The Federal High Court in Lagos has refused to grant bail to 10 suspected pirates accused of hijacking a fishing vessel, FV Hai Lu Feng II, belonging to Haina Fishing Company.
Justice Ayokunle Faji denied them bail on Wednesday on the ground that the gravity of the charge against them bordered on the threat to national security.
He also considered the punishments for the alleged crimes, which stipulates a life sentence or at least a fine of not less than N50 million and restitution, if found guilty under the Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act of 2019.
This is the first trial to be prosecuted under the law and Justice Faji has ordered an accelerated hearing of the case.
After his ruling on the bail applications, the court listened to the testimony of a fourth prosecution witness.
The witness and a police superintendent, Danladi Aliyu, told the judge that his team was on the Federal Government’s panel to probe piracy.
Sometime in May, the team was tasked with interrogating the defendants.
But counsel to the first, third, fourth, eighth, and ninth defendants, Omoniyi Aruwayo, objected to the admission of certain confessional statements allegedly made by the suspects during the interrogation.
The lawyers individually argued that the information contained in the statements were obtained under duress and after several beatings.
They urged the court not to accept the statements in evidence as exhibits.
This development prompted Justice Faji to conduct a trial-within-trial to scrutinise the statements.
Giving his testimony, Aliyu denied that the defendants were tortured and informed the court that the process was done in a conducive atmosphere which had light, AC, TV and a refrigerator.
He added that lawyers from the legal aid counsel, who represented the defendants, witnessed the interrogation.
The witness also insisted that other officers from the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Nigerian Navy were also present at the interrogation.
In his ruling, Justice Faji adjourned until August 4 for the continuation of the trial-within-trial during which a video of the statement taking process would be watched.
The defendants in the case are Frank Abaka, Jude Ebaragha, Shina Alolo, Joshua Iwiki, David Akinseye, Ahmed Toyin, Shobajo Saheed, Adekole Philip, Matthew Masi, and Bright Agbedeyi.
They were arraigned on July 13 on three counts and were accused of hijacking a fishing vessel.
The prosecuting counsel for the Federal Government, Laraban Magaji, said the defendants committed the offence in May on the international water at Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire, thereby violating Section 3 of Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act, 2019, and were liable to punishment under Section 2 of the same Act.
They all pleaded not guilty during their arraignment and after their plea, the prosecution immediately called its first three witnesses.
Last week, the defendants’ counsel argued their applications for bail on the grounds that there was no cogent information in the charge, and that the offences were bailable ones which the court has the powers to grant.
Some of the defendants were also said to be ill and needed medical attention outside their detention facilities.
The court, however, ruled that there was no proof of the nature of the said illnesses in their applications.