Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, has ordered the Federal Government to arraign a former Speaker of Anambra State House of Assembly, Mr Ben Chuks Nwosu, and three staff of Channels Television, Mr Chamberlain Usoh, Mr Gimba Umar, and Mr Nneota Egbe. The three Channels TV staff had anchored the media outfit’s
Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, has ordered the Federal Government to arraign a former Speaker of Anambra State House of Assembly, Mr Ben Chuks Nwosu, and three staff of Channels Television, Mr Chamberlain Usoh, Mr Gimba Umar, and Mr Nneota Egbe.
The three Channels TV staff had anchored the media outfit’s popular discussion programme,‘Sunrise Daily’ where it was alleged that contemptuous and prejudicial questions and comments were made by Nwosu, one of the lawyers to Mr Olisah Metuh, a prominent chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) who is standing trial before the court..
Justice Abang made the order on Tuesday while delivering a ruling after the unedited video of the TV programme was aired in the open court.
After watching the video of the programme, Justice Abang admitted that “it is clear that the questions asked by the three men that anchored the programme and comments of Ben Chuks Nwosu as well as the voice of Mr Johnson Ojogbane, Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the EFCC, were made outside the court.
“Therefore, I have no jurisdiction to determine whether the questions and comments by the anchormen and the lawyers were prejudicial and contemptuous.
“I heard the comments made by Ben Chuks Nwosu concerning this trial, if he had been courageous enough to appear before this court today, I would have known what to do.
“If they had made the comments before this court, I would have known whether the statements were contemptuous,” the court said.
Besides, Justice Abang said it would be risky to speculate whether the voice was that of Ojogbane as his picture was not equally shown by the TV station.
However, Justice Abang had to invoke section 6(6b) of the constitution to have the matter referred to the appropriate quarters or organ in a bid to find out whether or not the comments were contemptuous or prejudicial.
Consequently, the court ordered that Oluyemisi Ipaye, Senior Manager, News and Programmes, Channels TV, shall within seven days from July 3 file 10 copies of transcript of the questions asked by the anchormen; 10 copies of the DVD showing questions asked by the anchormen and comments made by Ben Chuks Nwosu and Johnson Ojogbane.
Abang held that the prosecution shall within 10 days refer the matter to the Disciplinary Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association, which shall determine whether the comments made by Ben Chuks Nwosu, lawyer to the 1st defendant (Metuh), alleging media trial on the Channels TV programme aired on May 22, were in violation of Rules 33 of Rules of Professional and Conduct of Legal Practitioners 2007.
Before the transcript was filed, the court directed that the defence and prosecution counsel would meet with the management of Channels TV for parties to agree that the transcript represented questions asked and answers got without adding or removing anything.
Justice Abang also stated: “Ten days after the prosecution (Federal Government) had filed a formal complaint to the NBA Disciplinary Committee, the Federal Government shall submit both the transcript and DVD to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
“Upon receipt of the transcript and recorded DVD, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice as the Chief Law Officer of the federation, and for the sake of national interest, to protect the judiciary of this country that will not have the opportunity to respond when judges are attacked, blackmailed or accused in the cause of discharge of their functions in this thankless job; the AGF shall arraign the following persons, namely, Ben Chuks Nwosu, Chamberlain Usoh, Gimba Umar and Nneota Egbe.”
Abang ordered that they should be “arraigned in any court of coordinate jurisdiction within the jurisdiction of the court other than this court under section 134(4) of the Criminal Code.”
By their arraignment, Abang wants the court to determine whether questions asked by the three anchormen, the comments by Nwosu, or the fact that Channels TV allowed itself to be used to discuss a pending case are not contemptuous and misleading to the public.
Upon arraignment, Abang held that the “court shall determine whether Channels TV had not made prejudicial statements thereby misleading the public, and distorting the fact of the case for selfish interest.”
Consequently, Justice Abang gave the Federal Government 30 days to comply with the order.
“Federal Government shall within 30 days file an affidavit of compliance”, the court directed, stressing that, “I cannot order arraignment of Ojogbane because I did not see his face, and his picture was not used. I only heard a voice, and it is risky to speculate”.
For the producer of the programme, Ogunyusuf Maope, the court discharged her, saying she ought not to have been drafted to the court.
Justice Abang also reopened the case of Metuh to enable him to call two more witnesses and also to allow him to testify personally in his ongoing trial.
In vacating the order of the court made on May 25, closing the 1st defendant’s case, Abang said the order was made in default because Metuh’s counsel was not heard.
“It is in the light of this that this court has the jurisdiction to set aside its order made on May 25, 2018, closing the case of the 1st defendant.”
The court had initially refused to vacate the order of May 22, because it could sat on appeal over its order, and for the fact that Metuh’s counsel failed to adduce credible evidence to warrant the granting of his application to reopen his case.
Abang noted that the deponent was not the right person to have deposed to an affidavit in support of the application.
“In the overall interest of justice, I rely on section 36 of the constitution to exercise discretion. I will bend and I do hope that the 1st defendant will take advantage of this opportunity and offer an explanation on the charge levelled against him,” Justice Abang stated.
Nevertheless, Abang warned Metuh not to cause “any unpleasant scene or fall in the courtroom again”, adding that the proceedings shall be on a daily basis.