Emeka Ephraim Ugwuonye,a Nigerian lawyer disbarred in the US and Nigeria; and two other lawyers. Messrs. Nsikak Udo and Farouk Khamagam, were, on Thursday, arraigned before Chief Magistrate Court 2 Wuse Zone 2 Area, Abuja.
The three men were arraigned before the court, presided over by Chief Magistrate Mabel Bello, for alleged criminal roles in the disappearance of an Abuja-based woman, Mrs. Charity Aiyedogbon.
While Mr. Ugwuonye is facing a charge of criminal defamation, Messrs. Udo and Khamagam have been charged with forgery and perjury.
The accused persons, through their lawyers, applied for bail after their arraignment. The prosecutor, Mr. Adama Musa, opposed Mr. Ugwuonye’s bail application. He told the court that the disbarred lawyer is notorious and expressed fears that he could jump bail, especially as he has dual citizenship. According to the prosecutor, Mr. Ugwuonye has repeatedly failed to honour invitations.
In her ruling, Chief Magistrate Mabel Bello granted him bail in the sum of N5million with a surety, who must be a civil servant and not earning less than N300, 000 monthly. The surety, said the Chief Magistrate, must also have a traceable address in the Federal capital Territory.
Messrs. Udo and Khamagam were granted bail on self-recognition for being practising lawyers and residents of the Federal Capital Territory. Hearing in Mr. Ugwuonye’s criminal defamation matter is slated for 16 March, while that of Messrs. Udo and Farouk Khamagam has been adjourned to 30 March. At the time of filing this report, it was not clear whether Mr. Ugwuonye had fulfilled his bail conditions.
Mr. Ugwuonye had claimed to be in possession of overwhelming evidence that the missing Mrs. Aiyedigbon was killed by her estranged husband, Mr. David Aiyedogbon. The tainted lawyer is expected to show evidence to the court. His extravagant claim was made in different posts on his Facebook group, Due Process Advocates (DPA).
“I now have overwhelming evidence that Mr. David Aiyedogbon killed his wife, Chacha. David has an idea of the kind of evidence at my disposal,” Mr. Ugwuonye claimed in a post.
In another, accompanied by an image of a corpse, he wrote: “This is the headless and dismembered body of Charity Aiyedogbon. DPA has been able to identify this as her body within the limits of resources at our disposal. I will describe David as a low-life and cold-blooded murderer of his own wife. The only reason I would not go further to describe David in the most despicable language that he rightly deserves is that I would rather focus my argument on points that would lead to justice for Chacha. The issue is not whether Emeka’s account is accurate or not, but, rather, the issue is whether Emeka has evidence that would send David to the hangman. Yes, I do.”
But after many invitations to him by the Police to produce evidence, Mr. Ugwuonye brought none.
The lawyer is already facing a N10billion defamation suit (No. CV/2750/16), filed by Mr. Aiyedogbon before Justice Peter Kekemeke of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court 14, Apo Abuja.
Messrs. Udo and Khamagam are said to have admitted in writing to the Police that they forged the signature of their missing client, Mrs. Aiyedogbon.
Mr. Ugwuonye’s co-accused walked into trouble when certain people thought to be close to Mrs. Aiyedogbon allegedly said she disappeared on 9 May 2016. But Mr. Udo claimed Mrs. Aiyedogbon visited him at home 18 May 2016. He had, on 29 April 2016, filed a suit against 29 respondents, including Mrs. Aiyedogbon’s biological children and estranged husband at the Federal High Court, Lokoja.
The lawyer’s claim of meeting with the missing woman nine days after her purported disappearance prompted the Police to invite him for questioning. He was said to have confessed that her signature was forged.
A Police source involved in the investigation said Mr. Udo, in his statement confessed that he forged Mrs. Aiyedogbon’s signature in an affidavit he filed in court in Lokoja. He had earlier claimed that the missing woman came to him and one of his staff accompanied her to a High Court to depose to an affidavit in support of the ex-parte motion filed along with the case.
The Police wondered how a person, who was declared missing on the 9 May reappeared on 18 May. Following a petition, the Police investigated the matter, which resulted in Mr. Udo confessing to the crime in his statement. Mr. Khamagam was found to have conspired with him to commit the crime.
In a related development, Mr. Tony Ogbulafor, counsel to Mr. Aiyedogbon, has filed a fresh defamation suit against Mr. Ugwuonye at the Abuja Judicial Division. Mr. Ogbulafor took advantage of Mr. Ugwuonye’s appearance in court to serve him the court papers, since, according to him, previous efforts to track him for service, had proved futile.
Mr. Ugwuonye was struck off the legal practitioners’ roll in Maryland, Washington DC and New York in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Following his disbarment, he relocated to Nigeria, where the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) of the Body of Benchers of Nigeria, which deals with professional misconduct among lawyers, also ordered the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court of Nigeria to remove his name from the legal practitioners’ roll in May 2017.
The order arose from a 2016 case in which Mr. Ugwuonye was alleged to have failed to disclose his personal interest in a property for which he was briefed to obtain letters of Administration. He eventually converted the property to personal use. The said property was owned by a deceased widow, whose sister petitioned the LPDC. Responding, Mr. Ugwuonye claimed that the deceased was his fiancée and owed him about $100,000, debt he failed to disclose to the petitioner at the time of the briefing.
In 2013, a US District Court in Washington DC issued a judgment against Mr. Ugwuonye in a case in which he diverted to personal use a tax refund of $1.55 million in a real estate transaction undertaken on behalf of the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC. Mr. Ugwuonye was found liable on all the claims made by the Embassy, with the court awarding monetary damages of over $2million against him as well as ordering him to pay interest on the money he had stolen.
Between 2015 and 2016, Mr. Ugwuonye was alleged to have set up a fake Facebook account, which he used to dupe unsuspecting Nigerians by claiming to represent vulnerable members of the society. With his group known as “Due Process Advocates,” Ugwuonye allegedly duped his followers of millions of naira in donations made into his private accounts.
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