The trial of four undergraduates of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and an undergraduate of Babcock University who allegedly gang-raped a female student, was on Monday stalled in an Ikeja Domestic Violence and Sexual Offences Court due to a change in counsel.
Moboluwaji Omowole, 19, Chuka Chukwu, 19, Peace Nwankama, 19, James Aguedo, 20 and Osemeka Josephine, 20 are alleged by the prosecution to be some of the students involved in the serial gang-rape of a UNILAG student within the premises of the institution.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that following their arraignment on February 26, Mr Aguedo hired a new defence counsel, Lawal Pedro, a former Solicitor-General of Lagos State and Permanent Secretary Ministry of Justice.
The cross-examination of the complainant (name withheld) on Monday could however not proceed due to Mr Pedro’s request for an adjournment.
“My Lord, I just came into this matter and I am told that trial has begun, I thought the proceedings was for only hearing of the bail application.
“In order for justice to be done, I will need time to study the proof of evidence in this case in order to properly cross-examine the witness.
“In order not to frustrate the trial, I apply that my cross-examination should be adjourned and the other counsel should proceed with their cross-examination,” Mr Pedro said.
Following the senior advocate’s submission, Justice Abiola Soladoye adjourned the case until May 2 for the continuation of trial.
NAN reports that earlier during proceedings, the defence counsel to the students had via various applications asked the court to grant bail to the students who have been remanded for 21 days at the Kirikiri Prisons.
Their defence counsel had noted that the students had no prior criminal record and had all attended court proceedings since their arraignment at the Magistrate Court in March 2017
Abimbola Akeredolu, the defence counsel to Mr Chukwu, in her application said “The applicant does not constitute a flight risk, he is a student whose academic pursuits have been disrupted.
“Both parents work in Chevron and are present in court and they will ensure that he is present in court, he has never omitted to appear in court or whenever his appearance is needed,” she said.
Mr Pedro, the counsel to Mr Aguedo, told the court, “The charge against the defendant is a misdemeanour not a felony, the applicant is a current student of Babcock University, we have a letter before the court to show that he is a current student of the school.
“He is suffering from a back ailment that requires expert medical attention, we have documents from the National Orthopedic Hospital as proof, he has never abused the privilege of administrative bail given to him.
“We gave his birth certificate to show that at the time the alleged offence was committed, he was a minor, if bail is refused he will suffer undue hardship and his academic life will be truncated.
“He is from a religious family and his pastor has written to Babcock University to give them sufficient time to sort out his bail application,” he said.
Rasak Abudu, the counsel to Mr Omowole said the first defendant’s father had suffered an illness caused by his son’s criminal trial.
“The first defendant (Omowole) is a second-year student of UNILAG, he would not jump bail and he has never defaulted coming to court and the has always been present with his parents.
“He has responsible parents, his father is critically ill as a result of this charge, his mother or any member of his family are ready to take his bail.
“The country is trying to reduce crime, constant exposure to the prison inmates will expose him further to crime, he was 17-years-old as at the time of the crime, he is now 19,” he said.
O. C Aibangbee, the defence counsel to Mr Nwankama asked the court to grant the third year student of Economics at UNILAG bail in liberal terms.
“My Lord’s granting the application will make the applicant attend her studies even though there is a pending charge,” he said.
N. J Edechime, the counsel to Ms Osemeka noted in his bail application noted that the fifth defendant is an only child of her mother.
“She is incapable of interfering with evidence and witnesses in the matter and she will not jump bail as she is a third-year student of Economics in UNILAG.
“If she is not granted bail, she will lose academic years, her mother is always in court as the applicant is her only child,” Edechime.
The prosecution team led by Fehinti Ogbemudia and Arinola Momoh-Ayokanbi in response asked the court to reject the bail applications of the Babcock University and UNILAG students.
They noted that due to the prevalence of the offence and weightiness of the punishment the court, the judge should deny the students bail and grant accelerated hearing in the case.
Justice Soladoye adjourned the case until April 29 for ruling on Messrs Omowole, Chukwu, Nwankama and Osemeka’s bail application and March 25 for the continuation of the hearing of Mr Aguedo’s bail application.
NAN reports that the students face a three-count charge of defilement of a child, permitting the defilement of a child in a premises and procuration.
They deny the charges.
The complainant (name withheld) had on February 26 testified that she was lured by Ms Nwankama who was her roommate to High Rise, a staff quarters hostel at UNILAG.
She alleged that she was gang-raped at High Rise by eight students and the sexual assault videotaped. She further alleged that she was blackmailed by the defendants and their accomplices who are now at large.
The complainant had in her testimony alleged that as a result of the blackmail, she was further subjected to more gang-rape by the students.