The judge excused himself based on newspaper publications.
Justice Peter Affen of Abuja High Court has disqualified himself from hearing the case against two journalists accused of publishing story from a letter allegedly signed by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Tony Amokeodo and Chibuzo Ukaibe, along with Leadership Group Limited, publishers of Leadership newspaper, are standing trial in the matter.
Mr. Affen said his decision stemmed from two publications in the November 25 editions of the Leadership and the Nation newspapers.
Femi Falana, counsel to the accused persons, had filed an oral application seeking that the judge disqualify himself from handling the matter in view of the issues raised in the publications.
“I must place on record my profound gratitude to counsel for seeking to protect not only my integrity, but the integrity of the judiciary,” the judge said.
“It is correct that justice is rooted in confidence, and justice must not only be said to have been done, but must be manifestly seen to have been done.”
“The implication of the publications are far too damaging for me to ignore.”
The judge said he would in the interest of justice, return the case file to the Chief Judge, for re-assignment to a judge that is not from Bayelsa State.
“The two publications claimed justice would not be served on the grounds that I come from Bayelsa state, the home state of the President. The issues raised are so weighty because it is true that I am from the same state as the President.
“More worrisome is the fact that the publications have discredited my ability to dispense justice in the matter. In view of his, and because the President is party in the suit, I shall have no moral justification to continue with the case.
“The development is unfortunate, but I view it as one of the hazards of a judicial officer. I shall forthwith remit the case file, to enable the Chief Judge re-assign same to a judge that is not from Bayelsa state’’, he said.
The case had previously gone through two other judges but was re-assigned on account of inherent controversies.
The prosecutor, Adegboyega Awomolo, said he was not aware of how the publications emanated.
“I saw the publication for the first time this morning, but I saw similar publication in the Nation newspaper yesterday.”
“It is my submission that the publication is objectionable and unfair.”
“The prosecution knew nothing about the publication but its effect is enormous; so we shall not be opposing an attempt to remit the case file back for re-assignment,” Mr. Awomolo said.
Earlier, Mr. Falana, who moved the application, said “I was also flabbergasted when my attention was drawn to the Nation publication of yesterday.
“I hold your lordship in unimpeachable integrity. From my investigation, your lordship did not ask for the case.”
“I thought the prosecutor asked for the transfer and he too thought I did, but neither of us did.”
“Having regard to the possible effect to the integrity and independence of the judiciary, your lordship may consider sending back the case file to the chief judge.”
“This humble application is anchored on the need to preserve your lordship’s personal integrity and that of the bench,” he said.
The accused persons had allegedly published a story which suggested that the presidency was involved in a scheme to discredit the presidency.
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