There was a graveyard silence in the crowded courtroom after suspected billionaire kidnapper, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, popularly known as Evans, pleaded guilty to the first of the two counts of conspiracy and kidnapping brought against him.
The Lagos State government Wednesday arraigned Evans alongside Uche Amadi, Ogechi Uchechukwu, Okwuchukwu Nwachukwu, Chilaka Ifeanyi, and Victor Aduba on a two count charge of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and kidnapping.
According to the government, the suspects had conspired on February 14th at about 7.45pm at Ilupeju, Lagos, to kidnap one Donatus Dunu and collect €223,000 for his release.
After he pleaded guilty when the first charge was read, there was a slight pause, and then the judge ordered the court registrar to repeat the question.
Evans repeated the same answer.
He also pleaded guilty to the second charge of kidnapping.
Mr. Amadi, the second defendant, also pleaded guilty to the two counts.
Mr. Nwachukwu pleaded guilty to conspiracy and not guilty to kidnapping.
Ms. Uchechukwu, the only female in the group, and Messrs. Ifeanyi and Aduba, pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
Justice Hakeem Oshodi adjourned till October 19 for trial of those who pleaded not guilty, and to look at the evidence for those who pleaded guilty before their conviction.
According to the criminal laws of Lagos State, an act of kidnapping attracts life imprisonment while kidnappers whose victims die in their custody get the death penalty.
Ahead of the arraignment, there was heavy security presence around the high court with armed police officers and armoured personnel carriers stationed at both entrances into the premises.
Police officers on horsebacks patrolled the grounds while uniformed men with bomb detectors frisked journalists at the door of the courtroom.
At about 9.30 a.m., at least half a dozen police officers marched a clean shaven Evans, sporting a cream shirt on black trousers, and his co-defendants into the courtroom.
The defendants had been in police custody since June 10.
Before their charges were read, Olukoya Ogungbeje, counsel to the defendants, attempted to raise an issue before the court but was shunned by the judge who told him “you can’t control my courtroom, the charges have not been read.”
After the defendants took their pleas, Mr. Ogungbeje said he had wanted to inform the judge that he had not been allowed to discuss with his clients before the arraignment.
“We are having the opportunity of meeting with our clients just this morning,” said Mr. Ogungbeje, who had filed a fundamental rights enforcement suit on behalf of Evans at a federal court.
“All the defendants have since been in the custody of the police, we have not had the opportunity of conferring with them, this is a capital offence.”
Earlier, Adeniji Kazeem, the Attorney General of Lagos State, specified that the defendants be remanded in Kirikiri Maximum Prison before the next adjourned date.
“We apply for the defendants to be remanded in custody and to obtain trial dates for the ones that had pleaded not guilty,” said Mr. Kazeem, the lead prosecutor.
“While those that had pleaded guilty, we can come and lay our statement of facts following which your lordship can adjourn for sentencing.”
While adjourning, the judge ordered that the male defendants be remanded at the Kirikiri Maximum Prison while Ms. Uchechukwu be kept at the Kirikiri Female Prison.
After the court proceedings, which lasted about 45 minutes, Evans and the other defendants remained in court for almost two hours before they were taken away in a waiting Prison vehicle.