Alex Enumah in Abuja
An Abuja High Court yesterday said the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, is neither a judge nor a prosecutor, in the trial of prominent Nigerians over various corruption allegations, hence his mention of certain persons in the federal government list of looters of the country’s treasure is inconsequential.
The court held that what Mohammed said at a world press conference on looters list in March this year has 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, electronic and online media was a violation of his rights under the 1999 constitution, and was also prejudicial in his trial in the alleged N2.1billion money laundering trial at a Federal High Court in Abuja.
However, Justice Adeniyi, after reviewing the submissions of both parties, said the minister’s comments were not prejudicial as he is neither 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 that are against him, hence his presumption of innocence has not been violated.
“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 N2.1billion alleged money laundering,” the court held.
Justice Adeniyi, however, said 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 with no order as to cost because the presumption of the plaintiff under section 36(5) has not been breached by the defendant,”
Meanwhile, another suit filed by Dokpesi against Mohammed and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, on the same matter has been adjourned till November 9, 2018.