A Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday adjourned to June 17 the trial of a former employee of Emzor Pharmaceutical Industries Limited, Chukwunonye Madubuike, who allegedly distributed codeine, a controlled substance, without authorisation.
The trial judge, Justice Maureen Onyetenu, will on the date hear an application filed by lawyers to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), challenging a subpoena issued on one of its correspondents.
Madubuike was arrested and charged to court by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) for allegedly sell of the illegal substance to a BBC’s undercover investigator, Adejuwon Soyinka.
The 2018 BBC documentary exposed the extent of addiction to the codeine-based cough mixture among Nigeria’s youth.
The Africa Eye film also exposed the black market practice of selling the medicine to people without a doctor’s prescription or a pharmaceutical licence.
After the documentary was aired, operatives of NAFDAC arrested Madubuike and arraigned him on a one court charge of selling Emzolyn with Codeine Cough syrup at a place not duly licensed or registered by the appropriate authority.
He was said to have committed the offence at Sharon Hotel and Suit in Lagos on or about April 24, 2018.
According to counsel to NAFDAC,
Adumen Jombo Washington the offence is contrary to ‘Section 2 (a) of the Counterfeit and Fake Drugs and Unwholesome Processed Foods (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act Cap C34 LFN 2004 and Punishable Under Section 3 of the Same Act.
The defendant, however, pleaded not guilty to the charge and he was granted bail by the court.
After the commencement of trial, the anti-drug agency invited the BBC’s correspondent who conducted the investigation to come to court to give evidence.
But the media house allegedly refused to honoured the invitation, a development that forced NAFDAC’s lawyer to applied for a subpoena to compel the journalist to appear before the court.
However, instead of obeying the court order, the BBC through its lawyer, Festus Onyia filed an application urging the court to set aside the subpoena.
The lawyer argued that the applicant is entitled to personal service of the subpoena that was issued by the court on February 12, 2019 or on any other dates and directed to the applicant at the instance of the prosecutor or any other party in the proceeding.
The lawyer also submitted that the applicant was not personally served with a copy of the subpoena as required by the extant laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Onyia further contended that, “the applicant is a journalist and is entitled to the benefit of the fundamental right to freedom 0f expression including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
As a journalist, the Applicant has both a legal and a moral duty not to disclose the source of confidential information he obtains in the course of carrying out his investigative journalism.
This Court has a duty to prevent a breach or a potential breach of the applicant’s journalistic rights and privileges as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Justice Onyetenu adjourned the case at the instance of the defence, who pleaded for time to study the application.
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