THE Presidency, on Sunday, warned a private lawyer, Mr Nnamdi Nwokocha, to refrain from declaring President Muhammadu Buhari guilty in the ongoing case of alleged lack of school certificate even before the court rules on the matter.
In a reaction to an interview granted to a national daily by the lawyer, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said in a statement issued in Abuja, on Sunday, that what the lawyer did amounted to prejudicing public opinion against the president.
He observed that it was unfair for a lawyer as a litigant to a case in court to go out of his way to hijack the power of a judge by declaring the president guilty of what he was accused of.
According to Shehu, newspaper pages were not alternative courts where a lawyer could declare anybody guilty of anything when the court had not formally given a definitive judgement on an issue before it.
He said the two-page interview breached lawyer’s ethical code and “we hope that the court and the Bar Association will take notice of this.”
The presidential aide said any lawyer that sincerely believed in judicial process and the rights of other parties to a case would not have engaged in the “inappropriate and unprofessional practice of trial by media, especially a situation, where Nwokocha openly declared the president guilty when the court didn’t make that declaration.”
According to him, gag orders emerged in the United States “on account of lawyers’ inappropriate conduct on trying and convicting people on the pages of newspapers or the court of public opinion.”
Shehu further explained that free speech was “not synonymous with recklessness and wanton abuse of the rights of other parties to a case in court.”
He added: “The litigant’s unabashed claim that he was a card-carrying member of the opposition PDP which lost power in the last election clearly indicates a scheme that seeks power by circumventing the democratic process of elections.”
Shehu warned that if Nwokocha did not stop “his unfair and professionally inappropriate abuse of free speech, the president’s competent team of lawyers will seek the instrumentality of the law in dealing with his unethical actions.”
He declared: “You cannot be a litigant and be a judge at the same time.”