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We pass maximum sentence on drug convicts – FHC

Prince Eniola Ojajuni

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The Federal High Court says contrary to story, ‘Judicial sympathy: Drug convicts get warning as punishment’ published on October 19, 2015, its judges have been passing maximum sentence on drug convicts, citing two examples from last year and three in 2015,

It is “far from the truth”, that is how the Federal High Court authorities have described The story, ‘Judicial sympathy: Drug convicts get warning as punishment’, published on October 19, 2015, revealing lopsidedness and disregard for the provisions of the law in the sentencing of drug convicts.

The story, which focused on the convictions recorded by the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency in 2014, had indicated that the Federal High Court, which has exclusive jurisdiction on narcotic cases, imposed light sentences on convicts far below that stipulated by the law.

But in response to the story, the Federal High Court, through its Chief Registrar, Mrs. Rosemary Dugbo-Oghoghorie, said its judges, particularly Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, “have been sentencing drug convicts to maximum sentences, including life imprisonment with hard labour.”

The record of this year’s conviction had not been obtained by our correspondent as of the time of filing the October 19, 2015 report.

The Federal High Court, in its response, cited two examples of maximum sentences passed by the court last year and three this year but was silent on the non-conformity to the NDLEA Act in the majority of the convictions recorded in 2014.

Incidentally, Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia, whose judgment was part of those highlighted in the October 19 report, had, by the record of the Federal High Court, imposed maximum sentences this year.

While the first was passed in January this year, the second was on October 20, the day after

The Federal High Court’s statement read in full, “The attention of the Federal High Court has been drawn to a report published in The Punch Newspaper of Monday, October 19, 2015, with regard to sentencing of drug convicts by judges of the Federal High Court.

“Regretfully, this publication is far from the truth.

“The truth is that judges of the Federal High Court, including but not limited to Hon. Justice R.N. Ofili Ajumogobia, have been sentencing drug convicts to maximum sentence including life imprisonment with hard labour as can be seen from the following cases:

“1. FHC/L/146/2014: Federal Republic of Nigeria Vs Abiodun Elemoro – Hon. Justice. R.N. Ofili-Ajumogobia sentenced the convict to life imprisonment with hard labour on January 29, 2015.

“2.FHC/ABJ/CR/119/14: Federal Republic of Nigeria Vs Okereke Osita Promise – Hon. Justice G.O. Kolawole sentenced the accused to nine years imprisonment with hard labour on October 22, 2015

“3. FHC/LF/CR/1/12: Justice A.A. Okeke sentenced the accused to 15 years imprisonment on October 27, 2014.

“4. Federal Republic of Nigeria Vs Sule Ibrahim, Hon. Justice R.N. Ofili-Ajumogobia sentenced the convict to life imprisonment on October 20, 2015.

“5. FHC/ABJ/CR/193/2013: Federal Republic of Nigeria Vs Chukwuemezie – Hon. Justice A.F.A. Ademola sentenced the accused to life imprisonment on January 29, 2014.

“From the above sundry instances it can be deduced that the publication is vexatious and an attempt portray the Federal High Court in bad light.

“The publishers are advised to always approach the court for confirmation of any information they may wish to publish for public consumption so as to ascertain the authenticity of such information.”

The two sentences for last year were part of the few, which their details were not captured in the records of NDLEA’s convictions obtained by our correspondent.

Light sentences continue in 2015

Records of conviction for year 2015 showed that the trend of light sentences imposed by the Federal High Court contrary to provisions of the NDLEA Act has virtually remained unchanged.

The NDLEA’s spokesperson, Mr. Mitchell Ofoyeju, said the agency had, from available records up till last week, recorded 1,123 convictions.

He said, “Since January to date the Agency has won over 1,123 convictions. However, while some are high others are very low.

“For example, out of 13 convictions in the month of August 2015; two convicts were sentenced to 10 years each, one got six years, another got two years, six others got one year each and three got six months each.

“It is clear from the above examples that low sentence is one of the reasons drug convicts go back to drug trafficking. Another reason is lack of reformation or rehabilitation of convicts.”

Meanwhile, aside the October 20 judgment by Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia, other judges too have passed sentences of significant jail terms on convicts after the October 19 story.

