The Federal High Court in Abuja, Tuesday, ordered Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to arraign three Channels TV presenters for anchoring a programme where prejudicial comments were made in respect to ongoing trial of Chief Olisa Metuh, former National Publicity Secretary of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Justice Okon Abang, the presiding judge maintained that the conduct of the three presenters, including Chamberlain Usoh, Gimba Umar and Nneota Egbe, in asking questions on a case pending before his court, was contemptuous.
Abang directed that the trio be docked before any court of same coordinate jurisdiction as the Federal High Court, alongside Mr. Ben-Chuks Nwosu, the former speaker of Anambra State House of Assembly, who is a member of the legal team of the embattled former PDP spokesman.
He made the order after a video clip of Channels TV programme, Sunrise Daily, of May 22, where Mr. Nwosu appeared as a guest, was viewed in the open court.
Specifically, the Justice held that the quartet be arraigned under section 133(4) of the Criminal Code, to enable the court to determine whether questions the presenters posed to their guest and the attendant answers, were not prejudicial, as well as for the media outfit to explain why it allowed itself to be used to discuss a matter pending before the court.
The judge, who maintained that he invoked his powers under section 6(6) of the 1999 Constitution, to refer the matter to the appropriate body, equally ordered the General Manager of Channels TV to within seven days, submit 10 copies of the transcript of the video recording and 10 copies of the DVD, showing questions asked by the three anchor persons and comments made by the lawyer.
He directed that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, should within 10 days after the materials were tendered, refer Mr. Nwosu to the Disciplinary Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, for it to determine if his conduct was not in violation of Rule 33 of the Rules of Professional Conduct of Legal Practitioners, 2007.
The court also ordered that both the transcript and the video recording be forwarded to the AGF, even as it gave EFCC 30 days to file an affidavit to indicate compliance to all the orders.
However, Justice Abang said he could not order any action to be taken against an EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Johnson Ojogbane, who was equally featured in the TV programme.
He said the court could not direct Ojogbane to be arraigned since only his voice was heard in the course of the program, saying he could not speculate if the voice that spoke on behalf of the EFCC was that of the prosecutor.
“It will be risky to arraign an imaginary person”, Justice Abang held.
In a subsequent ruling, the court vacated an order it made on May 25, in which it forcefully closed Metuh’s case following his absence and this of his lawyers in court on two consecutive dates.
Though Justice Abang held that Metuh’s request to be allowed to call additional witness and to testify for himself, lacked merit and deserved to be dismissed, he said the court was minded to “bend backward” in the interest of substantial justice.
He said Metuh failed to offer any cogent reason why his lawyers were absent on the day his case was closed after his 11th witness was cross-examined.
“Based on facts presented by the 1st defendant, it is not deserving to grant this application”, Justice Abang held, saying he decided to accede to the request so as to give Metuh the opportunity to offer explanation to the money laundering charge against him.
Nevertheless, Justice Abang warned that he would not entertain any form of adjournment or delay tactics from the defendant.
“The 1st defendant, while giving his defence shall not create any unpleasant scene in this court. He shall not plan to fall in the courtroom and he should not come to court in a stretcher. He should not take any step to frustrate his trial otherwise this court will take such conduct as contempt and take summary action.
“This court has nothing against the 1st defendant. The court will decide this matter according to facts and materials before it. Therefore, the 1st defendant should stop embarrassing the court.
“The 1st defendant should offer his explanation and leave the court alone. This matter is hereby adjourned to July 4 for the 1st defendant to present his defence” Justice Abang held.
Metuh is answering to a seven-count charge the EFCC preferred against him and his firm, Destra Investment Ltd over allegation that he received N400 million from the Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA, prior to the 2015 presidential election, without executing any contract.
The agency alleged that the fund was electronically wired from an account that ONSA operated with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to Metuh, via account no. 0040437573, which his firm operated with Diamond Bank Plc.
It told the court that the fund which was released to Metuh and his firm by Col. Sambo Dasuki, retd, the detained former NSA, was part of about $2.1billion earmarked for the purchase of arms to fight insurgency in the North East.
Besides, the prosecution which had earlier closed its case after it called eight witnesses that testified before the court equally alleged that Metuh was involved in an illicit transaction that involved the exchange of $2 million.