists – Mr. Tony Amokeodo and Mr. Chibuzor Ukaibe of Leadership Newspapers. The case was adjourned by the presiding judge because the prosecution had not served the suspects with the necessary papers.

Mr. Tony Amokeodo and Mr. Chibuzor Ukaibe of Leadership Newspaper

The FG had amended the charges against the journalist from its previous ten-count charge to a six-count charge of felony on April 23, 2013.  In the amended six-count charge, the federal government accused the defendants of committing felony and forgery. One of the charges accused the journalists and the newspaper of forging a “document having the presidential seal published on the front page of Leadership Newspaper on April 3, all punishable under Section 516; 467; 467 (1) (b); 468 of the Criminal Code Act Cap ‘C’ 38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004”.

The journalists were detained by the Police on April 15, 2013 and were charged before a Federal High Court in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, with ten-counts of conspiracy and forgery on April 16, 2013.

Mr. Amokeodo and Mr. Ukaibe were re-arrested and detained on April 15, 2013 by the Nigerian Police when they reported at the Police Force headquarters in compliance with part of the conditions of the bail granted them from their earlier arrest.

The bail conditions were over a previous detention of the journalists on April 8, 2013 over a news story in the Leadership newspaper titled “Outrage Trail Presidential Directive on Tinubu, APC”, which was published on April 3, 2013  and a full copy of the presidential directive, published on April 4 and captioned “Bromide of the Presidential Directive”.

The charges against the journalists are as follows:

Count 1: “That you Tony Amokeodo, Chibuzor Ukaibe, Leadership Group Limited and Taiwo Ogunmola Omilani who is now at large, on the 3rd day of April, 2013 at Abuja in the Abuja judicial division did conspire amongst yourselves to commit felony to wit: forging of document titled BROMIDE OF THE PRESIDENTIAL DIRECTIVE and place same on the front of LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPER of 3rd day of April, 2013, knowing it to be false and with the intent that it may in any way be used or acted upon as genuine and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 516 of the criminal code Act Cap ‘C” 38 laws of the federation of Nigeria 2004″.

Count 2: “That you Tony Amokeodo, Chibuzor Ukaibe, Leadership Group Limited and Taiwo Ogunmola Omilani who is now at large, on the 3rd day of April, 2013 at Abuja in the Abuja judicial division did forged a document titled BROMIDE OF THE PRESIDENTIAL DIRECTIVE and place same on the front of LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPER of 3rd day of April, 2013, knowing it to be false and with the intent that it may in any way be used or acted upon as genuine and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 467 of the criminal code Act Cap ‘C” 38 laws of the federation of Nigeria 2004″.

Count 3: “That you Tony Amokeodo, Chibuzor Ukaibe, Leadership Group Limited and Taiwo Ogunmola Omilani who is now at large, on the 3rd day of April, 2013 at Abuja in the Abuja judicial division did conspire amongst yourselves to commit felony to wit: knowingly and fraudulently uttering a false document titled BROMIDE OF THE PRESIDENTIAL DIRECTIVE and place same on the front of LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPER of 3rd day of April, 2013, for the use/consumption of the general public and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 516 of the criminal code Act Cap ‘C” 38 laws of the federation of Nigeria 2004″.

Count 4: “That you Tony Amokeodo, Chibuzor Ukaibe, Leadership Group Limited and Taiwo Ogunmola Omilani who is now at large, on the 3rd day of April, 2013 at Abuja in the Abuja judicial division did knowingly and fraudulently utter a false document titled BROMIDE OF THE PRESIDENTIAL DIRECTIVE and place same on the front of LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPER of 3rd day of April, 2013, for the use/consumption of the general public and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 468 of the criminal code Act Cap ‘C” 38 laws of the federation of Nigeria 2004″.

Count 5: “That you Tony Amokeodo, Chibuzor Ukaibe, Leadership Group Limited and Taiwo Ogunmola Omilani who is now at large, on the 3rd day of April, 2013 at Abuja in the Abuja judicial division did conspire amongst yourselves to commit felony to wit: forging/making a false document and placed same on the front of LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPER of 3rd day of April, 2013, having on it the seal, signet or sign manual which purports that it is from the president of the federal republic of Nigeria and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 516 of the criminal code Act Cap ‘C” 38 laws of the federation of Nigeria 2004″.

