Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, and some activists on Wednesday appeared at the Federal High Court in Abuja, in solidarity with SaharaReporters publisher, Omoyele Sowore, who is being prosecuted alongside Olawale Bakare, for organising the #RevolutionNow protest in August last year.
The Wednesday’s proceedings were, however, stalled because the Attorney General of the Federation’s office, which took over the prosecution of the case from the Department of State Services in December, had not been able to serve the amended charges and other documents relating to the case on the defence counsel to enable the trial to commence as scheduled.
Displeased with what she described as frivolous and uncalled for, the trial judge, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, awarded N200,000 fine against the prosecution.
She postponed the trial till Thursday, warning that she would not entertain the case if the prosecution fails to present evidence of the payment of the N200,000 fine or come to court with the cash.
She condemned the late filing of amended charges and service of same on the defence team in the open court on Wednesday.
The judge also expressed dissatisfaction with the prosecution’s failure to serve all necessary documents on the defence as ordered by the court over seven weeks ago.
She noted, “It took the prosecution seven weeks to determine whether or not to amend the charges and only served the amended charges on the defence in open court today.
“The prosecution has not served all the necessary documents on the defendants as ordered by the court. This, to my mind, is an attempt to delay the trial. The law requires that the matter be heard timeously. The delay is uncalled for and the application for adjournment is frivolous.”
The prosecuting counsel, Mr Kayode Alilu, from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, had explained to the court that the amendment to the charges followed the taking over of the case from the DSS in December.
He pleaded for an adjournment to effect the service on the defence.
But the defence lawyer, Mr Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika (SAN), contended that the prosecution was not prepared for trial and urged the court to strike out the charges.
He said the prosecution’s request for an adjournment was frivolous and an indication of their lack of diligence in the prosecution of the case.
But Alilu opposed the application for the striking out of the charges.
He cited Section 396(5) of Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2011, which, he said, granted parties in a criminal case the liberty to ask for an adjournment up to five times in the course of the trial, adding that the prosecution had yet to exhaust the five times.
The judge, in a ruling, refused to strike out the case but awarded N200,000 cost against the prosecution, in favour of the defence.
Meanwhile, the amended charges filed against Sowore and his co-defendant, Bakare, show that the counts have been reduced from seven to two.
The surviving two counts relate to treasonable felony, which was informed by the prosecution’s allegation that the defendants were attempting to topple the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), through their nationwide protests tagged #RevolutionNow in August last year.
In the amended charges, the prosecution removed the allegation of money laundering and abusing Buhari contained in the original charge.
Meanwhile, Soyinka and some notable activists, including a former senator representing Kaduna Central, Shehu Sani, and a former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, were in court on Wednesday in solidarity with Sowore.
Wednesday was the first court sitting in the case after the widely condemned invasion of the court by DSS operatives in their bid to re-arrest Sowore on December 6.
He was eventually released on Christmas Eve following mounting international and domestic pressure demanding his release from custody that lasted over four months.
The trial continues on Thursday.