The former head of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian police, Abba Kyari, has protested being subjected to ‘media trial’ over a petition before the Lagos judicial panel hearing cases of alleged police brutality.
A petitioner to the panel, Afeez Mojeed, had accused Mr Kyari of torturing and forcing him to transfer about N42 million from his account to police collaborators.
Addressing the panel on Saturday, Mr Kyari’s lawyer, Nosa Uhumwangho, said his client was not asked to appear but they chose to do so because the counsel to Mr Mojeed had been speaking on social media and to the press on the allegation.
He said the council had been conducting a “media trial” and casting aspersions on Mr Kyari.
“Counsel for the petitioner has been granting interviews in the media, conducting a media trial which is prejudicial. He is preempting the panel and if he does not have confidence in the panel, he should continue with media trial. He has said a lot about my boss on social media and on the TV.
“You were even dancing, you were shaking hands as if you were present at the incident of the crime,” he said at the top of his voice.
Cautioned by another counsel to be calm, Mr Uhumwangho said; “I don’t want to be emotional in this matter. I am and I should be because the person of Abba Kyari is my boss,” the lawyer said.
He added that if the council has no faith in the panel, he should go ahead with his trial in the media, and then we would respond.
Mr Mojeed had alleged that he was forced to transfer N41 million and N800, 000 to the account of one Edward Obinna, whom he said he did not know or had any business deal with.
He said the SARS operatives made him sign cheques on different occasions to a faceless Nurudeen Alabi, all done under the supervision of Mr Kyari who is now a Deputy Commissioner of Police.
He was in the custody of the police for 14 days, he said, adding that the police resisted the intervention of his lawyer as he was allegedly tortured until his eyes and ears were impacted.
Mr Mojeed said he was accused of defrauding one Edward Obinna of N97 million, a man he said he never met or had any business deals with.
Protesting the alleged media trial of his boss, Mr Uhumwangho said the counsel to the petitioner should be made to tender an apology.
Debo Adeleke, the counsel to Mr Obinna, aligned himself with the position of Mr Kyari’s lawyer. He said they were registering their interest in the matter because of what they saw on social media.
Mr Adeleke, whose client was not included in the petition before the panel, begged to be joined in the petition in a written letter to the parties involved.
“My client was surprised that he, a victim that was swindled of N97million, now turned out to be called different names.
“It is known that once a matter is in a court of competent jurisdiction just like this Tribunal, a lawyer or anybody should refrain from making any comment, otherwise it becomes subjudice.
“In alliance with my colleague, if the petitioner has no faith in the panel, he should have gone somewhere else rather than malign the name of our client, a victim that was defrauded 97million, calling him police agent,” he said
The counsel to the petitioner, Kabiru Akingbolu, did not deny any of the complaints made against him.
“This panel is public restitution. When we file our petition here, journalists have their way of getting the information, we cannot restrict them from having access to the same.”
He said journalists are not bound to disclose their sources of information, a fact he said everyone must respect.
“Upon getting their information that a petition of such is existing before the panel, we were contacted for our comment which we actually did.
“However, if my learned friends are otherwise demeaned by that and the Panel sees it as inappropriate, we are saying before this honourable panel as responsible citizens that we shall abide by the rules of the panel to ensure nothing is done to taint the integrity of the panel or to bring it to disrepute of any kind,” he said.
Meanwhile, Olukayode Enitan, the counsel holding brief for the Lagos state government, said he ordinarily would not have intervened in the matter but because it bordered on professional ethics, he owes an obligation to intervene.
“I’m of the humble opinion that my learned friend for the petitioner, having submitted a petition before the panel, ought to have restrained himself from speaking to the press with regards to the subject of the petition, notwithstanding that journalists could procure the petition whichever way.
“My learned colleague, having given a commitment not to engage in such conduct going forward, I will urge the panel to overlook that infraction on the sole ground that hearing had not commenced,” he said.
Dorris Okuwobi, the retired judge heading the panel, said the complaint made by the counsel for the respondent and Mr Obinna’s counsel against Mr Akingbolu was a serious violation of the ethics of the legal profession
The judge said since Mr Akingbolu had not denied the allegation and had made a commitment to the panel not to undertake such an act again, the matter would go on.
The retired judge cautioned the lawyer to desist from taking steps that will undermine the panel.
The matter was thereafter opened before the panel and subsequently adjourned till January 19, 2021.