Alex Enumah in Abuja
Justice M. M. Kolo of Federal Capital Territory High Court, Abuja on Tuesday cautioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the media against misrepresenting court proceedings their reports.
The judge gave the caution during the trial of some former officials of the Amnesty Office, following complaints by their lawyer, Mr. Gerald Ezeuko (SAN).
The EFCC had put Mr. Henry Ugbolue and Mr. Larry Pepple, former aides of Kingsley Kuku, Special Adviser to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan on Niger Delta Affairs, on trial over alleged criminal conspiracy, false declaration of assets and fraudulent acquisition of property.
Ezeuko had at the commencement of the proceedings drawn the attention of the court to different newspaper reports of the last proceeding in the matter, complaining that there were gross misrepresentations of court proceedings in the stories, which he noted, were based on a statement issued by Wilson Uwujaren, the spokesman of EFCC.
He added that the statement by the EFCC spokesman with the title, â€˜How Kuku, Aides, Pocketed Over N35.2m from Amnesty Funds,â€™ which was reproduced verbatim by many publications online and in print was not the actual representation of what happened in court as Kingsley Kuku was not one of the defendants in the ongoing trial.
â€œThe best tradition of the law is that parties should respect the dignity of the court instead of making prejudicial statements,â€ the defence lawyer said.
But the prosecution lawyer, Mr. E. Ukaegbu, argued that the EFCC could not be held responsible for the publications, an assertion which was rebuffed by the defence lawyer who specifically called attention of the court to the fact that the spokesperson of the anti graft agency was quoted as the source of the reports.
The defence lawyer, therefore, asked the court to call the EFCC and its spokesman to order.
Responding, Justice Kolo noted that he had also been a victim of such misrepresentations in the past and warned parties against engaging in media trial.
He assured the parties that such media reports would not influence the decision of the court: â€œWhat can I do? It has happened before to this court. Kuku is not before me. It (media reports) will not deter me from doing my job.â€
Justice Kolo also collected the newspaper cuttings of the reports from the defence lawyer, promising to bring up the issue of misrepresentations of the court proceedings at a scheduled summit of judges with Mr. Ibrahim Magu, the Chairman of EFCC.
However, the trial could not proceed as the witness subpoenaed by the court, Mr. Ayogu Nnamdi, a compliance officer with the UBA could not answer the questions put to him by the defence lawyer during cross examination.
Consequently, the prosecution noted that it was apparent that the witness was not adequately prepared for the cross-examination and, therefore, asked the court for adjournment.
The request was not opposed by the defence lawyer.
Justice Kolo subsequently adjourned the trial to November 27, 2017.