Ikpea Divorce Saga: Judge Caution Journalists on Integrity, Professional Reportage

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An Edo State High Court judge, Justice Joseph Acha, on Wednesday advised journalists and lawyers to protect the integrity of their professions and society.

He gave the admonition during proceedings in suit B/47b/2020, a divorce case between the petitioner Chief Leemon Ikpea and the respondent, Mrs Agnes Ikpea.

This followed the controversy that arose from media reports of Justice Acha’s February 17, 2021 rulings.

The judge ruled on two motions filed by the parties, but, according to him, the decisions were misinterpreted in some publications and cast him in a negative light.

The ruling directed both parties to stay apart until the determination of the case to preserve their lives, while the petitioner was ordered to provide suitable accommodation for the respondent during the period.

But the judge said he was surprised that a section of the media came up with a different interpretation.

When the matter came up for hearing on Wednesday, Justice Acha said Mrs Ikpea had petitioned the Chief Judge of Edo State for reassignment of the suit, but that he stood by his ruling because it was meant to protect the lives of both parties.

The judge said: “When you embark on a campaign of calumny, you are not doing the institutions any good. When you decided to malign people because of a matter that is not in your favour, I think you are only destroying the institution.

“The journalists, I think they have a duty to be objective in their reportage, they must be objective and do a proper investigation. A situation whereby they are doing the bidding of their paymaster will impinge on the integrity of their profession

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“It is correct that this matter was fixed for hearing today and today two motions were filed on behalf of the respondent; the last was given to me this morning.

“More importantly, after the last sitting of this court, a petition was written on behalf of the respondent to the Honourable Chief Judge seeking reassignment of this case to another court. The petition was referred to me for my reaction; I responded and awaited the directive of the Honourable Chief Judge on the next step.”

“I wish to state that the practice of journalism, like most other professions, is noble. No matter who the sponsor is or the sponsors are, no matter how much the journalist is paid, he owes a duty to society, God and his conscience for responsible reportage by ensuring that he publishes accurately and authentically.

“I want to repeat that in my ruling of the 17th Day of February 2021, the lives of the parties in this case, the need to protect and safeguard their lives remained my primary concern more than anything else.”

On his part, the Chairman, Edo State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Sir Roland Osakue told the judge that he was in court over the said publication, adding that the report did not emanate from journalists practising in Edo.

Counsel to the respondent, Orji Ukah said the report was neither authored by him nor his client, adding that it was not in his character to discuss court issues with journalists.

Counsel to the petitioner, George Igbokwe, called for the sustenance of the integrity of the journalism profession adding that he would take legal action on the misrepresentations in the media reports.

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The judge adjourned till April 22 while awaiting the Chief Judge’s decision on the petition.

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