Wednesday, February 5, 2020 6:43 pm
Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja on Wednesday, February 5, 2020 ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the Nigeria Police and Department of State Service, DSS, to fish out the brains behind a false publication that alleged that there was a tripartite secret meeting between prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacob (SAN); APC stakeholders and himself on how to send a former governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam to jail.
The alleged falsehood was published on Sunday, February 2, 2020 with the caption: “N3.1bn Fraud: Justice Abang Secretly Meets APC Stakeholders, EFCC Prosecutor To Jail Suswam.”
The publication had alleged that thirty minutes after the court proceedings on Friday, January 31, 2020, Abang drove to Nnamidi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja with the EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Jacobs in tow, where they both flew to Lagos and had a secret meeting with some APC stakeholders.
Senator Suswam, alongside his former Commissioner of Finance, Okolobia Okpanachi, are being prosecuted by the EFCC on a nine-count charge, bordering on money laundering and diversion of funds to the tune of N3.1 billion.
At the resumed hearing today, Justice Abang ordered that the Inspector General of Police, DSS and EFCC shall jointly carry out a thorough investigation and determine the veracity or otherwise of the report and unmask its sponsors.
He also ordered that the joint committee shall submit the report of their findings to the registrar of the court and copies served on counsels representing parties within 21 days from today. Justice Abang who said he considered the publication a serious issue of national interest, said “Upon receipt, the court shall make further consequential order on the matter.”
Igbere TV had on its online website claimed that the secret meeting which took place on a Friday night centred on how to perfect plans to send Suswam, who is now the senator representing Benue North East, to jail.
Prosecution counsel, Jacobs, had informed the court of the publication and expressed bitterness over it stating that “I was nowhere close to the airport after the proceedings last Friday. I went to EFCC Wuse Office after the proceedings and I have not been to Lagos till now.
He further told the court that he had confidence in Justice Abang that he will not discuss any litigant’s matter with any lawyer, adding that “The story is an allegation made without the fear of God and they will never escape the wrath of God.”
He described the online report as a clear distraction to interfere with the smooth running of the court and urged the judge not to be distracted by the allegations, saying that “We know your antecedents and we have confidence in your lordship”
Defense Counsel, C. E. Ogbozor also expressed her displeasure with the publication, saying: “I deeply sympathize with the court on this issue, it is entirely sympathy from the defence team and the defendant himself. The publication is a falsehood and mischief, adding that “it is a distraction from determining the genuine fact of what is going on.”
She reiterated her confidence in the court saying “we never lacked confidence in the court and we reaffirm our confidence to this court.
Defence Counsel to Omadachi Okolobia, Paul Erokoro, SAN, also lent his voice as he stated that “Only thorough investigation can determine the sponsor of the publication. I have confidence in the prosecution and I sympathize with your lordship over the publication, with the institution of the Federal High Court and the judiciary and I hope that the perpetrators will be caught and brought to book”.
The matter has been adjourned to February 10, 11 and 12, 2020 for further cross examination and continuation of trial.