Bench Warrant: Court Orders Rivers CP To Arrest, Detain Ex-PDP Guber Aspirant Walter Okeke Over Allege Theft
A Port Harcourt high Court has issued a bench Warrant against a former PDP Governorship aspirants Walter Okeke for refusing to appear before the court.
Justice Chinwendu Nwogu in his ruling at the state high court held that the defendant Walter Okeke was dully served Court processes but refused to appear in court, an effort the court viewed to be systemic delay to obstruct Justice by raising preliminary objection even before the matter is heard in court. Quoting several sections of ACJL and relevant law books and laws of the state, Justice Chinwendu ordered the commissioner of Police to arrest and Detain Walter Okeke in the Nigeria correctional service until the matter will come up on the 26th May 2023.
In his ruling same day, Nwogu said the defendants were served, and that their objection was filed the previous day (May 11, 2023 against mention of May 12, 2023). He stated that it was confirmed that the defendant refused to come to court on Friday, May 12, 2023.
He said the court was yet to receive the notice of objection to the case the defendant said he filed. “The court must be vigilant, and must hear every objection before it. We are aware of the Rivers State Court processes law which says all objections will come on address stage. The interest of justice cannot be used to please a party in court. It is mandatory that the objection would be taken at address stage. I cannot fix hearing on the objection. That rule is binding on me. Again, this case is not charged under federal law but under Rivers State law. Objection is thus in error.”
He declared that the defendant refusal to attend or come to court. “Is disrespectful. He has refused to appear. I therefore make the following orders: Order of Bench Warrant; Order to arrest him detain him in the Port Harcourt Correctional Centre; Order to empower the Police to execute this order and bring him to court on next adjourned
Speaking to our correspondent outside the court room the Prosecuting counsel to the Rivers State attorney General Chidi Eke explained that the matter with which the defendant council is referring to in the Magistrate court was a dummy case and allegedly went to Magistrate court to seek elongation of case knowing that the matter is pending before a high court
The prosecutor told our correspondent, that the state Attorney-General told the Chief Magistrate on May 8, 2023 that it had taken over the case Eke, known in judicial circles as CB Eke, is a prosecutor in the Department of Public Prosecution, Attorney-General’s office, Ministry of Justice, Rivers State. Leading one other, he announced to the Chief Magistrate that the Attorney-General has taken over at the instance of the victim.
He also narrated what happened at the Chief Magistrate’s Court the previous day where the case was called up for striking out.
He said the defence led by one E.E. Obamanu had moved fast in the morning to move the case and thus obtained adjournment while he said he was climbing the staircase after searching for parking slot.
He said he later in the court premises informed the defendant and his lawyer at the Chief Magistrate’s court before A.O Amadi Nna. “The defence counsel told me that we did not come by way of ‘hearing notice’ and that his client would not appear. He said they were served information which he said the lawyer declined to accept.
“My lord, it’s his lawyer that asked him not to appear in court today. The defendant is following the crowd.”
Eke said the matter came up at Chief Magistrate’s Court on May 8, 2023 where he said the defendant was served that the case is now at the high court. “Right in open court, the defendant told the court that his lawyer told him not to sign or collect. He only signed it when the Chief Magistrate urged him to. The matter was adjourned to May 11, 2023, but before I could climb up, the defence counsel got an adjournment to a far date.
“I told him of the case coming up here today, he asked why he was not served notice of proceedings to prepare, and said his client will not come.
“I promised him I would apply for Bench Warrant against his client. I told him that the case at the magistrate court is now a dummy case because the High Court has taken over. I hereby apply for Bench Warrant.”
Apparently fuming, Eke told the Justice that it is wrong for lawyers to give clients or accused persons the impression that they can do anything and get away with it. “Section 87/120 of Rivers State law refers. Nobody is above the law, including lawyers and judges, even the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN).
“Socrates warned against disobedience of the law. The use of the word, shall, shows it’s mandatory obligation. The defendants lawyer boasted in the presence of the defendant that the Attorney-General of the state is his course mate, but I stand here to say that I represent the same Attorney-General, and until he asks me to stand down, I will discharge my duty.
“I told the defendant counsel that if his client refused to come to court today, that the law will be tested. See a team of lawyers from the same people who said they were not served but they have come here today to represent him when he is denying knowledge of the case today. Nobody is above the law.”
Also speaking outside the court room. TAMBARI VICTOR, The lawyer to Defendants Walter Okeke, expressed sadness over the Judge rulings. He said he has applied for the ruling which will be studied by his principal E E. Obomanu. He opined that its a violation of law for a matter pending in Magistrate Court, to also be entertained in high court He said: “The defendant is not running away from justice. The defence counsel only demanded to be put on notice so he can prepare for the matter.
“We consider the suit here as an abuse of court processes. This is because it is same matter pending at the Chief Magistrate’s Court. The defendant is being arm-bushed. He needs ample time to prepare for this matter.”
He said they filed notice of objection on Thursday 11, 2023. “We hereby oppose the application for a Bench Warrant. Once the jurisdiction of the court in a matter is challenged, appearance of defendant is not mandatory.
“We also submit that the matter is still pending at the Magistrate’s Court and beg the court to please adjourn this case.”
The state counsel immediately countered, saying there was no application before the court. “We have asked for the service even right here in court but he did not give us.”
This was when the judge took a break to go write his ruling, and he came back to order a Bench Warrant, thus making it the second Bench Warrant in one year against the politician/accused.
Correspondent Anita Ogona reports that The first Bench Warrant was fought for and issued in the Chief Magistrate’s Court in 2022 where the case was first filed. The warrant was executed and Okeke was arrested, detained at the Port Harcourt Correctional Centre for weeks. He later secured N100m bail.
The case has now been taken over by the office of the Attorney-General of Rivers State who moved it to the High Court and initiated ‘discontinue proceeding’ before Chief Magistrate, A.O. Amadi Nna so that the Justice, Chinwendu Nwogu of High Court 24 would take over.
The Attorney-General has however secured a Bench Warrant to arrest the former aspirant, Okeke again.” as
He adjourned the case to May 26, 2023, for taking plea.
Okeke hails from Enugwu village of Nanka in Orumba North local council area, in Anambra state but lives in his own compound at the Trans-Amadi area of the Garden City where the complainant, Ifeanyi Amaonye, allegedly stocked the oil drilling pipes and other heavy industrial equipment.
Okeke was accused of moving the equipment with trucks and heavy-duty equipment to unknown location. The police and later soldiers were said to have been invited and they halted the alleged looting.
The charge sheet filed on May 27, 2022, at the Chief Magistrate’s Court had stated thus; “You, Walter Ubaka Okeke and others now at large, did conspire to commit felony to wit: stealing; and therefore committed an offence punishable under Section 516A of the Criminal Code Law Cap 37 Vol 2, Laws of Rivers State”.
The second count mentioned the value of the alleged stolen property to be over N800m, items said to be property of a Port Harcourt-based business man, Mr Ifeanyi Amaonye, kept in the open at the accused’s compound in Trans-Amadi under tenancy agreement.