Count 6: “That you Tony Amokeodo, Chibuzor Ukaibe, Leadership Group Limited and Taiwo Ogunmola Omilani who is now at large, on the 3rd day of April, 2013 at Abuja in the Abuja judicial division did forge/make a false document and placed same on the front of LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPER of 3rd day of April, 2013, having on it the seal, signet or sign manual which purports that it is from the president of the federal republic of Nigeria and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 467 (1)(b) of the criminal code Act Cap ‘C” 38 laws of the federation of Nigeria 2004″.

Count 7: “That you Tony Amokeodo, Chibuzor Ukaibe, Leadership Group Limited and Taiwo Ogunmola Omilani who is now at large, on the 3rd day of April, 2013 at Abuja in the Abuja judicial division did conspire amongst yourselves to commit felony to wit: making a false document on the front of LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPER of 3rd day of April, 2013, having on it the seal, signet or sign manual which said forged document purports to be the signature of the president of the federal republic of Nigeria as presidential directive and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 516 of the criminal code Act Cap ‘C” 38 laws of the federation of Nigeria 2004″.

Count 8: “That you Tony Amokeodo, Chibuzor Ukaibe, Leadership Group Limited and Taiwo Ogunmola Omilani who is now at large, on the 3rd day of April, 2013 at Abuja in the Abuja judicial division did make a false document on the front of LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPER of 3rd day of April, 2013, having on it the seal, signet or sign manual which said forged document purports to be the signature of the president of the federal republic of Nigeria as presidential directive and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 467(3)(a) of the criminal code Act Cap ‘C” 38 laws of the federation of Nigeria 2004″.

Count 9: “That you Tony Amokeodo, Chibuzor Ukaibe, Leadership Group Limited and Taiwo Ogunmola Omilani who is now at large, on the 3rd day of April, 2013 at Abuja in the Abuja judicial division did conspire amongst yourselves to commit felony to wit: knowingly and fraudulently forge a document titled bromide of the presidential directive on the front of LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPER of 3rd day of April, 2013 and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 516 of the criminal code Act Cap ‘C” 38 laws of the federation of Nigeria 2004″.

Count 10: “That you Tony Amokeodo, Chibuzor Ukaibe, Leadership Group Limited and Taiwo Ogunmola Omilani who is now at large, on the 3rd day of April, 2013 at Abuja in the Abuja judicial division did knowingly and fraudulently forge a document titled bromide of the presidential directive on the front of LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPER of 3rd day of April, 2013 purporting to be the seal of the president of the federal republic of Nigeria as presidential directive and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 468 of the criminal code Act Cap ‘C” 38 laws of the federation of Nigeria 2004″.

When the journalists were arraigned, the trial judge, Justice Ademola Adeniyi, insisted that the charge must be accompanied with the proof of evidence, statements, exhibits and list of witnesses before the journalists can enter their plea.

Justice Adeniyi, thereafter, released Mr. Amokeodo and Mr. Ukaibe to the company’s secretary, Mr. Umar Jibril, and ordered that they be produced in court for arraignment on April 23, 2013.

Prior to taking the journalists to court, Nigerians and Civil Society Groups had condemned the way the federal government reacted to the story by arresting the journalists without prompt trial.

Media Rights Agenda (MRA) had on April 9, 2013 condemned the detention. MRA had called on the Federal Government to put a leash on its rampaging law enforcement agents as it has nothing to gain but everything to lose by projecting to the international community and its citizens an image of a lawless government which muzzles the media.

MRA said it was ironic that a government which is quite weak in virtually every other respect where it needs to be strong and decisive has chosen to show strength in entirely the wrong area – in clamping down on the media.

The Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) also condemned the re-arrest, detention and subsequent arraignment in court on 10 count charge of forgery. FAJ said that “Attacks against journalists and media equipment are illegal under the international humanitarian law, and such attacks from all intents and purposes pose serious threats to the media.”

The grouped urged the Nigerian authorities to respect the professional independence and rights of journalists, media staff and associated personnel, to properly investigate all violations of their rights, and to promote their safety, security and freedom of movement in accordance with the law.