Akwa Ibom State High Court sitting in Uyo has ordered the Federal Road Safety Corps, to immediately recall its suspended Superintendent Route Commander, Mr Abochi John, who was charged with receiving a stolen phone in 2016.
This is as the court discharged and acquitted Mr Abochi John and one Anietie Okokon Udoh, a 37-year-old father of four from Ikot Ayang Itam in Itu Local Government Area, of a two-count charge of receiving stolen property.
In the judgment in a suit instituted by the state against the accused persons, the Court also ordered the “FRSC to pay Abochi John, all his salaries, allowances, entitlements and such other benefits accruable to him from the day of his suspension till date.”
Delivering judgement which lasted for over three hours on Monday, the presiding judge, Justice Ntong Ntong said, “the reinstatement of the suspended FRSC officer, shall take effect forthwith and the payments of his salaries carried out within three months, on or before April 16, 2023.”
Abochi, a 53-year-old native of Dekina Local Government Area of Kogi State, was the Acting Unit Head of Operations, Mbak Unit Command in Itu Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, where he was said to have received a stolen Samsung Galaxy J7 phone, worth seventy-five thousand Naira.
Justice Ntong said he found it “worrisome why the FRSC officer was suspended when the Federal Road Safety Corps ought to know that an accused person is presumed innocent during the trial.”
The court held that, “in a criminal trial, the onus lies on the prosecution to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt and that even when the accused person admitted committing the offence, the prosecution is still not relieved of its burden.”
Justice Ntong said, “the prosecution created serious doubts in the mind of the court, beginning with the first prosecution witness, Mrs Utomobong Johnson, the Head of Administration, Legal, of El-Coolex Limited, the Company that was allegedly robbed, testifying on a hearsay evidence, not admissible in law.”
The Court also pointed out that the fourth Prosecution Witness, Mr Deeka Nwigbara from the Anti Robbery Squad, State Criminal Investigation Department, Uyo, who was assigned to investigate the matter, could not confirm how the second prosecution witness, Somairi Dienye Jaja, the Managing Director of the company, tracked the stolen phones to the accused persons.
The court said the “Police exhibited great lackadaisical attitude in investigating the matter, the reason why the Police Officer said he investigated armed robbery, store breaking and stealing in one breath and in another breath, he somersaulted to an abysmal level of contradicting himself.”
Justice Ntong said the situation shows that “the Police Officer did not conduct any thorough investigation, but stayed in the comfort of his office and repeated the cock and bull stories other prosecution witnesses told him, which he accepted hook line and sinker without more.”
He said when “the prosecution merely parades the charge of receiving a stolen property without credible evidence, the Court cannot allow himself to be encapsulated by sentiments and speculations, to punish an innocent soul.”
According to the court, “even though the prosecution alleged that the robbery occurred sometime in April 2016, the police did not commence investigations until June 28, 2017, a period of more than one year after the alleged incident.”
Justice Ntong said, “for the court to act positively on evidence to ground a conviction, such evidence must be credible, positive and unassailable, not a cut and joined evidence.”
He said, “the pieces of evidence of the accused are direct, positive and believable that he bought a phone on credit for instalment payment, but as soon as he realised that the phone was faulty, he terminated the transaction, returned the phone and collected his deposit.”
Justice Ntong held “that the prosecution has failed to convince the court and has not established by credible evidence, that the legal elements of an offence of receiving stolen items are present in the case.”
He said, “a mere fact that the police arrested a person, gave him the alleged stolen phones and made him pose for journalists, is not enough for the court to convict such a person.”
Justice Ntong further held that “since the court was not told who stole the phones and where the phones were stolen from, the police should return the nine phones tendered as exhibits to the owners.”
The court dismissed the charge against Abochi John and Anietie Okokon Udoh and declared that by virtue of the evidence, “both of them are innocent.”