Justice Ahmed Ramat Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Maitama, Abuja, Monday, disqualified himself from presiding over the trial of former Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswan, and his finance commissioner, Okolobia Okpanachi.
Suswan and his co-accused are being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on a 9-count charge of conspiracy, abuse of office and diversion of N3.1 billion belonging to Benue state.
At the resumed trial Monday, Justice Mohammed drew the court’s attention to an online publication purportedly on “Sahara Reporters” last week to the effect that the first defendant (Suswan) entered a financial agreement with him in order for judgment to be delivered in his favour.
Reacting, counsel on both sides condemned the publication describing it as unfortunate.
Counsel to EFCC, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, expressed confidence in the court to conduct the case.
He invited the court to take cognisance of all the witnesses the prosecution had called so far and urged it to protect the dire need of the prosecution to have justice dispensed.
In his reaction, Suswan’s counsel, Joseph Daudu, SAN, dismissed the publication with a wave of hand saying, “the court not to be deterred by the publication. What is important is that we appear before you and are confident of what you stand for.”
He went on to add that the court cannot be smeared by invisible press who do not have a face as it will be too traumatising to start from the beginning.
He therefore urged the court to discountenance the publication.
On his part, Okpanachi’s counsel, F. R. Onoja, who aligned himself with the submissions of the two learned silk further expressed dismay over the publication saying, “my view is that the publication is the handwork of mischief-makers bent on truncating the trial.”
He pleaded with the court not to be provoked by the publication as the counsels have respect for the court.
But, Justice Mohammed who appeared to have made up his mind to hands off the matter held that, it was correct that the opinion of the online publication ought not to be taken seriously as it is the trend these days to accuse a judge of misconduct in one way or the other.
“Justice or the fairness of it is not as the judge, prosecution or defense sees it. No! it is the cardinal point that a reasonable man sees it as fair. The allegation is now in the public domain as whatever the court will do eventually may be capable of interpretation otherwise”, Justice Mohammed maintained.
The Judge agreed that, though the matter had gone far but his honest view is to excuse himself from the case.
“It is better for the case to be transferred to the Chief Judge for reassignment to another judge”, Justice Mohammed concluded.