...Civil Rights group kicks
By Ime Silas
A reporter with an Akwa Ibom-based radio, XL FM, Uyo, Mr. Kufre Carter, is currently cooling his feet at the State Security Service, SSS, detention facility in the state, pending the fulfilment of his bail conditions.
A Magistrate Court, presided over by Winifred M. Umohandy Esq., today, Wednesday, upon being arraigned before it, ruled that the broadcaster’s bail would be secured when he met the conditions.
The bail conditions, according to the Magistrate, which have been described allegedly as ‘obnoxious’, ‘unreasonable’ and ’embarrassing’ by a rights group known as People’s Alternative Front, PAF, include the sum of three million Naira (N3million) with a surety in like sum as well as a letter of identification from his Village Head.
According to Winifred, the surety must be under the employ of the state government and must be a Permanent Secretary.
It would be recalled that the arraigned journalist had called a doctor in the state on phone for clarification on the controversies surrounding the state government’s management of the Covid-19 global pandemic.
Our paper gathered that Kufre’s arrest, detention and subsequent arraignment, is at the instance of the state government on charges bordering on defamation of character.
Reacting to the bail conditions handed down against the journalist, PAF, while describing same as “a mockery of the judicial system”, also accused the Magistrate of descending, allegedly, into the arena, and called on His Lordship, the Hon. Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Justice Godwin Abraham, to rescue the state’s judiciary from being manipulated.
The group’s statement signed by its Secretary, Eze Aloysius, reads in full: “on Wednesday, 29th April, 2020, a sport’s reporter in Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Kufre Carter, was surreptitiously taken before a Magistrate Court in Uyo presided over by Magistrate Winifred M. Umohandy Esq., where he was arraigned on a three count charge bothering on defamation of character.
“Mr. Carter is accused of defaming the Commissioner for Health in Akwa Ibom State, Dr. Dominic Ukpong, in a purported private phone conversation with a certain medical doctor in which the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state was allegedly criticised.
We are however alarmed by the bail conditions imposed on Mr. Carter by Magistrate Winifred which are not only obnoxious, unreasonable and embarrassing, but amounts to a total mockery of the judicial system.
“Magistrate Winifred Umohandy granted Mr. Carter “bail” in the sum of Three (3) Million Naira with a surety in like sum.
As if that was not excessive enough, the Magistrate insisted that the surety must be a Permanent Secretary with the Akwa Ibom State Government.
Not done with her outlandish conditions, the Magistrate also demanded that Mr. Carter should bring “a letter of identification” from his Village Head to the Court as part of his bail conditions.
“It is also reported that the Magistrate descended into the arena and openly showed bias when she expressed anger in open court over the way people now write things against government officials on Facebook and other social media.
“The People’s Alternative Fronts (PAF) is seriously disturbed by the development in Akwa Ibom State. We are are aware of the escalating attacks on critics of the state government and the use of the SSS and the Police to clampdown on dissent.
While we respect the institution of the judiciary, we are shocked that a Magistrate who swore to uphold the Constitution of Nigeria will allow herself to be used by questionable political actors in Akwa Ibom State to suppress the rights of citizens.
We are also perturbed by the fact that Mr. Carter who was taken to the Court in a commando style by a large contingent of SSS operatives was remanded in the custody of the same SSS that has denied Mr. Carter access to his lawyers.
“The SSS from our investigation did not inform the lawyers to Carter that their client was going to be arraigned in court. The lawyers only became aware by a tip- off.
How on earth does the Magistrate expect Mr. Carter to get not just a civil servant in Akwa Ibom State, but a Permanent Secretary that works for the same government that is prosecuting him to be his surety? What is the business of Mr. Carter’s Village Head with the purported charge of defamation?
“It is remarkable that the State Attorney General, Mr. Uwemedimo Nwoko, was sighted within the court premises before the court sat. It is also of interest to us that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in Akwa Ibom, Mr. Joseph Umoren Esq., personally appeared in court to prosecute Mr. Carter.
All these clearly show that the Akwa Ibom State Government is not pursuing any sincere case against Mr. Carter who has been a critic of the government, but is rather manipulating the judicial process to punish Mr. Carter for his critical views.
We strongly condemn these actions.
“We call on His Lordship, the Hon. Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Justice Godwin Abraham, to urgently rescue the state judiciary from the vicious and manipulative grip of politicians.
We ask the judiciary to assert its independence and not allow its reputation to be further ruined.
The bail conditions are outrageous. The conditions are contrary to established precedents of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court to the effect that bail conditions should be liberal.
Mr. Carter should be allowed to enjoy his constitutional right to presumption of innocence until he is proven guilty. Sadly, it appears Magistrate Winifred Umohandy has already convicted him”