Sola Charles, Asaba
Two days after the setting up of mobile courts across the state by the state Chief Judge, Justice Marshal Umukoro to prosecute defaulters of the State Government’s Stay-at-Home Restriction Order/Directives to curtail the spread of coronavirus ( COVID-19 ) into the state, no fewer than 176 defaulters have been convicted.
The defendants were arraigned under the Delta State Infectious Disease (Emergency Prevention) Regulation 2020 punishable under section 5 of the Quarantine Act Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990, and Delta State Infectious Disease (Emergency Prevention) Regulation 2020 punishable under Section 203 of the Criminal Code Law, CAP C21, Laws of Delta State of Nigeria, 2006.
The Charge No. MU/PH/ 7/ 2020 Attorney General of Delta State VS Samuel Igbuku and 10 ors, reads: ” That you Samuel Igbuku and 10 ors on or about the 9th day of April 2020 at Ughelli, a place within the Jurisdiction of this court was found moving about without a lawful permit thereby violating restriction of movement directive/order issued by the Governor of Delta State and commit an offence contrary to the Delta State Infectious Disease (Emergency Prevention) Regulation 2020 and punishable under section 5 of the Quarantine Act Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990.
“That you Samuel Igbuku and 10 ors on the 9th day of April 2020 at Ughelli within the Jurisdiction of this Court without lawful excuse did disobey a lawful order issued by the executive Governor of Delta by flouting the restriction of movement/order made pursuant to the Delta State Infectious Disease (Emergency Prevention) Regulation 2020 thereby commits an offence contrary to and punishable under section 203 of the Criminal Code Law, CAP C21, Laws of Delta State of Nigeria, 2020.”
The convicts who pleaded guilty to the one count charge were among the 243 defendants arraigned before Chief Magistrates Odjugo Ena ( Ughelli Magisterial Division ), Helen Okonkwo ( Asaba Magisterial Division ) and Sohwo M. Edoja ( Warri Magisterial Division ) even as 67 were discharged.
Breakdown of the figure shows that in Asaba, the Capital City 127 were arraigned, 89 sentenced and 38 discharged. 45 arraigned, 14 discharged and 31 sentenced in Ughelli, while in Warri 71 arraigned, 56 sentenced and 15 discharged.
Most of the convicts who pleaded guilty with sundry defences of going to purchase food items for their families and engaging in daily job to eke out a living, were fined between five hundred and three thousand Naira. The Court also made an Order for vehicles, tricycles and motorcycles belonging to some of the defaulters to be detained until the period of the Lockdown was over, even as others were sentenced to do community services for two or more weeks as the merit of the case demands.
The presiding Learned Magistrates dismissed their defences as unsatisfactory and frivolous. They, however, applied ingenuity and astuteness of the Law to discharge some defendants after probing further into the merit of their case only to discover that such ones were performing essential duties which were exempted from the restrictive Order, even when the defendants ignorantly pleaded guilty. Example was a mortuary attendant over 60 years old, elder Joseph Igho who said that he drove out to buy foodstuff for the family when the police impounded his Sienna vehicle. While one Odafe Leo explained that he was returning from hospital were his wife gave birth to a baby boy that morning when police arrested him and took him to Ovwian Alaja Divisional Police Station.
In an interview with the Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Delta State Command, DSP Onome Onovwakpoyeya stated that prosecution of offenders of the state Government Order shows that government was serious about it, stressing it would serve as a deterrent to others.
While commending the state government for the legal measure to enforce the Stay-at-Home Order, PPRO advised residents to remain at home, maintain social distance and observe sanitary routine of regularly washing their hands with running water or applying hand sanitizer.