Joe Effiong, Uyo
Five persons have been arraigned before Justice Anulika Okeke of the Federal High Court sitting in Uyo for allegedly dealing in adulterated rice.
But when their case with charge number FHC/UY/70C/19 was read before them, they pleaded not guilty to all the 17-count charges brought against them by the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC).
According to the charges, the five accused were prosecuted for advertising and displaying for sale defective, unsafe and re-bagged rice thereby committing an offence contrary to Section 11 of the Consumer Protection Council Act, Cap C25, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
The court granted all the accused persons bail with N5 million each and must have landed property within the jurisdiction of Court.
The judge, however, said that the accused must be remanded in prison custody until the bail condition was met.
Speaking with newsmen after the court, the lead counsel to the Commission, Mr Babatunde Irukera, said that the Commission on June 22, 2018, performed an operation in Uyo where the accused were arrested for re-bagging smuggled contaminated rice for consumers’ consumption.
“What happened today in court was an arraignment.
“Almost a year and a half ago, we performed an operation here in Uyo of people who were re-bagging smuggled contaminated rice for consumers consumption. Between then and now, we have concluded investigation.
“We have been struggling to quit a while to get the judiciary process moving. They have resisted arrest repeatedly but finally, we have been able to get them to come into court.
“They have been arraigned and have taken a plea today and the trial is about to start.
“My position on this is simple, that everyone must have their day in court, we would respect their right. But the times where you can violate the right of consumers and think that the worst that could happen is your goods to be confiscated must stop.
“That cannot be the only retribution. Until people are really taken through the judicial process and people suffer the appropriate penalty for their inappropriate conduct, we would not get a responsible society.
“We are grateful that this is happening. We look forward to prosecuting this case to the very end.
“This case would serve as a deterrent. I do not think that people who smuggle rice and retail it with other things have ever conceived that they could end up been remanded in prison.
“You can see that the judge has remanded the defendants, pending when they will fulfill the condition of bail. These are very vital steps to how to build a society that is fair to all,” he said.
Irukera, who is also the Director-General of the Commission said that every possible violation of the law that occurred based on the conduct would be confronted.
Lead Counsel to the defendants, Mr Christian Odoh, said that the commission alleged that his clients sold adulterated rice.
Odoh said that his clients had pleaded not guilty on all the 17-count charges; they have applied for their bail and the court granted them and then adjourn for hearing.
“They are not evading appearance in court. It is only when you commit a crime that you will be on the run. Again, we don’t consider the bail sum to be excessive,” he said.