Alleged Forgery: CJ Transfers FG Suit Against LEADERSHIP Journalists To Jonathan’s Kinsman
The Chief Judge of the Abuja High Court, Justice Ibrahim Bukar, has transferred a lawsuit by the Federal Government accusing two journalists with Nigeria’s LEADERSHIP newspaper of forgery to Justice Peter Affen, a kinsman of President Goodluck Jonathan, who has an interest in the lawsuit.
Justice Affen becomes the third judge to handle the case since the Federal Government filed the alleged forgery case against Tony Amokeodo, the newspaper group’s news editor, and Chibuzor Ukaibe, the paper’s political correspondent. The journalists were initially arraigned before Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court in Abuja. The Federal Government is accusing Mr. Amokeodo, Mr. Ukaibe as well as LEADERSHIP newspapers of alleged forgery of a presidential directive.
After a couple of sessions, the Federal Government withdrew the charge and then re-filed it before Justice Usman Musale of the Abuja High Court in Kubwa. Justice Musale adjourned the case till October 24, 2013.
But in a move described by one lawyer as “bizarre and disturbing,” Chief Judge Bukar suddenly withdrew the case file from Justice Musale and re-assigned it to Justice Affen. “This kind of re-assignment is highly unusual,” said a legal source. He added: “It suggests that the CJ might have been under pressure from certain functionaries of the government to make this move.”
When Justice Musale was hearing the case, the journalists’ main defense lawyer, Femi Falana, had moved a motion asking the court to direct President Jonathan to testify as a witness in the case. But the Federal Government’s lawyer, Adegboyega Awomolo, raised an objection challenging the propriety of the application. Justice Musale upheld the objection.
Mr. Falana subsequently filed an appeal against the ruling, asking the Court of Appeal in Abuja to set aside the verdict of the lower court. The appeal was still pending when the journalists received a hearing notice from the court on Thursday, November 21, 2013. The hearing notice was dated November 20, 2013. The notice indicated that the case had been re-assigned to the Justice Affen, who hails from the president's home state of Bayelsa and presides over Court 29 of the Abuja High Court in Apo. The notice further stated that Justice Affen would be hearing the case on Tuesday, November 26.
Efforts to get the reaction of the registrar of the court and the public relations officer (PRO) over the sudden reassignment of the case were unsuccessful.