CJN Justice Katsina-Alu
The trial of two persons, an Iranian, Azim Aghajani and a Nigerian, Alli Abass Jega, for illegal arms shipment from Iran to Nigeria continued Thursday with a shocking revelation that the Nigerian, Jega, had been arrested when he was a teenager for illegal possession of firearm.
The prosecution revealed that Jega was arrested 23 years ago by the police for illegal possession of locally made gun.
The evidence of the alleged offence was contained in a document dated October 27, 2010, which the prosecution tendered through its first witness, Mr. Charles Okpekor, and which it prayed the court to admit as an exhibit.
A serious legal battle ensued between the Prosecution, led by Mrs Olufemi Fatunde and Jega’s lawyer, Mr. Aliyu Yawuri, on the issue of admissibility of this document as an exhibit before the court.
While Mrs Fatunde maintained that Jega voluntarily made the confessional statement concerning his previous arrest for the possession of the firearms on October 27 last year and that the statement was therefore qualified to be admitted in evidence, Yawuri vehemently disagreed.
Yawuri, who did not deny the previous arrest of his client, said ‘My Lord, this kind of evidence is simply inadmissible. It is an evidence of bad character of the accused which has been rendered inadmissible by virtue Section 69 (1) of the Evidence Act.
“It is not competent of the prosecution to give evidence of past record of the accused since it does not relate to the present charge before the court. This does not even fall under the few exceptions allowed under Section 69 (2) where evidence of bad character may be given.
“I urge your Lordship to reject the evidence.” Fatunde, on her part, said ‘This evidence is admissible because it was voluntarily made by the accused person.
“The main issue to consider when considering the admissibility of confessional statement is its voluntariness. This document passed this test and ought to be admitted.
The judge reserved its ruling on the admissibility of the document till today. Meanwhile the Prosecution tendered seven other documents all of which were admitted in evidence yesterday.
Two of these documents are warrants of search employed on November,17, 2010 to search the office of Jega in Suite 6b Magnal Plaza, Abuja and his residence at Karu, Abuja.
Prosecution’s witness, Okpekor, who said he was part of the search team, added that a number of items were recovered during the searches, a list of which was endorsed at the back of the warrants.
The prosecution also led evidence to prove that Jega sent e-mail messages to Aghajani and a purported confessional statement of Jega in support of this was also tendered in court.
The accused, who were brought to court amid tight security, were first arraigned before Justice Okechukwu Okeke on a fresh three-count charge on February1, 2011.
The new charge which was filed by Fatunde, alleged that on July 17, 2010 the accused imported 13 container loads of firearms into Nigeria from Iran in contravention of the S1. (14) of the Firearms Act, Cap MI7 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.
In the second count, the accused were alleged to have imported the said 13 containers loads of firearms into the country ‘without licence’ in contravention of Section 18 of the Firearms Act which is punishable under Section 27 of the same Act.
In the third count, the accused were said to have ‘recklessly made a false declaration’ that the 13 container loads of firearms they were importing into Nigeria were glass wool and pallets of stone in the original bill of lading documents for the purpose of Customs & Excise and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 161 of the Customs and Excise Management Act.
The Accused had pleaded ‘Not guilty’ to all the counts in the charge. The prosecution had also informed the court that it would call six witnesses to establish its case against the accused.