Lawyer in five months pre-trial detention begs NBA to secure his freedom
Enugu-based lawyer, Vincent Nwachukwu Okonkwo, has called on the national leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to urgently intervene in his unlawful detention at the Nsukka Correctional Centre, Enugu, since September 23, 2020, without trial or bail.
The lawyer, writing through his counsel, E.B Ochuma of Stratagem LP, said all efforts by several colleagues to obtain bail for him have been persistently frustrated by the “powers that be in the state”.
Ochuma wrote: “The said Mr. Okonkwo SCN: 0547744, who was a member of the Abuja branch and now of the Enugu branch of the NBA was wrongly accused, arrested and charged before a magistrate with the offence of promoting local war, conspiracy, obtaining by false pretence and performing government functions without being given the right of fair hearing and or granted bail from September 23, 2020, till date. The said magistrate declined jurisdiction in the matter on September 23, 2020, and remanded him in prison custody from then till date.
“Subsequently, the State filed a fresh charge before Justice Eya of the Nsukka High Court in case No. N/22c/2020 State V. Vincent N. Okonkwo & 1 other. Justice Eya with all due respect to him has evaded sitting on the matter to date. The matter is presently adjourned to February 24, 2021, while our colleague continues to languish in unlawful detention.”
According to the counsel to the detainee, the story of his persecution started in Igga, a community in Enugu State, where a number of actors have tried to establish an iron-fisted rule.
These actors, he said, include a man who claims to be the Igwe of the community despite not being recognized by the people or by the constitution of the community as such, who has allegedly rained terror on the people of Igga for several years.
Okonkwo, he said, was arrested on September 10, 2020, following connivance between those actors and major players within the Enugu State government.
“He was arrested on false and convoluted assertions of obtaining under false pretenses. The fact of the matter is a lot more straightforward. Okonkwo, an intellectual and a lawyer-cum-pharmacist by training, had been very involved in efforts to develop Igga community over the years, and particularly in the period immediately preceding his arrest.
On several occasions, and through various projects, he, and other elites within the community, in conjunction with the members of the community, has worked to see the betterment of the community.
“These projects however have been continuously hindered by the same actors who have now connived with state authorities to unlawfully detain him, a testament to an existing animosity on their part not only targeted at him, but targeted at the entire community and its elites.
“He was arrested and detained after he and other elites of the community resisted the plans of the “Igwe” to unlawfully sell large portions of communal lands for personal gain. Under the law, under customs and under the constitution of Igga Community, community land is owned communally. It is the same as is obtainable in most parts of Enugu State. The said Igwe however, who had hitherto shown no interest in law or legality, or to customs of Igga Community had been on a spree of illegally selling land belonging to the community.
“On this occasion, however, Okonkwo and the entire community opposed him and successfully transferred said land in the name of the community. The persecution of Okonkwo, which followed, is an attempt by the Igwe to show power, oppress the people of Igga and break the will of those who oppose his illegal enterprises in the community. This time, he and his cohorts have gone about it by employing and abusing the justice machinery,” the lawyer stated.
According to him, Okonkwo was detained for weeks, refused bail and deprived of other basic human rights. “The claim of obtaining under false pretense was dropped when the matter first came before the magistrate court in Enugu state, as a charge of “prompting local war” was instead preferred against him. The magistrate court declined jurisdiction to hear this charge as it falls within the criminal jurisdiction of the high court and instead remanded Okonkwo despite having the discretion to release him on bail.
“Since then, the matter has been brought before the High Court, where a private lawyer sponsored by the aforementioned Igwe and his supporters/benefactors has done his best to ensure the matter does not enjoy proper prosecution, having suspiciously acquired a fiat from the Attorney General of the State (supposedly) despite the clumsy and baseless nature of the offence Okonkwo has been charged with,” Ochuma said.
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