The Supreme Court has freed Mr. Talal Ahmad Roda, the only Lebanese who was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for unlawful importation and storage of prohibited firearms in Kano.
This is coming on the heels of another Supreme Court judgement approving the resumption of trial of former Aviation Minister, Professor Babalola Aborisade and others for alleged forgery and corrupt enrichment.
The apex court quashed Roda's conviction and sentence after holding that the Federal High Court in Abuja which convicted him had no jurisdiction to do so.
With this judgment, all the suspects have now escaped punishment despite the fact that firearms were unlawfully imported and stored in Nigeria, giving credence to the allegation making the rounds that the prosecution bungled the case.
Roda, was on November 29th, 2013 sentenced to life imprisonment by a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, having been found guilty of conspiracy.
In setting aside the sentence and conviction of Roda, Justice Musa Muhammad who delivered the court's lead judgment with which four other justices concurred, said that since the alleged offences were committed in Kano, the trial ought to have taken place at the Kano division of the Federal High Court.
"In my considered view, the decision of the Abuja Division of the trial court to try an offence which took place in Kano and bears no relationship whatsoever with the offence in Abuja having not stemmed from any provision of the enabling statutes, is manifestly perverse.
"By virtue of Section 45(a) of the FHC Act and the similar provisions contained in section 64 of the Criminal Procedure Act, the appellant could only be tried by the Kano division of the trial court within which territorial expanse the offence was committed.
"The absence of any evidence to suggest any understanding between the appellant and others in Abuja or a link between the storage of the firearms at Kano and those in Abuja further disentitle the Abuja Division's assumption of jurisdiction under sections 45(b)-(e) of the FHC Act and or the similar provisions in the criminal Procedure Act."
His Lordship also held that Roda was not charged under any known law. According to him, the offence of conspiracy is not contemplated under Section 1(14) (a)(i) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act Cap M17 Laws of the Federation 2004.
Justice Muhammad said: "It is trite that where the prosecution fails to charge an accused person for an offence known to law, an appeal against condition under the incompetent charge will succeed.
"In the sum, the appeal succeeds. The proceedings of the lower court and that of the trial court it purports to affirm are hereby set aside. The conviction and sentence of the appellant, consequentially are hereby quashed."
The trial judge at the High Court level had discharged and acquitted Mustapha Fawaz and Abdallah Thahini on the 16 count charge filed against them.
The court also discharged Amigo supermarket and Wonderland Amusement Park “as no concrete evidence was established against the two organisations linking them to terrorism.”
The trial judge, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, held that the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubts that the discharged persons were terrorists.
He further held that going by Nigerian law, it had not been established that the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah was a terrorist organisation and that the court could not hold to the contrary.
Justice Ademola who reviewed all the 16 charges preferred against the three Lebanese, freed Fawaz and Thahini while Roda was convicted on Count 8 and 9 which bothered on conspiracy.
The court however noted that some aspects of the investigation were shady.
The judge also held that the prosecution failed by the evidence brought before the court to establish a case of terrorism against the accused persons.
Specifically, the court held that the ammunition seized from No 3 Gaya Road, Kano ought to have been brought to the court or the photographer who took the picture should have been brought to the court.
The judge said that better still, the prosecutor should have brought an application to move the court to the site in Kano.
The court held that failure to do this by the prosecution made the evidence brought inadmissible.
The judge also noted that the witness brought by the prosecution who conducted the search confessed that he was neither a forensic nor a ballistic expert.
The court further ordered that both Amigo Supermarket and Wonderland Amusement Park, all in Abuja be unsealed with immediate effect.
He added that the 61,170 US dollars seized from the 2nd accused be returned to him and that all other personal properties seized from the discharged persons and their relatives be returned to them forthwith.
It will be recalled the Federal Government had on July 29 arraigned the accused persons for terrorism and over link with Hezbollah military group.
They were also accused of act of terrorism and illegal firearms after a large arms cache was discovered in the residence linked to the suspects in Kano.
They were further accused of plotting attacks against Western and Israeli targets in the country. They had all pleaded not guilty.
Says Trial of Aborisade, Others Must Go On…
The Supreme Court has ordered the resumption of trial of former Aviation Minister, Professor Babalola Aborisade and others over alleged forgery and allegedly corrupt enrichment.
Aborisade and others were charged before an Abuja High Court in Maitama, Abuja by the Federal Government on allegation of collecting bribes.
The Supreme Court order was contained in its judgment yesterday on an appeal filed against the decision of the Court of Appeal, Abuja on an earlier appeal by the former minister.
Aborisade, who is standing trial with a director of Nigerian Airspace Management Authority (NAMA), T.A. Dairo, and two others, had appealed the decision of the trial court to admit in evidence, a statement made by Dairo.
The Court of Appeal upheld his appeal, prompting the Federal Government to appeal to the Supreme Court.
In unanimous judgment yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld the appeal, upturned the decision of the Court of Appeal and directed prompt resumption of the trials that had been stalled for over one year.
Justice Kumai Bayang Akaahs, who read the lead judgment wondered why Aborisade appealed against a ruling that was not directed against him.
He noted that the ruling was on whether or not to admit the statement by the third accused person (Dairo) and not his (Aborisade's) statement.
The court, in an earlier judgment also set aside the decision of the Court of Appeal in the appeal filed by Dairo and others in relation to the same ruling of the trial court, which admitted his (Dairo's) statement in evidence.
The apex court held that from evidence before it, the trial court was right to have held that the statement was made voluntarily.
It ordered the trial court to re-admit the statement and proceed with the trial.