The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal has upheld the judgement of a Lagos State High Court sentencing an ex-beauty queen, Ibinabo Fiberesima, to five years imprisonment for manslaughter.
The lower court presided over by Justice Deborah Oluwayemi had convicted Fiberesima of manslaughter, ruling that the actress’ reckless driving was responsible for the death of one Dr. Giwa Suraj on the Lekki-Epe Expressway.
Justice Oluwayemi had set aside the verdict of a Lagos State Magistrate’s Court in Igbosere which earlier ordered Fiberesima to pay a fine of N100, 000 for the offence.
The high court judge ordered that the N100, 000 should be refunded to her while she should proceed on five years imprisonment.
However, Fiberesima, not pleased, headed for the Court of Appeal seeking to upturn the verdict.
But in a unanimous decision on Friday, a three-man appellate court panel, in a lead judgement by Justice Jamilu Tukur, dismissed Fiberesima’s notice of appeal adjudging it as lacking in merit.
The panel, comprising Justices U.I. Ndukwe-Anyanwu and Justice Tijani Abubakar, said the magistrate court, which ordered Fiberesima to pay a N100, 000 fine after conviction, misused its discretion.
The appellate court aligned with the reasoning of Justice Oluwayemi, who described the magistrate’s verdict as judicial recklessness.
It rejected argument by Fiberesima, through her lawyer, Nnaemeka Amaechina, that the magistrate’s verdict was in line and that the high court had no grounds to review it.
The appellate court agreed with Justice Oluwayemi that the N100, 000 imposed on Fiberesima did not serve the purpose of justice.
The court added that Section 28 of the Road Traffic Law clearly provides that where a reckless and dangerous driving has caused the death of a person, the accused person shall be guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment of seven years.
Upon being handed the Appeal Court verdict on Friday, Fiberesima, who was present in court on the order of the panel, burst into tears.
Her lawyer, Amaechina, however, indicated that the appellate court verdict will be challenged at the Supreme Court, adding that he had already filed a notice to that effect.
In his argument before the appellate court, Amaechina had urged the court to uphold the magistrate’s court’s decision in his client’s case, contending that by virtue of the Notice of Increased in Jurisdiction of Magistrates, No. 7 of 2006, the trial Magistrate could only have imposed a maximum of seven years imprisonment or N100, 000 fine.
He stressed that N100, 000 fine is the maximum limit the trial magistrate can impose as fine and that was what it imposed on the appellant.
But counsel for the state, Mrs. Rotimi Odutola, argued that the law creating the offence of dangerous driving causing death had provided for a term of imprisonment as punishment for anyone convicted under section 28, hence the magistrate ought not to exercise such arbitrary discretion to impose N100, 000 as fine.
Odutola further submitted that the children of the deceased had been permanently deprived of the “measureless contributions” of their father to their lives as a result of his death caused by the appellant.
She urged the court to uphold the judgement of the Lagos High Court and dismiss the appeal.
A Lagos High Court had in 2009 sentenced Fiberesima to five years imprisonment for manslaughter, involving the death of a medical doctor, Suraj Giwa, following an auto accident in 2006 along the Lekki-Epe Expressway.
Justice Deborah Oluwayemi had held that the N100,000 fine initially imposed by a lower court on Fiberesima was tantamount to judicial recklessness.
On Thursday, January, 28, 2016, an appeal court in Lagos had reserved the ruling on the appeal filed by Fiberesima for the sentence given by Oluwayemi.
She spent three months and three days in prison, but went on to appeal the case.
In a Facebook post in 2014, prompted by someone who had labeled Fiberesima “an ex-convict”, she said she was sorry for the incident.
She said, “I am very sorry, I could say it a million times but words would not be enough, yet some individuals with still bring such issues up to score cheap points and ignore the fact that every time you bring up that issue, you force the family to relive the pain afresh but they won’t mind as long as I suffer the same pain.”