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Leadership Newspapers

 

Tobi Soniyi

 

 

As journalists all over the world celebrate Press Freedom Day, the federal government Thursday dropped the charges against the Group News Editor of Leadership Newspapers, Tony Amokeodo and a political reporter in the stable, Chibuzor Ukaibe.

Amokeodo, Ukaibe and their employer, Leadership Group Ltd, which was represented by a group executive director of the company, Dr. Mike Okpere, were arraigned on Monday before a Federal High Court on a six-count charge of felony and conspiracy against the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

They were accused of conspiracy to commit felony for allegedly forging a document titled “Presidential Directive” with the seal of the office of the president and published same in the April 3 edition of the newspaper.

But the accused persons, who are being represented in the case by Lagos-based human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), pleaded not guilty to the charge and the court, presided over by Justice Adeniyi Ademola, granted them bail in the sum of N500,000 each, with one surety each, who must have landed property within the jurisdiction of the trial court and must swear to affidavit of means. The trial judge also adjourned the case until May 16  for further hearing.

They, however, got a reprieve Thursday as the federal government withdrew the charge preferred against them.

Sources said that the federal government was prevailed upon to soft-pedal on the journalists as a mark of celebration of the World Press Freedom Day today.
The withdrawal of the charge came just as Falana filed a notice of preliminary objection challenging the competence of the charge and the jurisdiction of the court to hear and determine the complaint.

The notice of withdrawal/discontinuance of the charges dated April 30, and filed yesterday, a copy of which THISDAY obtained, reads: “Take notice that the complainant, the Hon. Attorney General of the Federation intends that the criminal proceedings consisting six-count charge against the accused persons, Tony Amokeodo, Chibuzor Ukaibe, Leadership Group Ltd, be discontinued and the six-count charge against them are hereby withdrawn.”

Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), a private prosecutor, signed the withdrawal notice on behalf of the AGF and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN).
In the notice of preliminary objection filed by Falana, he said the court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain and determine the complaint against the journalists as presently constituted and consequently sought an order of the court dismissing it.
He based the application on the grounds that the charges against the accused persons related only to forgery and not to any loss of revenue by the federal government and therefore could not be tried at the Federal High Court.

He said: “In the instant case, the charge brought against the accused persons discloses no loss of revenue by the federal government to cloth the Federal High Court with the jurisdiction to entertain same.

“The instant complaint is limited only to forgery, for the Federal High Court to have jurisdiction over same, it must also involve or relate to loss of revenue by the government.”

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