By Steve Oko On 02/04/2016
The 76 Awgu farmers arrested penultimate week by alleged “fake solders” and dumped in prison were yesterday granted bail by two Umuahia Magistrate Courts.
They were arrested on March 17 following a clash with Fulani herdsmen who without authorisation settled in the community and had been allegedly grazing their cattle on their farmlands, thereby destroying their crops.
Their release came two hours before the expiration of 72-hour ultimatum issued by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) for their unconditional release.
The 76 farmers were grouped into three and arraigned in two different magistrate courts – Court 2, and Court 5, with court 2 handling two batches.
Five count charges preferred against the farmers include: conspiracy to commit arson, burning down of 90 houses belonging to herdsmen, unlawful possession of fire arms, possession of five locally made single barrel guns, and being armed with 42 machetes causing apprehension and terror to members of the public.
Journalists were barred from covering the proceedings by one of the magistrates, Mary Emenike in – charge of Court 5.
Section 24 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) empowers journalist to hold government and its officials, including judicial officers, accountable to the people.
Later in an interview, the lead counsel to the farmers, Barrister Damian Uche-Aja, gave the bail conditions granted to the two batches tried by Chief Magistrate I. U Kalu of Magistrate 2 to include N200,000 each with one surety in like sum.
He added that in the alternative, they could be taken in bail by the traditional ruler of the community or two people of substance who must be resident in Umuahia or Umunneochi.
According to him, the bail conditions by the Magistrate of Court 5, Emenike, N200,000 each, five sureties who must be resident in Umuahia, and two passport photos each.
The counsel, however, expressed happiness that at last, the villagers had been granted bail.
He said his clients are prepared for trial as the case has been adjourned till April 29.
In an interview, the traditional ruler of the community, HRH Igwe Godwin Nwobi, expressed joy that his subjects were released at last after spending 15 days in detention.
The faint-looking and exhausted farmers left the court premises in chartered vehicles around 6pm for their community.