There was a mild drama at the Federal High Court in Lagos on Friday, February 8, 2024, when the judge freed a commercial motorcyclist (otherwise called an okada rider) who wrongly pleaded guilty to a drug dealing charge.
Justice Akintayo Aluko discharged and acquitted Reuben Ashade of the charge filed against him by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), after finding no evidence linking him with the crime.
The judge found that the facts of the case, the NDLEA’s evidence and Ashade’s testimony showed that he was not guilty of the offence, despite his guilty plea.
The judge suo moto (on his own) discarded Ashade’s plea.
The NDLEA’s counsel, Mr. A.F. Adebayo had told the court during Ashade’s arraignment that the defendant was arrested at Ashade Compound, Ashipa, near the Seme border.
The court heard that Ashade, on November 26, 2023, at Customs Checkpoint Yard, before Gbaji Village, Badagry Local Government Area of Lagos State, unlawfully dealt in “2kg of marijuana otherwise known as ‘Cannabis Sativa’ a narcotic drug similar to Cocaine, Heroin or LSD, an offence contrary to and punishable under Section 11C of the NDLEA Act, 2004.”
Ashade pleaded guilty, and the case was adjourned for a review of the facts and sentencing.
When the court resumed on Friday, Justice Aluko enquired from the defendant why he committed the offence.
But the defendant denied doing what he was charged with.
Ashade said: “I am an okada rider who operates within Badagry and Seme border. A certain man engaged my services to carry him to Badagry from the border which was what I and other okada riders do.
“He boarded my bike and, as we were going, we saw a Customs checkpoint. The man jumped down from the bike and ran away.
“I then explained to the Customs personnel that I did not know him before neither knew what was in the bag he carried.”
When Justice Aluko asked Ashade why he then pleaded guilty, the defendant said that he was told to do so.
The judge then perused Ashade’s statement tendered by the prosecution and discovered that it was identical to what he said in open court.
Consequently, he set aside Ashade’s guilty plea and discharged and acquitted him.
Justice Aluko held: “I have considered the plea of the Defendant and the evidence of PW1. I have examined the exhibits before the Court. The Prosecution through the PW1 tendered the Statement of the Defendant in evidence.
“As it relates to the intention to commit the offence, the relevant evidence is the statement of the Defendant which the prosecution tendered through PW1.
“The other exhibits tendered are only to prove that this substance is Indian hemp. Exhibits A, B, D, E, F, G & G1 only proved that the substance is Indian hemp. They don’t prove that the Defendant committed the offence of dealing in cannabis sativa as contained in the charge.
“The only evidence which has to do with intention to commit the offence is exhibit C which is the statement of the Defendant tendered by the prosecution. So, exhibit C is the prosecution’s evidence, and the said Exhibit is the Defendant’s statement.
“The Defendant is only an Okada rider who carried the passenger, who was in possession of the substance without knowing that what he was carrying was Indian hemp. His statement suggests that when they got to a customs checkpoint, the passenger jumped down and started running.
“There is no better evidence before the Court as to the intention to commit the offence. The statement of the Defendant does not support or prove that he deals or dealt in Indian hemp or cannabis sativa.
“Even though the Defendant has pleaded guilty to the offence, the statement of the Defendant tendered and admitted as the prosecution evidence does not support the plea of the Defendant and neither support the charge.
“I am not satisfied that the Defendant committed the offence based on the evidence before the Court i.e.; Exhibit C. Accordingly, the Defendant is not found guilty of the offence. He is accordingly discharged and acquitted.
“Exhibits G and G1 shall be returned to the Agency for public destruction.”
Ashade’s counsel Oreofe Ogunleye was surprised and full of praises. He appreciated the judge’s “detailed and erudite ruling.”