For instance, on November 2, Justice Musa Kurya of a Federal High Court in Lagos convicted a businessman, Chibueze Oneigbo, for trafficking 210 grammes of cocaine and jailed him for 10 years.

Also on November 3, Justice John Tsoho of the same Lagos Division of the Federal High Court, sentenced one Ifenna Emmanuel to a jail term of 20 years for attempting to export 1.2 kilogrammes of cocaine to China.

Convicts get re-arrested

Ofoyeju said culprits convicted for drug offences would often go back to the crime because of the light sentences imposed on them on their previous convictions.

He said, “It happens all the time. A good example is that of 53-year-old Ejike Martins and 35-year-old ThankGod Obums who were caught along Emir Road, Sabon Gari, in a dark green Mercedes Benz Car with registration number AA809AJG containing compressed 104 blocks of Cannabis sativa weighing 66 kilogrammes.

“Both suspects had been convicted in the past for drug-related offences. In 1982, Mr. Martins, who hails from Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State was arrested at the Lagos airport in 2005 by NDLEA officials on his way to Spain with 1kg of cocaine. He was charged to court and sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment but he mischievously evaded the jail term.

“Three months after his criminal jail evasion, he was again apprehended at the Kano airport with 4kg of cocaine. This second arrest was what made the NDLEA to uncover the jail evasion cartel in 2007. Ejike was sentenced to five years jail term for smuggling 4kg of cocaine found on him at the Kano Airport. The charge number is FHC/IL/CR/183/2007, FGN VS Ejike Martins.

“On completion of his five years jail term, Mr. Martins was re-arrested by NDLEA officials at the gate of the Kano Prisons and taken to Lagos to complete his initial jail term. After completing the arrears of his sentence, he regained his freedom in January 2014. Still not remorseful, Ejike went back to drug trafficking. This time round, he connived with one ThankGod Obums to smuggle cannabis from Edo State to Kano. He is currently being prosecuted in Kano.

“Mr. Obums, an indigene of Delta State, who dropped out from Delta State University in 2003, was first arrested for dealing in cannabis in Kano. He was convicted but given an option of fine. After spending three months in the prison custody, he regained his freedom after the wife paid the fine of N350,000.

“It is clear from the above examples that low sentence is one of the reasons drug convicts go back to drug trafficking. Another reason is lack of reformation or rehabilitation of convicts.”

Lenient judgment made Nigeria drug-consumption country

A human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana also corroborated Ofoyeju’s view by attributing the nation’s drug-consumption status to lenient sentencing passed on convicts by the Federal High Court.

Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said he had in 2013 written the immediate past Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN), on the need for the implementation of the report by Justice Gilbert Obayan (retd.)-led National Committee for the Reform of NDLEA.

The report issued in February 2007 catalogued various sharp practices engaged in by lawyers and other officers of the agency.

Speaking with our correspondent, Falana called on the National Judicial Council, the body saddled with appointment, promotion and disciplining of judicial officers, to check the trend of light sentencing on drug convicts.

He said the light sentence, which some drug convicts got away with, had heightened the problem of drug trafficking in the country.

He said, “The timely publication by has only revealed a tip of the iceberg of the scandalous sentencing by the Federal High Court in drug-related cases which has accentuated drug trafficking in the country. Before now, Nigeria was a transit country, but because of the lenient sentencing policy of the Federal High Court, our country has since become a drug-consuming nation to the detriment of the moral integrity of our people.

“I am calling on the National Judicial Council to halt the dangerous phenomenon in the interest of our innocent youths.

Falana said the judiciary was not solely responsible for the problem of light sentencing, but prosecutors too shared part of the blame.

“You cannot blame the judiciary alone as the NDLEA prosecutors are part of the questionable plea bargain arrangement that often leads to such lenient sentencing,” the senior advocate said.

However, on the Obayan Report, which recommended sanction for some of the drug offences prosecutors, Ofoyeju said it was not the NDLEA’s responsibility to implement the recommendations, which he said had been overtaken by events.

Ofoyeju said, “Obayan report was not for the NDLEA to implement. It was submitted to the then Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Bayo Ojo (SAN), who constituted the panel.

“It is important to note that the Obayan Report has been overtaken by events. The office of the Solicitor General had stated since 2013 that the implementation of the report will add no more value to the reality on ground in the NDLEA.”

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