Commissioner of Police, Abia State Command, Mr Anthony Ogbizi, on Monday arraigned 9 Jewish worshipers before Umuahia Magistrates’ Court over their alleged involvement in terrorism.
The commissioner was said to have arrested the Jewish worshippers on Sunday during a religious service at the home of the leader of banned Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
When the one count charge was read out to the nine accused persons, they pleaded not guilty to the charges before the court presided over by the Magistrate, U. O. Egwu.
The police had last Sunday morning arrested some members of the sect while IPOB claimed that 21 members of the sect were actually “abducted”
The police had alleged that the worshippers had on May 13 2018 in Afaraukwu under the Umuahia Judicial Jurisdiction of the State constituted themselves into a terrorist group.
The one count charge read: ” That you … and others now at large, on or about the 13th of May, 2018, at Afaraukwu Umuahia in Umuahia North Magistrate district in the course of carrying out your terrorism act , and with intent to frighten ASP Justus Ogar of the Nigerian Police Abia command and his team, and thereby committed and offense punishable under section 12 (a) of the Abia State prohibition of terrorism , kidnapping , hostage taking, use of offensive weapons or explosives and other threatening behaviour law 2009″.
But the prosecuting officer said the children of the accused were not arrested at the church but at a different location.
One of the lawyers to the accused person, Mr Ejimofor, insisted that the children were all arrested at the same location but were only released to him later at the police station.
He said, “The children were released to me by the police and I accommodated them in a hotel till this morning. Some of them are even sick and need medical attention. They have been at the place of worship since Friday and not violent. Even one of the accused is about 75 years and unlikely to jump bail.
“When the children were released to me yesterday they were very hungry and I gave them mango to eat. Police should be called to order because the accused have nothing to associate them as IPOB members.
They were only there as Jewish adherents to pray. They were there in their numbers including their children and some women to pray and not for terrorism”.
Ejimofor also drew the attention of the Magistrate to the fact that some of the children released to him by the police were also in the court.
He added that were asked to file out for identification, saying that the children aged between four and 10, numbering about eight looked frail and worn out.
He urged the Magistrate to grant them bail, arguing that even if the magistrate court lacks jurisdiction over the matter, it has the right to grant them bail.
In their plea for bail, the lawyer for the 1-5 accused persons, Godwin Chionye and Alloy Ejimakor said the accused persons have fundamental rights to be granted bail by the court as the accused persons committed no criminal act as being alleged.
Both applied for bail for the accused arguing that the offense is bailable. The defence lawyers furthered argued that the accused were all responsible and would not jump bail but “will appear to take their trial anywhere”.
Chionye, who said he also hails from Afaraukwu explained that the accused persons were only at Kanu’s house to pray and not to commit any act of terrorism contrary to claims by the police.
“Your Worship, I am incidentally from the Afaraukwu where the accused came to pray at the house of His Royal Highness, Eze Israel Kanu which is very close to my house. The worshippers were not disturbing anybody but only praying.
“Why will you call them terrorists? If they were destroying anything the villagers would have complained. It is a mark of wickedness for the police to arrest and put them in detention just because they are Jewish worshippers. They were wearing their white garments and praying , and you can be sure that no person wears white garment to commit terrorism.”
He, therefore, pleaded with the Magistrate to grant them bail “since the offence is not capital in nature”, hence “the accused have their constitutional right to be granted bail”.
Aligning himself with the submissions of his colleague, Ejimakor added that some of the accused persons were at the worship location with their children, arguing that “it is highly doubtful anywhere in the world that criminals will go to commit terrorism in the company of their children”.
According to the lawyer, when he got wind of the arrest yesterday he raced down to the police station where the children of the accused also arrested by the police were released to him on trust.
At this point, the prosecuting lawyer interrupted and strongly opposed the bail application, arguing that the accused would jump bail.
The prosecuting lawyer later contended that the court has no right to entertain the matter but should detain them and allow the state Director of Public Prosecution ( DPP) to charge the matter to high court.
Apparently annoyed by the argument of the prosecution, the presiding Magistrate, U. O Ugwu asked him why he brought the matter to magistrate court when he knew it lacked jurisdiction over it.
Chionye had earlier picked a hole on the charge sheet observing that the matter was not properly charged as it has no police stamp. “I wonder why the prosecution wants the accused detained when the matter was not even properly charged”, he added.
In his ruling, the Magistrate expressed sadness at the action of the police by bringing the matter to magistrate court first with the intention of wittingly punishing the accused in detention.
“It is condemnable that police will charge a matter to a court that has no jurisdiction over it with the intension to remand the accused in custody unnecessarily”.
He , therefore, ordered that the accused be remanded at Afara prisons , while further ordered that the case file be transferred to the State Director of Public Prosecution for further advice on the matter as the court has no jurisdiction to hear the matter.
He wondered why the Police choose to transfer the matter to his court when in the actual sense it would have transferred it to the appropriate court that has jurisdiction to hear the matter.
Meanwhile, the leadership of IPOB has cried out that “The Nigeria Security agents, have declared war on Christians and religious groups once again, as a daring move against the warnings and US President Donald Trump’s agreement made in Washington D.C with President Muhammadu Buhari.
According to Comrade Emma Powerful, the Media And Publicity Secretary for IPOB “We are calling on men and women of good conscience, the US embassy and all civilized nations to see reasons to fight and stop these barbaric moves against the brazen Islamization and religious intolerance in Nigeria.
“The unprovoked attack on these innocent worshippers, whose crime was to pray and spiritually sanctify the residence of IPOB Leader, which was desecrated and where the Nigeria Army and other security agencies killed and maimed over 28 innocent unarmed members of IPOB including the abduction of our leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu since last year September.