A Federal High Court in Abuja has insisted that the trial of Colonel Nicholas Ashinze, a former aide to a former National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, and seven others over an alleged N1.5bn fraud should not continue until the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission retracts a statement credited to it that the amount under contention is N36.8bn.
The court also accused the EFCC of wrongly referring to Ashinze as a retired military officer while he is, in fact, a serving officer in the Nigerian Army.
Justice Gabriel Kolawole, while presiding over the matter, said that the oral claim by the counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Ofem Uket, that the anti-graft agency had retracted the offending publication without providing evidence, was totally unacceptable.
Justice Kolawole had on March 21, 2017 warned the EFCC to stop media trial of Nigerians under investigation, ordering that the alleged N36bn fraud contained in its press statement issued by its spokesperson, Mr. Wilson Uwujare, be retracted.
The judge also ordered the news media involved in the alleged offending publication to appear before it and state why it should not be disciplined for misrepresenting the court’s proceedings.
At the resumed trial, Uket had informed Justice Kolawole that his client had already retracted the press statement as directed, urging for proceedings to continue.
But in a swift reaction, counsel to the accused, Mr. Ernest Nwoye, told the court to ignore Uket because his clients had yet to comply with the order.
In his ruling, Justice Kolawole said, “No responsible judge will sit down and allow his court to be rubbished as in the case of the EFCC that has been engaging in feeding the general public with falsehood.
“It is a fact that the defendants in criminal matter will be prejudiced when they are unjustly subjected to media trial through publication of falsehood and misrepresentation of the court’s proceeding.
“Since the court cannot act in vain, it is hereby ordered that the EFCC must show compliance in the appropriate way with the retraction of the offending press statement it issued out in respect of the proceeding of this court.”