By Styvn Obodoekwe
A Magistrate Court sitting in Rumuodumanya, in the Rumuodumanya Magisterial District of Rivers State, has granted a N1million bail to 38 years old Njoku Francis, a taxi driver who recently knocked down to death a foremost journalist and environmentalist, Patrick Naagbanton in Port Harcourt.
The accused is facing a four count charge in Suit No. RMC/132c/2019 on traffic offence leading to the death of the environmentalist.
Parts of the charge read: “That you Njoku Francis ‘m’ on the 13th day of September, 2019 at about 1500hrs along East West Road by No. 1 Rukpakurusi New Layout, in the Rumuodumanya Magisterial District being the driver in charge of Mazda 206 vehicle with Registration no GBB 24 FS, did drive the said vehicle on the public highway in a reckless and inconsiderate manner by failing to have consideration for other road users and caused road accident having regards to all the circumstances of the case including the nature condition and amount of the traffic which was at the time, or may be reasonably expected to be on the highway and thereby committed an offence punishable under Rivers State Traffic (Amendment Law) Section 6 of 2009 No 24 (1).
“That you Njoku Francis on the same date, place and time in the aforesaid Magisterial District, did drive the said vehicle on the public highway in a dangerous and reckless manner and caused the death of one Patrick Naagbanton ‘m’ 49years of age and thereby committed an offence punishable under Rivers State Road Traffic (Amendment Law) Section 6 of 2009 No. 24 (2).
“That you Njoku Francis on the same date, place and time in the aforesaid Magisterial District did drive the said vehicle on the public highway in a dangerous and inconsiderate manner and drive without driver’s license and thereby committed an offence punishable under Rivers State Road Traffic Law Section 6 of 2009 No. 8 (1)”.
When the matter was mentioned in court on Monday, September 30,the accused pleaded guilty to two counts in the charge and not guilty in the other two counts which include driving without a driver’s license. He pleaded for mercy.
Ruling on a bail application by the accused lawyer, the trial magistrate, Esther Okere granted the accused bail in the tune of N1million. She directed that Surety must be a resident within the jurisdiction of the court, must have a landed property in the state and should submit his three passports photographs to the court.
She adjourned the matter till November 22 for hearing.
Speaking with newsmen outside the courtroom, Ayo Salami Esq. who held a watching brief for the family of the deceased and his organisation, Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) in the case, stated, “The Honorable court granted the accused bail at the tune of N1million and the surety must residence within the jurisdiction of the court.
“I was given a copy of the charge sheet where I discovered on the court records that the accused person pleaded guilty to two of the charges. So in that case what we intend to do is to seek the course for justice”.
He added, “When the accused has pleaded guilty like in this case, there is a very straight forward trial where the implication of the guilt is now explained to the person. The court prosecutor will now give a summary of what the accused has pleaded guilty for and pronouncement of punishment will follow.
“What the family and the NGOs are interested in this matter is not to single out anybody for punishment, No. The good man Patrick Naagbanton is gone but what the family, NGOs and other international bodies are watching out for is due process; the law does not operate on sentiment, justice is blind. So they just want due process to take its cause for recklessly causing the death of a man. The Rivers State law prescribes sanction and the world is watching.”