Alleged arson: Trial of 5 suspects suffers setback

The trial of five suspects arrested in connection with the burning of the Rivers House of Assembly on Dec. 29, 2023 was, on Thursday, stalled at a Federal High Court, Abuja.

The matter, which was fixed by Justice Bolaji Olajuwon for trial commencement, could not proceed following an oral application for an adjournment by Adeolu Salako, counsel for 4th and 5th defendants.

When  the matter was called, the police lawyer, Simon Lough, SAN, said the matter was fixed for commencement of trial and that their witnesses were in the courtroom.

But counsel who appeared for 1st and 2nd defendants, Lukman Fagbemi, SAN, objected to Lough’s submission that the matter was for the trial to proceed.

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According to him, we made contradiction by the obligation of the law to challenge the jurisdiction of this court to entertain the matter.

He insisted that the court did not have the jurisdiction to hear the case.

Justice Olajuwon asked him if he had filed applications to the effect but Fagbemi said he would move the motion orally.

Lough disagreed with him.

He argued that until Fagbemi filed his application on behalf of his clients and the court heard it, the trial cannot be stopped, citing provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) to back his argument

But Fagbemi argued that moving a motion  to challenge a court’s jurisdiction was in line with a Supreme Court decision.

According to him, issues of jurisdiction can be raised orally.

“But this is a court of record,” the judge responded.

Mohammed Ibrahim, SAN, who represented the 3rd defendant, aligned himself with Fagbemi’s submission.

But Salako informed the court that they were just being briefed about the matter and would need more time to study the processes.

“I don’t think we can do anything on our part because it was only yesterday we were served and we have not even gone through it (the documents).

Justice Olajuwon adjourned the matter until March 12 for trial.

The judge had, in the last adjourned date, dismissed Fagbemi’s earlier application challenging the jurisdiction of the court on the ground that it was only the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) that had the constitutional mandate to prosecute terrorism cases.

She also struck out an application filed by Edison Ehie, the Chief of Staff (CoS) to Gov. Siminalayi Fubara of Rivers, seeking an order to strike out the charge against him and others for want of jurisdiction.

NAN reports that the five defendants were, on Jan. 25, arraigned on seven-count bordering on terrorism charges.

They were alleged to have invaded, vandalised and burnt down Rivers assembly on Dec. 29, 2023 in the charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/25/2024 preferred against them by the I-G

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