President Muhammadu Buhari (APC)-led Federal Government on Friday published the names of persons who
under the Goodluck Jonathan (PDP)-led administration had allegedly looted the
treasury of the country. The list which contained six names of high-profile
members of the Peoples Democractic Party (PDP) was published in response to the
taunting the Federal Government by the PDP that it makes true allegations of “looting”
by publishing the names of persons it claims have looted.

some have criticized the list for containing only six names despite the high
premium the Buhari-led administration claims to be placing on corruption,
others have criticized the list for containing no names of members of the
present APC administration. The PDP has in response debunked the allegations
and named its own “list of looters” containing names of high profile members of
the APC. This write-up, while trying as best as possible to avoid the politics
of the issue, considers the list published by the federal government and
advises on the need for caution in commentaries on matters pending before the

is an elementary point that under law and our constitution, a person charged
with a criminal offence is presumed innocent until his guilt is proven. This is
the essential theme of our criminal prosecution enshrined in Section 36(5) of the Constitution of the
Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended)
. It is therefore only a
competent court that can pronounce the guilt of a person accused of an offence,
and the courts in so doing must be allowed to reach a just conclusion
independent of public sentiments from the court of public opinion.

criminal procedural laws, as imported from England, seem to slightly permit “suspects”
or names of persons alleged to have committed offences to be published and the
fact of the allegation may be subject to “fair comment” before the person is
charged to court. Indeed, in DANIEL v.
FRN (2013) LPELR-22148(CA)
, the court disagreed that extensive media
publication before the trial of a case infringed on a Defendants right to fair
hearing and a fair trial. However, when the matter becomes pending before the
courts, continued commentary on the culpability or otherwise of a party in the
case offends the subjudice rule and may, under some circumstances, be contempt
of the proceedings of the court.

of the national treasury is a serious criminal offence which cannot be
established conclusively save by a court of law. When a matter has proceeded to
and is before the courts, parties must refrain from commentary on the matter.
In the UK case of R v. Socialist Worker
(1975) QB 637
, the attempts at publication of names of accused when the
courts had warned against same earned the publisher terms of imprisonment or

Nigeria, while the publication of “alleged looters” may not particularly offend
our laws or  be complete grounds for
action in defamation, the publication of names of those who have been charged
to court, including statement of how much they allegedly stole, is no doubt an
act which impedes the duty of the court in independently reaching a conclusion  on the guilt of a person whose case pends
before it and whose guilt is yet to be determined. There is therefore a serious
need for caution, particularly as more comments may continue to generate on the
said list. Such persons as Olisa Metuh and the former National Security Adviser
who are already before competent courts should not have been published on a
list that indirectly confirms them as “looters” when the court is yet
exercising jurisdiction to determine the issue.

this action by the Federal Government could greatly prejudice the right of the
named persons to justice and was exactly what the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, cautioned against in his
press briefing on 11th of January this year when he said, and I

CJN wishes to remind the public that it is Contempt of Court for anyone to
discuss any matter pending in any Court of Law in the country. The punishment
for Contempt may include a term of imprisonment

respect of criminal proceedings, it is forbidden for parties, their counsel or
newspaper commentators to freely offer opinions in respect of matters pending
in court, including any situation where a conviction has been entered but the
convict’s appeal is pending at the appellate court.

‘We must not allow ‘trial by newspaper’ or ‘trial by
television or trial by any medium other than the courts of law.’ I think that
anything in the nature of prejudgment of a case or of specific issues in it is
objectionable not only because of its possible effect on that particular case
but, also, because of its side effects which may be far reaching.

“Responsible ‘mass media’ will do their best to be
fair, but there will also be ill-informed, slapdash or prejudiced attempts to
influence the public.

“If people are led to think that it is easy to find
the truth, disrespect for the processes of the law could follow and, if mass
media are allowed to judge, unpopular people and unpopular causes will fare
very badly.

“Most cases of prejudging of issues fall within the
existing authorities on contempt. I do not think that the freedom of the press
would suffer, and I think that the law would be clearer and easier to apply in
practice if it is made a general rule that it is not permissible to prejudge
issues in pending cases.”

CJN’s admonition is clear and incisive of this issue. The Federal Government is
no doubt a party in all criminal trials it has initiated in courts against some
named in the “alleged looters list” and the publication of the list has no
effect other than to taking the cases already pending before courts to the
court of public opinion. Even though one may say it was the opposition who “asked
for it”, there is need for caution to intervene to avoid further and more full-blown
commentaries on the issue.


is the duty of the Government and all in society to preserve the machinery for
the determination of rights and the preservation of justice: the courts. Judges
do not possess adjudicatory authority because they are muscular men of
strength, rather possess this authority because the society abides by their
direction and respect their determination of rights and obligations. The rule
against subjudice acts or comments seeks to preserve this authority and if the
other arms of government who should aid in ensuring the respect for the judiciary
continue to recklessly engage in acts that derogate from its respect, the role
of judiciary in ensuring of justice may become an illusionary concept and the
rule of law; a theory we only read in law books. The Federal Government must
therefore exercise caution and restraint in leading discuss on matters already
under the adjudicatory authority of its own courts.

Omoredia Esq.

Obiagwu & Obiagwu LLP