The Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, yesterday dismissed an appeal filed by ex-beauty queen, Ibinabo Fiberesima, challenging a Lagos High Court judgment which sentenced her to serve five years in prison for the death of one Dr. Giwa Suraj.
The embattled president of the Actors’ Guild of Nigeria (AGN) was sentenced by Justice Deborah Oluwayemi for reckless driving which caused the death of Suraj in an auto accident along the Lekki-Epe Expressway, Lagos.
He was an employee of a Lagos State hospital.
Dissatisfied, Fiberesima in her amended appellant brief filed by her lawyer, Nnaemeka Amaechina, urged the court to set aside the sentence and restore the decision of the Magistrate’s Court which sentenced her to a N100,000 fine.
But delivering judgment yesterday, the appellate court dismissed the appeal and affirmed the High Court’s judgment.
In a unanimous decision delivered by Justice Jamilu Yammama Tukur, the court held that the trial Magistrate’s Court lacked the discretion to grant Ibinabo an option of fine after her conviction.
It held further that the appeal lacked merit and thereby dismissed it accordingly.
Other members of the panel are Justice U.I. Ndukwe-Anyanwu (Mrs.) (presiding) and Justice Tijani Abubakar.
Ibinabo, who was visibly apprehensive throughout the proceedings, burst into tears immediately the judgment was delivered.
The court had, at its last sitting, ordered her to appear before it on the judgment day.
Speaking on the judgment, her lawyer, Nnaemeka Amaechina, said it would be challenged at the Supreme Court, adding that a Notice of Appeal had been filed already.
The Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Command, had in 2005 charged Fiberesima to an Igbosere Magistrate’s Court on a two-count charge of dangerous and reckless driving along the Lekki- Epe Expressway, Lagos which resulted in the death of Suraj.
She was awarded a N100, 000 fine by the court, but this decision was tested at the High Court by the Lagos State Government.
At the High Court, Justice Oluwayemi set aside the option of N100, 000 fine imposed and sentenced Fiberesima to five years imprisonment for dangerous and reckless driving.
She held that the trial magistrate exercised judicial recklessness when he gave the convict an option of N100, 000 fine and this did not serve the purpose of justice.
She subsequently ordered that the N100, 000 should be returned to Fiberesima.
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.
Dissatisfied, Fiberesima in her amended appellant brief filed by her lawyer, Nnaemeka Amaechina, before the Court of Appeal urged the court to set aside the five-year sentence and restore the decision of the Magistrate Court.
Amaechina had argued that the Magistrate’s Court exercised its discretion properly and there was no ground to review it by the High Court.
He submitted that by virtue of the Notice of Increased in Jurisdiction of Magistrates, No. 7 of 2006, the trial Magistrate could only impose a maximum of 7 years imprisonment or N100, 000 fine.
He added that N100, 000 fine is the maximum limit the trial magistrate can impose as fine and that was what it imposed on the appellant.
In her response, counsel to Lagos State, Mrs Rotimi Odutola, argued that the law creating the offence of dangerous driving, causing death has provided for a term of imprisonment as punishment for anyone convicted under Section 28, hence the trial magistrate ought not to exercise such arbitrary discretion to impose N100.000 as fine.
Odutola further submitted that the children of the deceased have been permanently deprived of the ‘’measureless contributions’’ of their father to their lives as a result of his death caused by the appellant.