Mrs Yinka Johnson
Reprieve Tuesday came the way of embattled Mrs Yinka Johnson, the female banker who was accused of killing 33-year-old Hammed Balogun, a Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) official. Although she will no longer face the murder charge arising from the accusation against her, she will now be tried for a milder offence: driving against the traffic.
Johnson, a member of staff of IBTC Bank Plc., was accused of knocking down the LASTMA official in a bid to escape arrest after driving against traffic. However, she insisted that she neither hit the late Balogun nor killed him. She and her about three-month-old baby had been in police custody since Friday.
However, luck smiled on her yesterday when she was arraigned before the Igbosere Magistrate's Court on a one-count charge of reckless driving and not murder.
THISDAY gathered from a police source that although the banker’s case was initially treated as a murder case, it was soon to change after detectives from the Homicide Unit of the State Criminal and Investigation Department (SCID), Panti, Yaba, led by the Officer-in-Charge, Solomon Okechukwu, went to the accident scene to conduct a detailed investigation into the allegation that she killed the LASTMA official.
Based on the findings of the detectives which were further buttressed by scores of eyewitness’ accounts, the murder charge was dropped. Several eyewitnesses, who provided their names and statements, debunked the allegation of murder by LASTMA against Johnson.
Faced with the unassailable evidence of her innocence, the police arraigned her before Magistrate Jacob Adegun on a one-count charge of reckless driving against oncoming traffic.
She pleaded not guilty to the charge and was granted bail in the sum of N50,000 with one surety in like sum. The matter has been adjourned till September 5 for trial.
Prosecuting Police Inspector, Oluwagbemileke Agoi, told the court that the defendant on August 10, at about 8:30am at Mega Chicken, Ikota Estate, Lekki-Ajah Expressway, drove a Range Rover SUV with registration number Lagos CY276LSD on the highway recklessly by driving against oncoming traffic without reasonable consideration to other road users.
According to Agoi, the offence contravenes Section 29 (1) of the Lagos State Traffic Laws, 2003.
He said: “To make matters worse, the accused refused to obey government officials who were trying to stop her from taking the road.”
But the defence counsel, led by Mr. Emeka Okpoko, urged the court to grant her bail on liberal terms since the offence is a bailable one. He said contrary to earlier newspaper publications, the charge before the court showed that the defendant was not the one that killed the LASTMA official.
The magistrate upheld his submission and granted Johnson bail.
In a Black Berry broadcast message yesterday, Johnson’s siblings expressed appreciation to Nigerians for speaking out on the side of truth.
The BB broadcast read: “On behalf of the Daniel (the maiden name of the defendant) family, we sincerely show our gratitude to all of you guys that contributed in the campaign to save Yinka Johnson from the false accusation levelled against her by LASTMA.
“We also appreciate the online eyewitnesses' accounts and those physically present who were courageous enough to stand for the truth without cowering.
“We also appreciate the Nigeria Police for not being biased with their investigations. With such sincerity and truthfulness, Nigeria would be a better place for us.”
According to the banker’s sibling, “For now we are savouring the fact that justice was served. Whether we have plans to sue LASTMA is what we do not know yet, but we are grateful to God for deliverance.”
Many Lagosians had started a campaign for her on Twitter and other social media such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Black Berry messenger and 2go.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior LASTMA officer who preferred anonymity, said they were forced to drop the murder charge against Johnson based on the accounts of eyewitnesses as well as the inconsistencies in LASTMA’s versions of the incident.
He said: “If the woman had not taken one way, Balogun wouldn’t have died.
“I do not think the Ministry of Justice was represented at the court. So the court case was conducted without our knowledge; so I cannot speak much on that but we still maintain our stance.”
When THISDAY inquired to know the next line of action for the banker’s family, perhaps still basking in the euphoria of their relief, they said they are yet to know the next step to take.
But Lagos State Commissioner for Transport, Mr. Kayode Opeifa, who spoke to THISDAY last night, said: “Whatever the police find out on the matter is what we stand by. They are the appropriate people to carry out investigation and if they say there is no evidence to charge her for murder, then there is no evidence. We stand by that.”
He, however, added: “We don’t have to gloat about this, because somebody has lost his life in the matter. I feel grieved that somebody died. That person has a family too. But if Mrs Johnson is not the one who killed him, then she cannot be charged or punished for an offence she did not commit.”
Some of the spectators who have been following the case from the beginning also expressed pleasure at the exoneration of the banker. They alleged that LASTMA wanted to frame an innocent person for a crime committed by another.
Speaking to THISDAY, Ifeanyi Anwuzie, one of the eyewitnesses, said although the entire incident happened in seconds, people still saw the commercial bus driver hit the LASTMA official.
He said: “The LASTMA officials unknowingly set themselves up as they tried to illustrate to the detectives how the said incident happened. Using objects, they tried to recreate the scene and by so doing proved beyond every reasonable doubt that Johnson could not have used a stationary vehicle with a tow truck in her front to kill the deceased.”