The trial of some undergraduates of the University of Lagos, who were accused of gang-raping a fellow student of the institution, was on Monday stalled due to a change of counsel.
Five of the suspects, Moboluwaji Omowole, 19; Chuka Chukwu, 19; Peace Nwankaba, 19; James Aguedu, 20; and Josephine Osemeka, 20, were arraigned on February 26 on three counts of defilement of a child, permitting the defilement of a child on a premises and procuration (inducing any minor girl under the age of 18 to go from any place or to do any act with intent that such a girl may be, or knowing that it is likely that she will be forced or seduced to illicit intercourse with another person).
Other students, who were alleged accomplices to the crime, are still at large.
The victim, who was 17-year-old at the time of the incident, had on February 26, 2019, told the court how her friend, Nwankaba, who was also her roommate when she moved into the school’s hostel during the 2016/2017 academic session, allegedly lured her to be gang-raped.
According to the prosecutor, K. A. Momoh-Ayokanbi, the defendants and others at large committed the offences in January 2017 on the premises of UNILAG, Akoka, Yaba, Lagos.
The offences, according to Momoh-Ayokanbi, contravene sections 137, 138 and 140 (1) (a) of the Criminal Law of Lagos, 2015.
The matter, which was adjourned till Monday for cross-examination, was, however, stalled due to the hiring of a new counsel by Aguedu.
The new counsel for Aguedu, Lawal Pedro (SAN), urged the court to grant an adjournment on the grounds that he was just coming into the matter.
He said, “My Lord, I just came into this matter and I’m just aware that trial has begun; I thought the proceedings were 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.”
Following Pedro’s submission, the presiding judge, Justice Abiola Soladoye, adjourned the case till May 2 for continuation of trial.
Earlier during Monday’s proceedings, the counsel for the students had filed various applications urging the court to grant them bail.
The counsel noted that the students had no prior criminal records and had all attended court proceedings since their arraignment before the magistrates’ court in March 2017.
Counsel to Chukwu, Abimbola Akeredolu (SAN), said in her application, “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 whenever his appearance is needed.”
Pedro also said on behalf of his client, “The charge against the defendant is misdemeanour and not 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 Orthopaedic Hospital as proof; he has never abused the privilege of the administrative bail granted him.
“We have 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 the family sufficient time to sort out his bail application.”
Counsel for Omowole, Rasak Abudu, said the first defendant’s father had suffered an illness due his son’s criminal trial; while the counsel for Nwankama, O. C. Aibangbee, urged the court to grant the 300-level student of Economics at UNILAG bail in liberal terms.
Counsel for Osemeka, N. J. Edechime, noted in his bail application that the fifth defendant was the only child of her mother.
Responding to the bail applications, the prosecution team, led by Fehinti Ogbemudia, urged the court to reject the defendants’ applications.
Justice Soladoye adjourned the case till April 29 for ruling on Omowole, Chukwu, Nwankama and Osemeka’s bail applications, and March 25 for the continuation of the hearing of Aguedo’s bail application.