Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court in Abuja has insisted that the trial of Colonel Nicholas Ashinze, a former aide to Colonel Sambo Dasuki and 7 others in alleged N1.5b fraud would not be resumed until the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) retracts fully the misrepresentation of the court’s proceedings that the defendants are being tried on N36.8b fraud.
Th e EFCC also wrongly referred to the aide of Dasuki as a retired military offi cer while Nicholas Ashinze is currently a serving Army Colonel. Th e judge dismissed the oral claim by the counsel to EFCC, Mr. Ofem Uket that the antigraft agency had retracted the off ending publication because the lawyer failed to produce any document or evidence before the court to ascertain its claim.
Justice Kolawole had at the last adjourned date of March 21, warned EFCC to stop media trial of Nigerians being put on prosecution for any off ence and ordered that the alleged N36.8b fraud contained in the EFCC Press Statement issued by one Mr. Wilson Uwujare to media houses in the country.
Th e Judge also ordered the news media involved in the alleged off ending publication to appear before it and show cause why they should not be disciplined for misrepresenting the court’s proceedings by dishing out falsehood to the general public through the EFCC press statement.
At the resume trial, counsel to EFCC informed Justice Kolawole that his client had already retracted the off ending press statement as contained in some national dailies of April 12, 2017 but however failed to present a copy of the retraction to the court as required by law. Uket therefore urged the court to resume the trial of the defendants on the ground that the court order issued against EFFC had fully been complied with.
However, Mr. Ernest Nwoye, Counsel to Colonel Ashinze stood his ground that the EFCC had not in any ways obeyed and respected the court order on the ground that EFCC has not shown any evidence or placed any document before the court as a prove of compliance.
Th e counsel argued that since the court order on the retraction was in writing and duly served on the EFCC, the anti-graft agency must show respect to the court by fi ling necessary papers and attaching necessary documents to show the compliance to the order of the court.
In the absence of any documentary evidence, Nwoye urged the court not to attach any seriousness to the oral evidence of the prosecution counsel. Counsel to other defendants in the matter including a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Paul Irokoro (SAN) aligned themselves with the submissions of Nwoye and urged Justice Kolawole to sustain the order for the retraction until the evidence of compliance with the order has been shown In his ruling Justice Kolawole disagreed with the oral evidence of the EFCC Counsel, lamenting that the counsel as a minister in the temple of justice has not shown any seriousness or do enough to protect the integrity of the judiciary from being unjustly rubbished.
Th e judge said that “No responsible judge will sit down and allow his court to be rubbished with falsehood as in the case of the EFCC that has been engaging in feeding the general public with falsehood “It is a fact that the defendants in criminal matter will be prejudiced when they are unjustly subjected to media trial through publication of falsehood and misrepresentation of the court’s proceeding.
“Since the court cannot act in vain, it is hereby ordered that the EFCC must show compliance in the appropriate way with the retraction of the off ending press statement it issued out in respect of the proceeding of this court. “It is hereby also ordered that the Deputy registrar, litigation must liase with Deputy Sheriff and ensured that the order of March 21, 2017 is served on the Editor-inchief or the appropriate person in the Vanguard Newspaper to ensure that the Editor and his correspondent in Abuja responsible for the publication (of March 8, 2017) to appear before this court on May 4, 2017 to show cause where they got their story on the N36.8b fraud published. “Let it be understood that the press as the fourth Estate of the realm has the responsibility of holding all arms of government accountable to general public but the press has no business in misrepresenting the court so that defendants in criminal matters would not be prejudiced and would not be found guilty though false media trial before the real court trial.” Justice Kolawole said that his order of March 21, shall be in force until it has been fully complied with.