By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—The ongoing controversy over the $15 million allegedly offered by former Governor James Ibori of Delta State to Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in 2007, yesterday, assumed a fresh dimension as the anti-graft agency asked a Federal High Court in Abuja to summon elder statesman of Ijaw nation, Chief Edwin Clark, over alleged contempt of court.
EFCC, which is currently seeking to take possession of the said bribe money, via an oral application made through its lead prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, accused Chief Clark of issuing prejudicial statements it said was capable of jeopardising the case before the court.
The agency told the high court that Clark, who was a First Republic Minister of Information, in a statement he published in a national daily (not Vanguard) on September 26, made disparaging comments it said was detrimental to the “Res” of the suit before the court.
It would be recalled that Chief Clark had, in a press conference he held in Abuja on September 25, implored President Goodluck Jonathan to sack EFCC Chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, over the $15 million bribery saga.
EFCC had in an affidavit it filed before the court, said it was Lamorde, who was then the Director of Operations, received the said bribe money from Ibori’s cohorts, on April 25, 2007, under the instruction of its erstwhile Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.
Lamorde reportedly fetched the money from the home of a former presidential aide, Chief Andy Uba, who is now a Senator.
However, Ibori has since denied offering the $15 million bribe, saying he never authorised anyone to make such offer on his behalf.
Ruling on the application yesterday, Justice Gabriel Kolawole, declined to grant EFCC’s request, stressing that doing so would amount to the court “dissipating its time, energy and resources finding cure for ringworm instead of leprosy.”
The judge, who said he was yet to see the publication, asked the anti-graft agency to file a formal complaint against Clark if it so wish.
He said: “While I agree that the 1999 Constitution gives citizens right to freedom of expression, it must be recognised that the right is not absolute.
“Respect must be accorded to pending cases in court so that they are not prejudiced on the pages of the newspapers.
“Though every superior court of record has inherent disciplinary jurisdiction to punish any act of contempt committed before or outside the court capable of impugning on the integrity of the court, however, such application is better granted where such action complained against was committed by a party before the court.”