Court orders release of businessmen wrongly jailed for faking trademark

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The Court of Appeal Lagos Division has ordered the release of two businessmen; Nnamdi Okoye and Ikechukwu Ezeogwum who were sentenced to prison in 2018 for allegedly faking the trademark of Above Hairspray Container Design, a hair product owned by Dubas ‘N’ Ches Commercial Co. Ltd.

The businessmen who own the trademark for Zion Oilsheen, a hair product had in 2008 been dragged to court by Dubas ‘N’ Ches Commercial Co. Ltd. who owns the Above Oilsheen trademark for allegedly faking their product.

Dubas ‘N’ Ches Commercial Co. Ltd. contended that Okoye and Ezeogwum used a paper wrapper with the word ‘Zion’ to conceal the name of his product; ‘Above’, while the two businessmen insisted that they did, after a printer made the mistake of printing ‘Above’, instead of ‘Zion’ on a wrapper meant for their own product (Zion).

Okoye and Ezeogwum contended further that they could not have concealed the word ‘Above’ with the word ‘Zion’ if their intention was to defraud unsuspecting consumers as they would rather have branded their own product (Zion) as ‘Above’. The two were however found guilty by Justice Abang J and sentenced to prison.

But in a unanimous judgment on 29th June, 2020, three appeal court Justices, Ikyegh, Ogakwu and Tobi ordered that both men be released from jail, while faulting Justice Abang who had sentenced them in 2018.

The justices while delivering their judgment nullified the judgment of Abang J., convicting and sentencing; Nnamdi Okoye and Ikechukwu Ezeogwum to prison terms, saying that the entire proceeding was a nullity.

The court declared the proceeding before Abang a nullity; set aside the judgment of the lower court embodying the conviction and sentence of each Appellant; and also declined to order a fresh trial while making further order that the Appellants be released from the correctional facility where they were being held forthwith for reasons that there was no formal charge before the lower court for the joint trial of the two defendants and no plea was taken.

The Judges also lashed out at Justice Abang for doing a shoddy job in the mater at the lower court.

Barr. Odinaka Obiorah, counsel to the two businessmen who spoke with journalists said that it has been a tough battle to get the two men out of the wrongful incarceration, as Justice J Abang who jailed them proceeded on the matter without jurisdiction.

He said, “Abang, J. commenced trial afresh on 18th May 2010 but without any valid charge before the honourable court. Hon Justice Abang did not also take the plea of the accused persons at all and proceedings continued to judgment before taking plea of the accused persons.

“The Appeal Court Judges saw that what Justice Abang did was not fair. You can see that they were very unhappy with the judgment at the lower court. The jail terms slammed on the men were more than 14 times the sentence prescribed by law; that is if assuming they were guilty.

“We thank God that at last, someone has seen through the self-inflicted errors of the lower court and have decided to do the right thing. I thank my lords for coming to the aid of these innocent businessmen.”

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