THE Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to dismiss an application by a former Finance Minister (State) Mrs. Nenadi Usman seeking to summon Minister of Information Lai Mohammed for publishing her name as an alleged looter.
Mrs. Usman, who is on trial for alleged money laundering before Justice Rilwan Aikawa, initiated contempt proceedings before the same judge against Mohammed after he released her name as one of the treasury looters.
But, EFCC lawyer Rotimi Oyedepo said the application was “parasitic” and a ploy to delay the former minister’s trial.
He argued that Mrs. Usman ought to have filed a separate civil suit for libel against Mohammed rather initiating contempt proceedings before the judge she is undergoing trial.
In a motion on notice filed through her lawyer Chief Ferdinand Orbih (SAN), Mrs. Usman argued that the inclusion of her name on the looters’ list while her case was pending in court was contemptuous.
According to her, the Minister of Information was aware of the charge against her, yet he caused to be published a list of looters in several media platforms on April 1, where her name featured prominently as having looted N1.5 billion.
Orbih urged the court to grant his client leave for Mohammed to appear to show cause as to why he should not be committed to prison for contempt.
The SAN said Mohammed’s publication of Usman’s name as a looter undermined the court’s authority, adding that should the court fail to punish Mohammed, its integrity would be questioned by the public.
But, Oyedepo argued that the newspaper publications cited by Orbih did not expressly declare Usman as a looter.
He said the reports used the expression “alleged looter”, which he said was in conformity with the charge against Usman.
“There is nowhere in Exhibit A (newspaper report), where the defendant is described as a looter of public treasury. What was published is an allegation which is yet to be proven,” he said.
Oyedepo also disagreed with Orbih that the contempt issue must be determined before trial can proceed, adding that Usman’s application “is naked”.
Orbih had argued that contempt proceedings were criminal in nature and must be dispensed with as a matter of priority before the substantive trial can continue.
But, Oyedepo said anyone who claims that his or her reputation was maligned should seek remedy in court.
He said: “The minister of information is not a party to the criminal proceedings against the applicant.
“There was nothing that connects the Ministry of Information to the motion, which was taken out to annoy the prosecution.
“The motion is lacking in substance; it is an abuse of court’s process and should be dismissed.”
The EFCC re-arraigned Usman and former Minister of Aviation Chief Femi Fani-Kayode for alleged N4.6 billion fraud, to which they pleaded not guilty.
The former ministers were charged along with former Chairman of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) and ex-Chairman of Kagarko Local Government Area of Kaduna State Mr. Yusuf Danjuma and a company, Jointrust Dimentions Nigeria Limited.
The four were also accused of indirectly retaining N300 million, N400 million and N800 million, all proceeds of corruption, according to EFCC. The prosecution said they allegedly committed the offence between January 8 and March 25, 2015, ahead of the general election.
Justice Aikawa adjourned till October 16 and 19 for ruling.