Playing time game with Ataga murder trial 

The trial of Chidinma Ojukwu and two others for the alleged murder of the Chief Executive Officer of Super TV, Osifo Ataga, is becoming a chess game in the hands of both defence and prosecution counsel.
Ataga

Chidinma Ojukwu
[FILES] Chidinma Ojukwu, the suspect in the murder of late Usifo Ataga.
The trial of Chidinma Ojukwu and two others for the alleged murder of the Chief Executive Officer of Super TV, Osifo Ataga, is becoming a chess game in the hands of both defence and prosecution counsel.
 
The public is gradually getting apprehensive and suspicious of how the trial is being adjourned from time to time as counsel always advances different excuses in what amounts to an apparent delay of the smooth running of the matter.  
   
Ojukwu, a supposed 300-level Mass Communication undergraduate of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), was charged along with her sister, Chioma Egbuchu, and one Adedapo Quadri before a Lagos High Court, sitting at Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS), over alleged murder of Ataga.
 
The defendants face a nine-count charge bordering on murder, stealing and forgery by the state government.
 
Ojukwu and Quadri were alleged to have conspired and murdered Ataga on June 15, 2021, by stabbing him several times in the neck and chest with a knife. The alleged murder took place at No.19, Adewale Oshin Street, Lekki Phase 1, Lagos State.
   
The duo were also accused of committing forgery by procuring and making bank account statements purported to have been made by the deceased.
   
Ojukwu and Quadri are facing eight counts bordering on conspiracy, murder, stabbing, forgery of bank statements and stealing, while Egbuchu is facing the ninth count of stealing of iPhone 7 belonging to Ataga.
   
However, recent developments have shown that at every adjourned date, one or two defendants’ counsel would have a story to tell, which will eventually compel the court to adjourn the matter reluctantly.
   
For instance, the scheduled continuation of the trial, which was expected to go on July 7, 2022, was aborted, as Ojukwu’s lawyer was absent in court, like what happened on previous dates. The case was adjourned at the instance of the third defendant, Egbuchu’s change of counsel on May 12, 2022.
 
On that day, Egbuchu informed the court that she had disengaged the services of the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) and employed a lawyer to defend her.
  
Counsel from OPD, Juliet Osaigede told the court that (her office) OPD was no longer representing the third defendant. She said Egbuchu had written to them that she no longer needs their services.
 
However, the new counsel Mr. Ngozi Akandu, who announced his appearance for the third defendant, told the court that he was just briefed about the case a day before the trial date (on May 11, 2022). He told the court that he needed time to go through the case file.
 
 
Akandu told the court that he was given the document on May 12, inside the court by the third defendant (Chioma Egbuchu). He added that the document that she got from her former counsel was not legible.
  
He said: “I can’t see anything, they are so vague. I understand that the trial has commenced, but I humbly apply and urge the court to give me time to study the case file, and also for the prosecution to avail me the clearer copies of the proof of evidence so that I can come in properly.”
   
On May 16, when the case came up for the continuation of trial, Akandu, Egbuchu’s counsel, told the court that he had not received proof of evidence from the prosecution counsel. 
   
Akandu had, at the last hearing (May 12), prayed the court for more time to enable him to get acquainted with the proof of evidence.
 

Akandu told trial Judge, Yetunde Adesanya, to vacate trial dates already fixed in an ongoing trial.
 
He informed the court that he was yet to receive the proof of evidence from the prosecution counsel and the office of the public defender (former counsel for the third defendant).
 
“I have no facilities to render services to the third defendant. I, therefore, apply that today’s date (May 16) and other dates already fixed be vacated. This is because I have seen the volume of documents from other counsel, it is not something someone can read in a day.”
   
Counsel for Ojukwu, Mr. Onwuka Egwu, did not object to the application. He added that the proof of evidence was very voluminous, about 400 pages. The judge subsequently adjourned the case to May 26, 2022.
  
When the case came up for hearing on May 26, the trial couldn’t go on as scheduled due to Akandu’s reported ill-health.
    
It was counsel to Ojukwu, Egwu that read to the court, a letter written by Akande, notifying the court that he is ill and asking for an adjournment. The court subsequently adjourned to July 7, 2022.
 
As the trial was expected to continue on July 7, counsel to Ojukwu, first defendant, Egwu, wrote to inform the court of his absence and applied for the vacation on the date as he was stuck in Anambra State due to flight delay.
 
Counsel to the second and third defendants told the court that they were not aware as to why counsel to the first defendant was not in court.
 
In her submission, the prosecution counsel, Deputy Director of Public Prosecution (DDPP), Mrs. Adenike Oluwafemi, expressed displeasure over the absence of Chidinma’s counsel, as their witness was present in court.
  
She said she was disappointed that the council was not in court and couldn’t even notify them or call.
    
Also, another new counsel, for the third defendant (Egbuchu), Mr. C. J. Jiakpona, told the court he is new in the matter and would need all the necessary documents to aid him to defend his client.
   
The prosecution counsel (Oluwafemi) responded that the former counsel to the third defendant (Mr. Ngozi Akandu) had been given all the necessary documents. She urged the new council to collect all the documents from Akandu to avoid delay.
   
Meanwhile, counsel for the second defendant (Quadri), Babatunde Busari, told the court that counsel to the third defendant had sought adjournment during the last sitting, saying, he needed time to get the necessary documents to follow his defence, thereby delaying the process. 
   
Busari said that the new council should avoid the delay, which had been occasioned by a change of the third defendant’s counsel in the past months.
  
“Everything necessary to avoid the delay should be sorted out before the new legal year so that it doesn’t repeat itself in the new legal year,” he said.
 
Busari recounted that the third defendant had, sometime in the month of May, changed her counsel from the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) to Mr Akandu.
  
But since Akandu took up the third defendant’s case, the case had been adjourned three times at the instance of the defence.
   
After their submission, Justice Adesanya frowned at the back-and-forth manner of delaying the trial.
  
The trial judge warned counsel that moving forward, such scenarios will no longer be tolerated, as counsel will not be allowed to use excuses to delay the process.
 
She subsequently adjourned the continuation of the trial to October 4, 2022.

 

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