Posted by By Abimbola Akosile and Gboyega Akinsanmi on
A bomb scare which paralysed proceedings at the Ikeja High Court Division of the Lagos State Judiciary yesterday, has been linked to an alleged attempt to frighten prosecution witnesses from further testifying against Chief Emmanuel Nwude
A bomb scare which paralysed proceedings at the Ikeja High Court Division of the Lagos State Judiciary yesterday, has been linked to an alleged attempt to frighten prosecution witnesses from further testifying against Chief Emmanuel Nwude (a.k.a Paul Ogwuma Odinigwe) 1st accused, Mr. Nzeribe Edeh Okoli (3rd accused), Emrus (Nig.) Ltd., Ocean Marketing Co. (Nig.) Ltd. and African Shelter Bureau (Nig.) Ltd. in a $242 million Advance Fee Fraud a.k.a. 419 scam.
In the ensuing melee, reliable sources revealed that a witness, whose identity could not be immediately ascertained, was allegedly kidnapped by unknown persons and driven away from Ikeja Court premises to the Third Mainland Bridge, where he was allegedly dispossessed of all the documents he was supposed to testify with, and thrown out from a moving vehicle. However, neither his cell phone nor his money was taken from him.
Trouble began around 9.50am when trial judge, Justice Olubunmi Oyewole, following a whispered message from his secretary, rose suddenly while Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, lead defence counsel to Nwude, was moving orally a new application urging court to quash the charges against his client. Agbakoba argued that amended charges filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the matter were unconstitutional, and that a federal prosecutor cannot prosecute under State laws.
Thereafter, everyone moved out to listen to a voice blaring from a megaphone held by a policeman in a dark-blue van, marked with the inscription, Police Anti-Bomb Squad which was parked near the main entrance of the High Court.
According to the speaker, "I want to tell everybody here that for security purposes, kindly leave immediately. We want to do some cleaning please". Beside the blue van, with registration number PF805HQ, was a smaller van, which contained sophisticated equipment which the bomb squad was unloading.
The speakerís appeal, however, sparked a stampede among those gathered in the court premises, as magistrates, lawyers, judiciary staff, and others present hurriedly moved and drove their vehicles out of the premises to safer locations, while the 7-man bomb squad, led by Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) Henry Idiodi, moved into the courts and offices with their equipment around 10am, to emerge around 12.10pm. Idiodi along with his team, was unable to locate the alleged bomb after sweeping most of the court premises.
Led by Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG), Zone 2, Mr. Israel Ajao, the police swung into action, while the ever-busy Oba Akinjobi Road, which ran in front of the court, was cordoned off by policemen drafted from nearby commands. The team claimed they got the bomb tip-off from an intelligence report.
Speaking with newsmen on the bomb scare, Chief Registrar of the Ikeja High Court, Mr. Dabiri said, "it is a security measure. We don't know the details yet. Everybody was just moved so a security check can be carried out. We were not told of this before-hand. There is no bomb explosion for now and we are not praying for one. Nobody can go in now since the bomb squad is working in the premises".
The Police Area Commander, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ASP) Habila Joshak, said, "If there is an intelligence report, we must follow up and sweep. I know we need to sweep the place clean and properly. We started evacuating people around 9.30 am using a public address system. The bomb, according to the report, is capable of causing mass destruction, if it explodes".
Idiodi, who emerged from the court after two hours also added, "I cannot talk to you. Somebody sent me on an errand and I have to report back. So far we have seen nothing. Terrorists have diversionary tactics, that is all I know. This place has its own security system in place, so whatever the alarm, that security must remain here". Normalcy returned to the area around 12.40pm, when commercial motorcyclists and motorists were allowed to pass through the earlier cordon to their destinations.
Reacting to the bomb scare incident, Mr. Osita Nwajah, EFCC's spokesman, who confirmed the kidnap of the witness said, "It was a ruse. There was no bomb. It was a scare tactic to scare away the potential witnesses who are supposed to come in and testify in this matter. We have made representations to the Police and Prisons authorities on this matter. This case will be pursued to its logical conclusion. EFCC is not giving in to this tactic, and certainly, the judiciary will not, and also the victims who are expecting justice. The setback will not deter us".
Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr. Olubode Ojajuni, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) said that everything was under control, and urged members of the public to cooperate with the police and move far away from the Ikeja High Court premises until police officers finally give security report.
According to him, every judicial official and other individuals who have one function or the other to perform in the court premises should keep off until security operatives get to the root of the matter. "There is nothing to fear at all. Police will handle the situation, but members of the public should duly follow the instruction we have passed across to avoid any form of confusion and distraction," Ojajuni said.
At last hearing date on July 15, where trial of remaining accused persons were billed to continue on September 13 and 14, Amaka Anajemba (Mrs.) and Fynbaz (Nig.) Limited (2nd and 4th accused persons respectively), pleaded guilty to a fresh four-count charge (counts 88 - 91) contained in an amended information filed against her by the EFCC. She was thereafter sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment, with sentence to commence from January 30, 2004, when she was first remanded in prison custody.
In addition to her prison sentence (where she is expected to be freed on September 9 this year), Justice Oyewole also ordered that numerous assets of 2nd accused person, both local and foreign, which value exceeded N3billion and $25million respectively, should be forfeited to the victims of the said fraud named in the charge, as restitution.
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