Friday, 17 January 2020

Absence Of Prosecution Counsel Stalls Trial Of Ayade’s Critic

The trial of lawyer charged with cybercrime and terrorism, Joseph Odok stalled Thursday due to the non appearance of the prosecution counsel, Dennis Tarhemba.

Odok, a fierce critic of the administration of Cross River State Governor, Benedict Ayade had appeared in Court with his counsel, Oliver Osang and when the matter was called up for hearing, the prosecutor who is a Deputy Superintendent of Police was absent with no communication regarding why.

Odok risks a death sentence if convicted for the alleged crime of terrorism due to a publication on Facebook.

However, the presiding judge, Justice Simon Amobeda who sat for the first time since December 18, 2019 ruled that the case be adjourned till Friday (today) for hearing of the second motion for bail filed by the defendant.

The court refused admitting him to bail in its ruling of December 16, 2019 despite shifting it for three times.

Justice Amobeda had in his ruling of November 13th after hearing the argument for bail, set November 21 for ruling on the bail application. However, a hearing notice issued on Tuesday, November 20th informed the parties involved that the ruling will be given on November 27th. It was later shifted to December 5th before it was eventually read on December 16th, a month and days later.

Attendees at the Court session could be heard querying why Justice Amobeda refused Odok's counsel to move the motion for bail.

However, Anobeda had said that will be done on Friday with or without the presence of the prosecution.

This means Odok remains remanded at the medium security custodial center in Calabar where he has spent 87 days so far.

He was arrested at his Abuja residence on September 26, 2019 and endured what family members say was a tortuous journey by road to Calabar where he was then detained at a black site facility.

He spent seven days in the facility before the Police approached the Calabar division of the Federal High Court seeking an order to detain him for 90 days on October 4, 2019.

The prosecution counsel, Dennis Tarhemba, said the order will aid the Police to travel with the defendant within and outside the jurisdiction of the Court to retrieve items that will aid their case.

According to the application, Odok was charged with criminal conspiracy, rape, treasonable felony, terrorism and obtaining money under false pretenses.

Justice Amobeda in his ruling granted 45 days with an option for renewal.

However, ten days later on October 14th, the Police filed two charges against Odok bordering on terrorism and cyberstalking.

Charge one read: "That you Joseph Odok 'm' and others now at large on or between the month of July – August 2019 in Calabar and Abuja within the Jurisdiction of this Honourable Court did incite Cross Riverians to declare full blown war between the people of Ugep Osokom and Oku people of Cross River against themselves and carry out various unlawful acts to wit: terrorism, which you knew are capable of undermining the state security of Cross River and Federal Republic of Nigeria and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 1 (2) (a) (b) and (h) of the Terrorism Prevention Amendment Act, 2013."

Charge two read: "That you Joseph Odok 'm' on or about in the month of July – August 2019 at Abuja and Calabar within the Jurisdiction of this Honourable Court did publish a false statement on Social Media on your Facebook account titled "Why Martins Orim must call his cult brother 'General Iron' to order" in order to cause alarm, hatred and disturb public peace in Cross River State for the purpose of bringing the reputation of Martins Orim down. All this in a bid to annoy him which you knew it will cause insult, enmity, hatred and ill will and incite the people of Cross River State to lunch an attack on him and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 24 (1) (b) of the Cybercrimes Prohibition Prevention Act, 2015."

Martin Orim is the Chief of Staff to Governor Ben Ayade. He, alongside two ex security aides of Ayade, Jude Ngaji who served as state security adviser and Raphael Odu who was a director in Homeland Security department, were fingered in an alleged assassination attempt on Mr. Odok in September 2017.

He was eventually arraigned on October 22, 2019 where he pleaded "not guilty" to both charges.

In what was a sudden twist, the Police approached the court to withdraw the matter following a directive from the Inspector General of Police.

Tarhemba had told the Court that the police headquarters in Abuja want Mr. Odok and the case transferred to them for a thorough investigation.

But, Justice Amobeda in his ruling of Wednesday, November 13th struck out the application.

Justice Amobeda held that it was only the Attorney General of the federation that had the power to withdraw cases already on trial.

Odok's Facebook page is replete with criticisms of Ayade's government.

His wife, Cecilia Odok had told Premium Times in an interview that the Cross River State government was behind his travails,  an allegation Ayade's spokesman, Christian Ita denied.