Evans, others plead not guilty to kidnapping

THE government of Lagos State has re-arraigned billionaire kidnapper Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike (a.k.a. Evans ) and others before Justice Hakeem Oshodi of an Ikeja High Court for alleged kidnapping of Dunu Donatus.

In the amended charge, the defendants are again facing a two-count charge bordering on conspiracy and kidnapping.

Evans and his co-defendants changed their guilty plea to “not guilty” after the amended charge was read to them.

He was re-arraigned with five other suspected members of his gang, including a woman, Ogechi Uchechukwu, who is the third defendant. Others are Uche Amadi, Okwuchukwu Nwachukwu, Chilaka Ifeanyi and Victor Chukwunonso Aduba – they are the second, fourth, fifth and sixth defendants.

They have been in police custody since June 10.

In the former charge, the defendants were accused under Sections 411 and 271(3) Criminal Law Cap C17 Laws of Lagos State, 2015.

Count one in the amended charge bordered on “conspiracy to commit a felony to wit kidnapping contrary to Section 411, Kidnappings Criminal Law. Cap C17, Laws of Lagos State 2015”.

The second count bordered primarily on “kidnapping, contrary to Section 2(1) of the Kidnapping Prohibition Law, No 13, Laws of Lagos State 2017”.

The defendants were alleged to have “conspired to commit a felony, to wit kidnapping” on February 14, 2017 at about 7.45p.m. on Obokun Street, Ilupeju, Lagos.

They were also alleged to have sometimes between February 14 and April 12, 2017 on the same street in Ilupeju “while armed with guns and other weapons captured and detained one Dunu Donatus against his will and collected a ransom of Euros 223,000”.

Unlike the state Criminal Law 2015, which prescribed 21 years for convicts, the Kidnapping Prohibition Law, No 13, Laws of Lagos State 2017 prescribed death sentence if victims die in the custody of kidnappers.

At resumed proceedings yesterday, the prosecution led by the Director, Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP), Titilayo Shitta-Bey, informed the court that they have filed an amended charge against the defendants and served their counsel.

Shitta-Bey said they were ready to begin trial.

But the defence counsel opposed the prosecution, saying that the prosecution served them the amended charge yesterday morning in court.

They prayed the court for adjournment to enable them confer with their clients and response to the amended charge.

They told the court that they all have different applications pending before court, which they argued will be overtaken by events if trial should begin.

The counsel to first and second defendants was Olukoya Ogungbeje that of third defendant was Joseph Otogblu, Olanrewaju Ajanaku for the fourth defendants, A. A. Ozogbu for the fifth defendant while the sixth defendant was represented by Emmanuel Ochai.

However, counsel to fourth defendant, Olanrewaju Ajanaku differed and said he was ready for trial.

But the DPP in her response opposed the defence lawyers. Shitta-Bey urged the court to allow the charges to be read and for the defendants to take their fresh plea. According to her, there was no material change in the nature of the charge against the defendants.

The DPP said the particulars of the offence are the same and that  it was only the law in count two that deals with punishment of the offence that was changed.

“The application for adjournment by the defence lawyers before plea is taken is calculated to derail trial before the court,” she argued. At this stage, Justice Oshodi stood the matter down for 45 minutes to enable counsel confer with defendants. On resumption, the court conducted a house screening of the applications of defence lawyers after which they were all struck out. After this, the defence lawyers urged the court for adjournment to enable them respond to the amended charge. Justice Oshodi, citing section 36 of the Constitution, granted their prayer and adjourned the matter till November 3 for trial.