By Romanus Okoye
Nollywood actor, Olanrewaju Omiyinka James, popularly known as Baba Ijesha, was yesterday arraigned at a Special Offences and Domestic Violence Court section of Lagos High Court, Ikeja on six-count charge bordering on indecent treatment of a child, sexual assault, attempted sexual assault by penetration and sexual assault by penetration.
The defendant who engaged two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), Mr Dada Awosika and Mr Babatunde Ogala along with six junior lawyers, pleaded not guilty to the offences which contravene sections 135, 259, 262, 263 and 262 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015.
Justice Oluwatoyin Taiwo, granted him bail in the sum of N2million and ordered that he be released while the trial continues. Taiwo said the defendant must bring the amount alongside two sureties — one of which must be a legal practitioner and the second a family relation. The judge, however, said that the actor must perfect the bail terms and conditions within the next seven days.
Before the judge’s ruling, the Lagos State Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Mrs Olayinka Adeyemi, who led the prosecution team of four other lawyers after urging the court to take the plea of the defendant, asked for a trial date. She also urged the court to remand the defendant in a correctional facility pending commencement of trial. But the defence countered; arguing that they had filed a bail application and had also served same on the prosecution and urged the court to grant them audience to argue it.
Adeyemi opposed the prayer; stating that her team was yet to verify the medical report which the defence relies on for the bail consideration. Justice Taiwo, in a short ruling, granted the request of the defence team and asked parties to join issues the bail application.
The bail application was brought pursuant to section 105(2) and (3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State, 2015 and sections 35 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). Lead defence counsel, Awosika (SAN), in a bail application supported by a 29-paragraph affidavit, asked the court to grant the defendant bail as guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution “I will wish to note that the issue of bail, especially on an offence of this nature, is a constitutional right. This is a right the defendant has been deprived of for the past 48 days when he was unlawfully held by the police. We are also not unconscious of the JUSUN strike which made it difficult to bring him to court. Imagine if this man is kept in detention for many years and is found innocent, will there be any restitution? No. Justice and fairness should be done.”
Also arguing, Ogala, SAN, prayed the court to grant his client’s bail application while the trial continues, noting that he has been deprived of his constitutional right since his arrest in April. The senior advocate argued that his client was wrongly accused and is being tried without evidence to substantiate the allegations against him. He said the defendant should be given adequate time to prepare for his trial and access to his lawyer, adding that there are people ready to stand as sureties for him.
In response, Adeyemi urged that the defendant be denied bail. According to her, the defendant is a flight risk and can influence witnesses, if granted bail. “I want to bring to my lord’s attention the nature of one of the offences – sexual assault by penetration – which carries life imprisonment. Bail is a discretionary right. It is not a constitutional right. On the nature of the offence and the strength of the evidence, there is a prima facie case before your lordship. The court should take judicial notice of the crime which is rampant in society,” she said.
The DPP described the offences brought against the actor as “grave” in nature. The prosecuting counsel said the court should be careful in its handling of the bail application, noting that the defendant could jump bail while his popularity could also affect the evidence against him in the case. The judge said the trial would begin on July 26 through 27 and 28 respectively.