A defence lawyer, whose clients pleaded guilty to charges of illicit cocaine dealing involving Abba Kyari on Monday, has defended the decision taken by the two co-defendants.
Mr E. U. Okenyi, who was present at the proceedings when the duo pleaded guilty to three of the eight charges at the Federal High Court in Abuja, said their decision was not based on ignorance.
He said this while countering the submission by Kyari’s lawyer, Kanu Agabi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, that the duo’s guilty plea might jeopardise the rest of the defendants’ defence.
The National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) recently charged Chibuna Umeibe and Emeka Ezenwanne along with Kyari, a suspended deputy commissioner of police, and four other police officers with cocaine-related charges.
Recall that the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) had produced all the seven defendants, including Mr Kyari, before the court for arraignment on eight charges on Monday.
This newspaper reported how Messrs Umeibe and Ezenwanne stunned lawyers and the court audience when they admitted their guilt to counts 5, 6 and 7, after the court registrar read the charges to them on Monday.
The duo pleaded guilty to the three charges of unlawful importation of 21.35 kilogrammes of cocaine with their lawyer, Mr Okenyi, present during the proceedings.
“I’m guilty, my Lord,” Messrs Umeibe and Ezenwanne said in their separate pleas to the three counts.
But Mr Kyari and the four other police officers pleaded not guilty to the eight-count charge.
Following Umeibe and Ezenwanne’s guilty plea, NDLEA’s lawyer, Joseph Sunday, urged the trial judge, Emeka Nwite, to order the review of facts of the case concerning the two defendants, to set the stage for their sentencing.
But, in response, Kyari’s lead lawyer, Kanu Agabi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, objected to the prosecuting lawyer’s request.
Agabi, a former Attorney-General of the Federation, argued that should the court convict and impose a sentence on the duo, it would “jeopardise” Mr Kyari and the other four defendants’ case.
“My Lord, convicting and sentencing these two defendants who have pleaded guilty to the charge will be prejudicial to our clients’ case,” Agabi said.
He contended that Messrs Umeibe and Ezenwanne might have “pleaded guilty out of ignorance.”
However, counsel for the two defendants, Mr Okenyi, faulted Mr Agabi’s submissions concerning his clients’ admission of guilt.
“My clients couldn’t have pleaded guilty to charges in which they are legally represented in court,” Mr Ukenyi said.
On his part, NDLEA’s lawyer, Joseph Sunday, also opposed Mr Agabi’s argument, saying the “conviction and sentencing of the two defendants” cannot be put in abeyance till the conclusion of the five remaining defendants’ trial.
“It will be unfair to defer the conviction and sentencing of the two defendants till the conclusion of the trial of the defendants,” Mr Sunday who heads the legal services department of the NDLEA told the court.
In his intervention, the trial judge directed both prosecuting and defence lawyers to address the court on points of law concerning their arguments.
Thereafter, Nwite adjourned the suit till March 14 and 28, for the hearing of Mr Kyari’s and the remaining four defendants’ bail applications.
The judge will also take a review of the facts of the case to set the stage for the conviction and sentencing of Messrs Umeibe and Ezenwanne.
Kyari and his alleged accomplices were brought to the court at 8:12 a.m in a Black Hiace bus on Monday under tight security by NDLEA operatives.
The anti-narcotics agency also accused Mr Kyari, in a count which features only him as the sole defendant, of attempting to obstruct the NDLEA and its authorised officers by offering $61,400 to a senior anti-narcotics operative as an inducement to prevent the testing of the 17.55 kg of cocaine.
According to the NDLEA, four of Mr Kyari’s co-defendants are police officers belonging to the Intelligence Response Team (IRT), a police unit that was being led by him until he was suspended following the charges filed against him in the U.S. last year.