The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) has accused the Chief Magistrates Court in Kaduna of breach of procedure in a case filed by the Kaduna State Government against a former chairman of the Nigeria Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Chidi Odinkalu.
In March 2019, the state government filed the case of injurious falsehood and incitement against Mr Odinkalu following his interview with Channels Television on February 16, 2019.
In the interview, Mr Odinkalu called out Governor Nasir El-Rufai over his comment on the alleged killing of 66 people in Kajuru, Kaduna State. He disputed Mr El-Rufai’s accounts and criticised him for publicly stating what he said was capable of inciting violent reactions close to the general elections.
“I spent all of last night trying to verify from all the sources in Kajuru and nobody can verify or substantiate that there has been a killing of 66 people (as claimed by the governor) in Kajuru over the past few days.
“You cannot on the eve of a very difficult elections, as a state governor, standing beside your publicist, talking about the killing of 66 people from a particular ethnic group (fulanis) with a celebratory air.
“This is beyond irresponsible, and I believe people from all political divides must call out the Kaduna State governor,” Mr Odinkalu had said.
This attracted a direct criminal complaint filed against the ex-NHRC boss by the state government which accused him of falsehood and incitement.
However, at a press conference held on Wednesday in Abuja, the NBA and some lawyers under its Human Rights Committee and Open Bar Initiative, noted a number of loopholes in the case.
It also accused the Chief Magistrate of the court, Ibrahim Musa, of disobedience to the verdict of a superior court.
“On the 13” of March 2020, the Chief Magistrates Court in Kaduna Magisterial District held that it has a discretion as to whether or not to obey the specific and direct order of the High Court of Kaduna State to stay proceedings in the matter of The State v Chidi Anselm Odinkalu.
“This is an anomaly because the Magistrate court is an inferior court to the High Court. Therefore, the order of the High Court is not discretionary, it is an order that must be obeyed,” the Alternative Chairman of NBA Human Rights Committee, Bwari Branch, Maxwell Opara, said at the press briefing.
The association questioned not only the court’s intention of holding a criminal proceedings without serving Mr Chidi who is the defendant, but also the jurisdiction of the Kaduna Magistrate court to institute the direct criminal complaints on a broadcast that occurred and emanated from Abuja.
“The Direct Criminal Complaint had Chidi Odinkalu’s address on the face of it but it was never served on him, yet proceedings began, held and were adjourned three times, 22 March, 2019, 25th April, 2019 and May 2nd, 2019 without the defendant in a criminal proceeding.
“The ‘case’ does not have a case number, therefore, the Direct Criminal Complaints and any Orders purporting to be based on it are a nullity because they did not exist and could not have existed,” the lawyers and human rights body argued.
It also queried the court for defiling the clear constitutional requirement for public proceedings in criminal matters.
“We informed the court that we were no longer going to comply with holding proceedings in chambers and demanded open trial,” it concluded.
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