The Federal High Court, Abuja, yesterday ordered the suspected masterminds of the October 1, 2010 Independence Day bomb blast, Charles Okah and Obi Nwabueze, to open their defence in the terrorism charges filed against them by the Federal Government.
Okah, Nwabueze, Edmund Ebiware and Tiemkemfa Francis-Osvwo, were originally arraigned before the court on December 7, 2010, over their alleged involvement in the blast close to the Eagle Square, Abuja that left several people dead and others injured.
While Francis-Osvwo later died in prison custody, Ebiware, who had his trial conducted separately, is currently serving life sentence upon his conviction in 2013, leaving Okah and Nwabueze still facing trial.
Now that Okah and Nwabueze have been declared to have a case to answer, they will face trial over an act of terrorism. Delivering ruling yesterday on the application for a no-case submission filed by the defendants, Justice Gabriel Kolawole held that the prosecution counsel, Alex Iziyon, had established a prima facie (accepted as correct until proved otherwise) case linking Okah and Nwabueze with the alleged offence.
Dismissing the submissions made by the defence counsel, Emeka Okoroafor and Oghenovo Otemu, the court insisted that “the prosecution has made out a prima facie case through testimonies of witnesses, which linked the defendants with the charges and which required them to offer explanation.”
Justice Kolawole further held that contrary to the submissions made by the defendants, the evidence given by the 17 witnesses called by the prosecution was neither discredited nor fractured to warrant upholding the no-case submission.The judge said: “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 is only required to consider whether the prosecution has made out a prima facie case linking the defendants with the charge.
“It is my view that the testimonies of prosecution witnesses have adduced a prima facie case to warrant the first and second defendants to enter defence. “Consequently, the no-case submissions made by the defendants are not well founded; defendants are required to enter defence to counts affecting them based on the testimonies of the 17 prosecution witnesses.”
The court therefore fixed July 5 and 6 for Okah and Nwabueze to open their defence. The defendants were charged on December 6, 2010, on an amended eight-count charge of terrorism.
After several interlocutory applications, the trial finally began on April 23, 2015 within which period the prosecution counsel called 17 witnesses.Izinyon had prayed the court to dismiss the no-case submission on the ground that “the main issue at this stage is to now determine whether the prosecution has made out a prima facie case to require defendants to offer some explanation in relation to the charges preferred against them by the Federal Government.”
He added that counts one to eight relate to Section 15(1)(2) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Act, which borders on receiving funds and using them to finance an act of terrorism.
“On September 13, 2010, evidence of Zenith Bank staff showing the withdrawal of N2million by Okah for Nwabueze; the testimony of prosecution witness two, who did the construction of the compartment on the Mazda car parked in Okah’s residence; evidence of PW 15, the person whom Okah sent a consignment from Lagos to Port Harcourt through ABC transport, all linked the defendants to the alleged offence.
“The provisions of Section 35(1) of Evidence Act are grossly inapplicable at this stage. Burden of proof required at this stage is to show a 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 said.
He added that “Nwabueze was the chief coordinator of the Warri blast on March 15, 2010, and the October 1 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 their defence,” the prosecution counsel said.
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