Drug Offence: Appeal Court Quashes Life Imprisonment Sentence

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An appeal court in Lagos, southwest Nigeria, has quashed the life imprisonment sentence passed on a drug convict, Adedeji Adesanya.

The judgement of the appellate court was sequel to an appeal filed against the judgement of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Lagos, delivered on 7 December, 2009. Adedeji Adesanya was sentenced to life imprisonment and being not satisfied with the judgement, he appealed.

The facts which led to this appeal are as follows, the appellant was charged on one-count charge, “that you, Adedeji Adesanya, ‘male’, adult Nigerian, on or about the 30 July, 2009 at Gbaji, NDLEA check point along Badagry-Seme Expressway, without lawful authority imported two kilogrammes of Indian Hemp, a drug similar to cocaine, heroin LSD, thereby committing an offence contrary to and punishable under section 11 (a ) of the NDLEA Act, Cap N30, laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

The accused pleaded guilty to the charge and consequently, the court adjourned till 7 December, 2009 for the review of the facts of the case, the facts of the case were presented by NDLEA and the trial court found him guilty, convicted and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

However, in the brief of the argument of the appeal filed on 27 June, 2011, the counsel to the convict, Barrister Ngozi Ekwensi, submitted that the trial court did not comply with the mandatory provisions of section 215 and 218 of the criminal procedure act and section 36 (6) (a) and (b) of the constitution of the federation.

Mrs. Ekwensi further argued that the one-count charge dated 31 May, 2009 was not the one read to the appellant and therefore the arraignment and trial must be declared a nullity.

The counsel also submitted that an important aspect of the case is the fact that the charge before the trial court was a technical one which contains scientific analysis of the alleged Indian hemp conducted and scientific documents completed to buttress the charge while same were not explained in detail to the appellant. It was seriously contended that, more than in any other case, the appellant had a constitutional right to be explained to and in detail, the nature of the offence and such explanation should be to the satisfaction of the court.

The appellate court was urged to quash the sentence, more importantly, as the court failed to note that the appellant was still expecting his counsel to turn up in court, and therefore, should not have proceeded with the trial in the absence of the appellant’s counsel.

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However, the respondent’s counsel, Chuka Francis Agbu, contended that the arraignment oft the appellant met the requirement of a valid and proper arraignment as laid down by section 215 of the criminal procedure act and as enunciated by the Supreme Court but conceded that truly the law requires that the charge be read and explained to the accused person before his plea is taken.

Mr. Agbu argued further that the appellant understood the English language and the charge but was hoping for a lenient sentence after the trial. He, therefore, urged the court to hold that the requirement of the criminal procedure act was met in that the complaint of the appellant that he could not understand the details of the offence against him is unfounded.

In unanimous lead judgement delivered by Justice Helen Moronkeji Ogunwumiju, she said, “Though I am conscious of the high incidents of drug trafficking and the fact that these crimes must be discouraged, I do not think an order of re-trial would meet the justice of this case. The prosecution has been particularly inefficient in the prosecution of this case, let us recollect that the charge read to the accused purportedly dated 31 May, 2009 was not the charge nor amended charge on record.

“Thus, the appellant has been in custody on an uncertain charge. Each section of the NDLEA act carried different category of sanctions depending on the severity of the offence.

“Let us look at the circumstances of this case, the appellant was charged with an offence punishable under section 11 (d) of the NDLEA act. According to paragraph 4.3 of the respondent brief, only section 11 (b) carries the penalty of life imprisonment. Therefore, by the showing of the prosecution, the appellant was not even charged with the offence that carries life imprisonment. Also the appellant is a first offender and was 25 years old at the time he committed the offence.

“Taking the whole circumstances of this case into consideration, I am of the view that the appellant has been taught a lesson not to violate the law of society and that by his incarceration for the past three years he has paid his debt to society.

“In the circumstances, I enter an unconditional discharge for the appellant. Appeal allowed,” Justice Ogunwunmiju concluded.