Legal practitioner, Chris Ohene has challenged the narrative that Justice Chizoba Orji of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Maitama ordered the detention of six judiciary reporters.
In a statement made available to The Loyal Nigerian Lawyer, Mr Ohene stated that:
My attention has been drawn to the recent online report regarding Justice Chizoba Orji of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Maitama and six judiciary reporters who were detained.
I wish to bring to the attention of the general public that the news as reported is a misrepresentation of facts and a false narration of the events that transpired at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory FCT sitting in Maitama. I deemed it necessary to make this clarification since I was before my Noble Lord( Hon. Justice C.N Orji) when the action and inaction that culminated in the online report occurred. It behooves me to bring to light the accurate narrative as the Noble Lord’s version may never be heard due to the sanctity and sacred nature of her calling.
Events that Transpired
I was called to the Nigerian Bar in January 2001. At the time of this event, I was the most senior member of the bar with my case listed as No.4 on the day’s cause list (Suit No: FCT/CR/27/2018). On Tuesday 7th June 2022 a young man was arraigned for internet fraud after which the prosecution informed the court that a plea agreement had been entered into which was filed and served in the court that morning.
The court admonished the counsel in the matter on the need to avail the court of all processes filed to afford it the opportunity of looking into same in chambers before sitting, causing my Noble Lord to stand down the case to 1 pm in the interest of Justice.
The court entertained another criminal matter listed for the day before rising at about 12:10 pm to resume sitting at 1:00 pm.
While we were in open court, it came to the attention of the court Registrar that an unidentified lady was carrying out an unauthorized video recording of the courtroom.
The Court Registrar requested she discontinues the recording and properly introduce herself which she neglected and rebuffed. In the Lady’s words “No be today, na we-we.”
Her blunt refusal and dismissive tone further prompted the registrar to invite the police orderly to the court to retrieve the phone from her.
This was vehemently resisted causing a mild drama to ensue between the court staff and some persons who allied themselves with the unidentified lady. These persons happened to be her fellow journalists.
To forestall the breakdown of law and order, the Registrar and police thought it right to put the courtroom under lock with counsel, litigants and themselves.
It took a great deal of persuasion from myself, M.D. Kyaagba Esq and Godwin Omagbogu Esq for the unidentified lady to disclose her identity as Wumi Obabori of Africa Independent Television (AIT), after which the court regained composure.
My Noble Lord resumed sitting at about 1:00 pm and demanded to know the cause of the uproar which transpired while she was in her chamber.
In accord with the tenet of fair hearing, Wumi Obabori was asked to step forward and she introduced herself and narrated what transpired.
My Noble Lord very calmly demanded to see the video recording and her phone was handed in. All other journalists then took turns to identify and introduce themselves to the court and further told the court that by their calling they have the unfettered privilege to make a video of all courts, even the Supreme Court.
My Noble Lord, whilst maintaining equanimity and calmness, asked to see the authorization which they placed reliance on, but none was availed the court by any of the journalists.
While my Noble Lord was making remarks that given the security challenges in the country, formal consent of the court ought to be sought before recording or coverage of any sort is carried out, there was a discourteous display of unruliness and laughter by one of the journalists which prompted my Noble Lord to calmly request that all the journalists exit the court.
It is important to state that the police did not seek the consent of the Noble Lord before putting the courts under lock. It may have been due to benefit of hindsight and to avoid the breakdown of law and order.
It is also important to state that the video made by Wumi Obabori of the African Independent Television (AIT) was deleted by her on the order of the court and not by the police orderly. None of the phones or devices of any of the other journalists was seized by the police orderly, neither was a gun pulled at any journalist at any point in time. In addition, no press jacket, identification tag or any means of identity was worn by any of the journalists that distinguishes them as members of the 4th estate of the realm.
Furthermore, what transpired in the precinct of the courtroom did not exceed an hour and the lawyers numbered about 4, myself inclusive, were all present. The names of the lawyers and particulars are available and were entered into the cause list of that day and can all independently attest to the fact that this is a true account of what transpired in court on the 7th day of June 2022.
I wish to state that for us lawyers, the courtroom remains the sanctuary from which justice is handed down irrespective of status and we shall continue to accord it the reverence it deserves. It is hoped that this clarification will be given the
same publicity the earlier online report was given. I am available to make further clarification on the above should the need arise.