Justice Peter Affen of an Abuja High Court Tuesday withdrew from adjudicating on the forgery case filed against two journalists of Leadership Newspapers by the federal government, following reports he was given the case because he hails from Bayelsa State.
During yesterday’s proceedings, Justice Affen said he was withdrawing from the case to protect his integrity and that of the judiciary.
The federal government had filed a charge against the Group News Editor of the newspaper, Mr. Tony Amokeodo and a political correspondent, Chibuzor Ukaibe.
Among other offences, the journalists were accused of forging a directive allegedly issued by the presidency.
There had been reports that the case file was withdrawn from Justice Usman Musale, without any application from parties in the suit for re-assignment and was assigned to Justice Affen, who hails from Bayelsa State.
Justice Affen is the third judge to handle the case since the case was instituted several months ago.
At the trial yesterday, the prosecutor, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), said he saw the publication and expressed dismay.
He said: “I saw the publication this morning and I must say that it is objectionable and unfair. I knew nothing about it but its effect is enormous.”
Counsel to the journalists, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) associated himself with the submission of Awomolo.
“I was surprised when I saw the report yesterday. I hold your lordship in high esteem and from my investigation, the court did not ask for the case. I thought the prosecution asked for the transfer of the case but he too thought that I did but neither of us asked for the transfer of the case.
“Having regard to the integrity and the independence of the judiciary, your lordship may wish to send the case file back to the Chief Judge. This humble application is hinged on the need to preserve the integrity of the judiciary.”
In a short ruling, Justice Affen said his attention was drawn to the publication and added that the only thing that connected him with President Goodluck Jonathan is that they are from the same state.
He 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 be seen to have been done.
“The implication of the publication is 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 sState. The only thing that connects me with the president is the creeks in the Niger Delta.”