Justice Rilwan Aikawa of a Federal High Court in Lagos has dismissed a contempt application filed by a former Minister of State for Finance, Mrs. Esther Nenadi Usman, seeking to commit the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed to prison for the inclusion of her name in the 'looters' list' he released to the public.
In his ruling on Friday, Justice Aikawa said the application was a distraction which could interfere with speedy determination of the matter.
Usman, who is facing allegations of money laundering brought against her and a former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, had argued in the application that the inclusion of her name in the list released by the information minister during the pendency of the case against her is contemptuous.
She, therefore, urged the court to commit the Information Minister to prison for contempt of court. The former Minister also argued that Mohammed's action undermines the integrity of the court and is aimed at poisoning the mind of the public against her.
However, the EFCC lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, urged the court to decline Usman's application, insisting that the applicant was never referred to as a looter by the information minister, as what was published by some newspapers only bordered on allegations and cannot be said to be prejudicial to the applicant's case in court.
His words: "The minister of information is not a party to the criminal proceedings against the applicant. There is no evidence to show that the alleged contemnor works with the various media houses that published the alleged offensive publication. Besides, there were no allegation against the media houses that published the alleged offensive publication.
"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 process and should be dismissed."
In his ruling, Justice Aikawa agreed with the prosecution that the right parties to the contempt proceedings were not before the court. According to him, the publications which the applicant complained of was published by media houses and not the alleged contemnor, so the right parties to be joined in this application are the media houses.
The judge also held that a mere publication, which did not go to the substance of the case or directly affect the proceedings before the court, cannot be said to have interfered or influenced the mind of the court. He further stated that the publication is not an advertorial from the Minister of Information, so he can not be held responsible for what was published by the media houses.
The judge therefore held that the publication is not prejudicial to the applicant's case in court and thereby dismissed for lacking in merit.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had re-arraigned Usman, Fani-Kayode, Yusuf Danjuma, a former Chairman of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) and a company, Joint Trust Dimensions Limited before Justice Aikawa on a 17-count charge of conspiracy, unlawful retention of proceeds of theft and money laundering.
According to the EFCC, the accused persons on or before January 2015, unlawfully retained the total sum of N4.6 billion, which they knew was proceeds from an unlawful act. While Usman, a former Minister of Finance under the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration, Danjuma Yusuf and Joint Trust Dimentions Nigeria Limited retained the sum of N1.5 billion, Fani-Kayode and Olubode Oke, said to be at large, were accused of retained the total sum of N1,650,650 billion.
The accused persons were also alleged to have made payment of several amounts running to billions of Naira without going through financial institutions.
The offence allegedly committed between January 2015 and March 2015 is said to be contrary to Section 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012 and punishable under Section 15(3) & 4 of the same Act.
They all pleaded not guilty to the charge.