Ex-councillor dies in “illegal” detention
The late Eneanya and an Enugu-based lawyer, Vincent Okonkwo, had been in detention at the Nsukka Correctional Centre, Enugu, since July and September 2020, respectively, without proper trial or bail.
This followed allegations of threatening the traditional ruler and promoting communal war levelled against them by the state.
The deceased, who was charged before a magistrate court and granted bail, had his bail revoked within seven days following the intervention of “powers that be” in the state.
According to his brother, Stephen Eneanya, he died in the early hours of Sunday, May 9, 2021, at the UNTH Enugu, where he was taken to for medical attention after collapsing in his prison cell due to cancer complications.
The deceased, who was a Lungs-Cancer patient, had been held in prison custody without bail or trial since July 2020 having been arrested upon a petition filed by the monarch of his community and others from neighbouring communities.
Taken before a Magistrate Court in Enugu State, he could not take his plea as the court declined jurisdiction to hear the matter, given that one of the counts in the matter was within the jurisdiction of the High Court because it carries life imprisonment.
Consequently, the Magistrate Court, in the exercise of its discretion, granted bail to the deceased on conditions that were subsequently satisfied, after his counsel, Chief Akunna Agubuzo made a case for his bail on the ground that it is a bailable offence and on the fact of his fragile health condition.
The certified true copy of the court’s judgment on the bail application revealed that evidence was tendered to the Magistrate Court about the deceased terminal illness and that it was on the basis of that, amongst other factors, that the court granted him bail.
The Magistrate thereafter ordered that the case file be transferred to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), who was to initiate proceedings before the High Court, which had jurisdiction to hear all the counts in the matter.
Surprisingly, seven days after granting bail to the accused person, the same Magistrate, P.C Egbo, who had ordered that the file be given to the DPP for legal advice and possible prosecution at the high court made a mysterious u-turn and revoked the bail in the absence of both the deceased and his counsel.
According to the revocation order, P. C Ugwueze, the DPP, who was supposed to be prosecuting the matter at the High Court, following the prior order of the Magistrate Court appeared for the prosecution, while the accused and his counsel were not notified.
“Although the defendant and his learned counsel are not in court and apparently not contacted to defend himself, but based on the doctrine of necessity in view of the submission of the DPP in this matter, I have no choice but to listen to his application.
“This court cannot fold its hand and watch or allow what is apparently anticipated to occur as many lives may be lost. In consideration of the information made available to this court and submission as above stated, I have no alternative than to grant the application of the DPP due to its urgency for the prevention of any escalation of war or disputes in the three mentioned communities,” Magistrate Egbo held.
The DPP, in his application and submission, had merely alleged that the accused was flouting the orders of the court in respect of his bail condition by “recruiting armed gang and continued to terrorise the communities of Iggah, Ojjor and Ogurugu of Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State.”
Interestingly, the Magistrate Court, despite having become functus officio, without hearing from the deceased or his counsel, and without consideration of the deceased lung cancer ailment, on which basis bail was previously granted, proceeded to hear the claims and withdrew the bail granted to the deceased.
Earlier in his judgment granting bail to the deceased, the Magistrate had said: “I have considered the application for bail made by the defence counsel as stated above and the opposition thereto, by the prosecuting counsel. The defence counsel raised a vital issue of the health status of the defendant and which was not challenged by the prosecuting counsel. In respect to section 88(b) and 92 (2) of the ACJL, 2017, granting bail in charge of this nature is at the discretion of the court based on the circumstances of the case.
“As I have clearly noted above, although the court unequivocally lacks jurisdiction to try the defendant in respect of the charge brought against him in Count 2, this court, being a Chief Magistrate Grade 1 has the jurisdiction to entertain his bail.
“Equally section 225 of the ACJL, 2017 states that the court may in considering an application for remand brought under section 223 of this law grant bail to the defendant. On the ground of the health condition of the defendant, I am mindful of granting him bail. Bail is hereby granted to the defendant in the sum of N2, 000,000 with one credible surety in like sum…”
Following his bail revocation order, which was made on July 9, 2020, the deceased was re-arrested and “illegally” remanded in prison until his death, without being properly tried before the High Court or granted further bail.
Meanwhile, his co-accused, Mr. Okonkwo, continues to remain in detention and it is hoped that proper trial of the case would commence as soon as the ongoing nationwide judiciary workers’ strike is called off.
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