The federal government has withdrawn a six-count criminal charge against two journalists working for LEADERSHIP Newspapers and their employer, LEADERSHIP Group Ltd.
The withdrawal is sequel to a notice of preliminary objection filed by the journalists’ lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), challenging the competence of the charge and the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court to hear and determine the complaint.
The notice of withdrawal/discontinuance of charges dated April 30, 2013, and filed yesterday in court reads:
“Take notice that the complainant, the Hon. Attorney General of the Federation intends that the criminal proceedings consisting of 6-count charge against the accused persons, Tony Amokeodo, Chibuzor Ukaibe, LEADERSHIP Group Ltd, be discontinued and the 6 counts against them are hereby withdrawn.”
Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), private prosecutor, signed for the AGF and minister of justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN).
In the notice of preliminary objection brought pursuant to the inherent jurisdiction of the Federal High Court (a copy also obtained by LEADERSHIP), Falana said the court before Justice Adeniyi Ademola lacked the requisite jurisdiction to entertain and determine this complaint as presently constituted and consequently sought an order of the court to strike out and/ or dismiss the instant complaint for want of jurisdiction.
The foremost human rights activist also asked the court for such further order(s) as the court may deem fit in the circumstances.
The grounds upon which the application was brought, according to Falana, was that the charges brought against the accused persons related only to forgery and not to any loss of revenue by the federal government. The Federal High Court, therefore, has no jurisdiction to entertain the offences.
“In the instant case, the charge brought against the accused persons discloses no loss of revenue by the Federal Government to cloth the Federal High Court with the jurisdiction to entertain same.
“The instant complaint is limited only to forgery, for the Federal High Court to have jurisdiction over same, it must also involve or relate to loss of revenue by the Government.
“That statement of offence does not bring the instant matter within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court.”
The two journalists, Tony Amokeodo (group news editor) and Chibuzor Ukaibe (political reporter) were arraigned last Tuesday on a 6-count charge bordering on alleged conspiracy, forgery and false publication preferred against them by the federal government.
The journalists, however, pleaded not guilty to the charges and, consequently, the court presided over by Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja, granted the two journalists bail to the tune of N500,000 each, with one surety each, who must have landed property within the jurisdiction of the trial court and must swear to affidavit of means.
The trial judge also adjourned the case to May 16, 2013, and gave the journalists’ lawyer three days to file his preliminary objection while the federal government had two days to reply.
Falana reacts, says decision is welcome development
But the lawyer to LEADERSHIP journalists and newspaper, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) has reacted to federal government decision to withdraw the charge against his clients, saying that the action is a welcome development.
He said: “Our attention has just been drawn to the decision of the Attorney-General of the Federation to withdraw and discontinue the charges of forgery brought against Leadership newspapers and two of their journalists.
Although no reason was adduced for the discontinuance it is a welcome development since the Federal High Court lacks the jurisdictional competence to try the offence of forgery which is a state offence as decided by the Supreme Court in the case of Eze v Attorney-General of the Federation (1984) 4 SC 8.
“Having regard to the fact that similar cases filed against Independent newspaper and AIT reporters under the Olusegun Obasanjo Administration and Leadership newspaper reporters under the Umaru Yaradua Administration were thrown out by the courts it is hoped that the Goodluck Jonathan Administration will hearken to the cautionary words of the Court of Appeal in the case of Nwankwo v The State (1985) 6 NCLR 228 to desist from using the machinery of the State to harass political opponents in the country.”