The federal government yesterday re-arraigned two Leadership journalists charged with forging a directive allegedly issued by President Goodluck Jonathan.
They were re-arraigned before Justice Usman Musale of an Abuja High Court. They had earlier been arraigned before him before the case was transferred to another judge. The judge said he was surprised when the case was transferred to another judge. The News Editor of the newspaper, Mr. Tony Amokeodo and Political Correspondent, Chibuzo Ukaibe, were charged with forging a presidential document.
About two months after they were arraigned before Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, the federal government withdrew the case and charged them before the Abuja High Court.
The case was assigned to Justice Musale. The case was again moved from Justice Musale's court to Justice Peter Affen, who hailed from Bayelsa State, the home state of Jonathan. After much public outcry, Justice Affen withdrew from the case and it was again re-assigned to Justice Musale.
Justice Affen is the third judge to handle the case since the action was instituted several months ago. Justice Affen in withdrawing from the case, had said: "I must place on record my profound gratitude to counsel in this matter for seeking to protect not only my integrity but that of the judiciary. It is correct that justice is rooted in confidence and must not only be done but seen to have been done.
"The implications of the publication are far damaging to ignore. I will therefore, in the interest of justice, return the case file to the chief judge for re-assignment to another judge that is not from Bayelsa State. The only thing that connects me with the president are the creeks in the Niger Delta."
When the case came up yesterday, the journalists were re-arraigned and they pleaded not guilty to the 11-count charge.
Before the journalists took their plea, counsel to the federal government, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), told the court that since the case had gone out of the court, there was need for the accused persons to take a fresh plea.
But counsel to the journalists, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), told the court that there was no need to take a fresh plea, since nothing happened in the other court the case was transferred to. Justice Musale in his response to the submissions made by the counsel, said he was surprised when the registrar of the court told him that the leadership of the court had called for the withdrawal of the case file.
"I did not know how the case went out of this court. I just saw an order that it should be transferred and I complied," Justice Musale said. After the journalists pleaded not guilty to the charges against them, the case was set down for hearing and was adjourned until March 27, 2014.
.One of the counts reads, "That you Tony Agboola Amokeodo, Chibuzor Ukaibe on or about the 3rd day of April 2013, at Abuja, within the Federal Capital Territory, under the jurisdiction of this honourable court, did commit an offence to wit: Having in your possession without lawful excuse a document titled 'Presidential Directive', the publication of which is capable of exciting feelings of disaffection against the person of the president and you thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 419 of the Penal Code (Northern States) Federal Provision Act, Laws of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja."