Justice Ayokunle Faji of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, has rejected the extra judicial statements of ten alleged pirates, being sought to be tendered by the prosecution, saying in his ruling that there was a likelihood that they were obtained under threat and intimidation.
The prosecution being led by Labaran Magaji of the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation had claimed that the defendants accused of hijacking a vessel in May last year voluntarily made the statements while they were in the custody of the Nigerian Navy.
The defendants are Frank Abaka, Jude Ebaragha, Shina Alolo, Joshua Iwiki, David Akinseye, Ahmed Toyin, Shobajo Saheed, Adekole Philip, Matthew Masi, and Bright Agbedeyi.
They were arraigned last July 13, on three counts bordering on hijack of a fishing vessel, committed on international waters off Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire.
They were said to have violated Section 3 of Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act, 2019, and liable to punishment under Section 2 of the same Act.
Each defendant pleaded not guilty, following which trial commenced and the prosecution called its first three witnesses. During the evidence of the last witness in September, Mr Magaji Urged the court to admit the Defendants’ extra judicial statements as exhibits.
But Counsel to the defendants, opposed the admission of the alleged confessional statements, contending that the information in the statements was obtained under duress, after several beatings and prayed the court to reject same.
To determine whether the statements were obtained voluntarily, Justice Faji directed parties to commence a trial within trial. When that came to an end on December 14, the judge reserved ruling for Monday.
The court ruled that, after a close examination of the statements, there was a clear variance between the time those statements were said to have been obtained and an accompanying video tape which raised doubt about whether they were truly obtained at the same time.
The judge observed that the prosecution provided no explanation as to what led to the differences in the time of both the statements and the video.
He said: “The differential in the time of the video and the statements cast doubt in the mind if these statements were not obtained under threat and intimidation. I definitely doubt the statements were obtained voluntarily.
“I conclude that the time variance means that the difference in the time is when the defendants were taken out to be tortured and made the statements under duress.
“The statements of the defendants, even if relevant, are subject to the test of voluntariness
“The prosecution having failed to prove the cause of the variance between the time when the statements were obtained and the video, is worrisome.
“The court frowns at beating of the defendants while obtaining their statements…
The prosecution has failed to establish that the statements of the defendants were taken voluntarily and same is hereby marked rejected.”
The judge adjourned further hearing in the case till February 9 and 10.