By Alex Enumah in Abuja
An Abuja High Court on Tuesday said the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, was neither a judge nor a prosecutor in the trial of prominent Nigerians over various corruption allegations, hence his announcement of names of certain persons in the Federal Government’s list of looters of the nation’s treasure was inconsequential.
The court held that what Mohammed said at a world press conference on looters’ list in March this year, had no force of law and therefore cannot be prejudicial to the trial of anybody.
Delivering judgment in a suit filed by Media Mogul and founder of Daar Communication PLC, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, the trial judge, Justice Olukayode Adeniyi, held that mere mention of the alleged looters’ names was not a violation of their rights to presumption of innocence as enshrined in section 36(5) of the 1999 constitution.
Dokpesi, through his counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN, had sued the minister complaining that his fundamental rights to presumption of innocence was violated by the minister.
The Media Mogul prayed the court for a declaration that the comment made by Mohammed and widely publicised in the national dailies, broadcast and online media was a violation of his rights under the 1999 constitution and was also prejudicial to his trial for alleged N2.1bn money laundering at a Federal High Court, Abuja.
However, Justice Adeniyi, after reviewing the submissions of both parties, said that the minister’s comments were not prejudicial as he was not a presiding judge nor a prosecutor and as such the statement cannot be said to be a violation of section 36(5) of the 1999 constitution.
He further held that the minister’s comment cannot be used to prevent the plaintiff from having his days in court to defend himself from whatever charges against him, hence his presumption of innocence has not been violated.
“What is more, the defendant has no statutory powers to declare the plaintiff guilty of a charge pending in a trial court, hence there is no need to declare the statement credited to Mohammed null and void.
” The comment made by the defendant is a mere allegations of a third party which cannot be used by any court to convict because it has no force of law. The defendant merely mentioned his name for standing trial in N2.1bn alleged money laundering “, the court held.
Justice Adeniyi however, said that the remedy opened to the claimant lies in a different cause of action and that section 155 of the Penal Code can be invoked to report the alleged statement to police.
“What the defendant said was an allegation of committing crime and the plaintiff can at best report the defendant to the police for remedy.
“Contrary to the claim of the plaintiff that the defendant had declared him guilty of committing a crime, it is only court of competent jurisdiction that can declare him guilty.
“In this case I have not seen any merit and it is hereby dismissed and with no order as to cost because the presumption of the plaintiff under section 36(5) has not been breached by the defendant “, he added.
Meanwhile, another suit filed by Dokpesi against Lai Mohammed and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami SAN, on the same matter has been adjourned till November 9, 2018.