By Davidson Iriekpen in Lagos and Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City
A judge in the Edo State High Court in Benin City, Justice Joseph Acha, yesterday cautioned journalists and lawyers to ensure they protect the integrity of their professions and the society they serve.
Justice Acha was referring to a ruling he gave on February 17, 2021 in a divorce suit marked B/47b/2020 involving Chief Leemon Ikpea who is the petitioner and Mrs. Agnes Ikpea who is the respondent.
The judge had ruled in two motions filed by the two actors but were allegedly skewed in publications which cast the judge in a negative light.
He had in his ruling asked both parties to stay apart until the determination of the case to preserve individuals’ lives and that the petitioner should provide a suitable accommodation and other enablement during the period. But he said he was surprised that the media came up with a different story.
When the matter came up for hearing yesterday, Justice Acha said the respondent had petitioned the Chief Judge of Edo State for reassignment of the suit but insisted that he stands by his ruling which he said was to protect the lives of all the parties involved.
He, thereafter, adjourned the suit to April 22 while awaiting the decision of the Chief Judge on the petition.
He said: “When you embark on a campaign of calumny, you are not doing the institutions any good. When you decided to malign people because of a matter that is not in your favour, I think you are only destroying the institution.
“The journalists, I think they have a duty to be objective in their reportage, they must be objective and do proper investigation. A situation whereby they are doing the bidding of their paymaster will impinge on the integrity of their profession
“It is correct that this matter was fixed for hearing today and today two motions were filed on behalf of the respondent the last was given to me this
“More importantly, after the last sitting of this court, a petition was written on behalf of the respondent to the Honourable Chief Judge seeking reassignment of this case to another court, the petition was referred to me for my reaction, I responded and awaited the directive of the Honourable Chief Judge on the next step.
“I wish to state that the practice of journalism like most other professions is noble no matter who the sponsor is or the sponsors are, no matter how much the journalists is paid, he owes a duty to the society, God and his conscience for responsible reportage by ensuring that he publishes accurately and authentically.
“I want to repeat that in my ruling of the 17th Day of February 2021 in the lives of the parties in this case, the need to protect and safeguard the lives remain my primary concern more than anything else.”
On his part, the Chairman, Edo State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Sir. Rolland Osakue, told the court that he was in court over the said publication, adding the report did not emanate from journalists practicing in Edo.
Counsel to the respondent, Orji Ukah, said the now controversial report was not authored by him nor his client, saying it was not in his character to discuss court issues with journalists.
He added that the said report did not emanate from him while the counsel to the petitioner, George Igbokwe, called for sustenance of the integrity of the journalism profession, adding that he would take legal action on the misrepresentations in the media reports.