Activist lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) has described as illegal the decision of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mr Ibrahim Idris to prosecute Mr. Kassim Afegbua, the Press Secretary of former President Ibrahim Babangida, for defamation.
In a statement issued in Lagos yesterday, Falana who noted that neither President Muhammadu Buhari nor Babangida has filed any complaint against Afegbua, contended that there was no justification for the action of the IGP.
Afegbua, according to him, has not committed any offence known to the law.
“Having regard to the facts and circumstances of the issuance of the public statement by Mr. Afegbua and the denial by General Babangida, it ought to be pointed out that no criminal offence known to law has been committed to warrant the action of the Inspector General of Police. More so, that both General Babangida and President Buhari have not complained that the controversial press statement has defamed them.
“In fact, if the statement is considered defamatory whoever is injured would have to institute a civil suit where he will be required to put his own reputation in issue”.
To buttress his argument, Falana cites a related and decided case of the Court of Appeal.
“In Arthur Nwankwo v The State (1985) 4 NCLR 228, the Court of Appeal had cautioned public officers in Nigeria to desist from invoking undemocratic laws which were introduced by the earstwhile British colonial regime to harass or intimidate their political opponents. According to Olajide Olatawura JCA (as he then was of blessed memory):
“The decision of the founding fathers of this present Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech which must include freedom to criticize should be praised and any attempt to derogate from it except as provided in the Constitution must be resisted. Those in public office should not be intolerant of criticism. Where a writer exceeds the bounds there should be a resort to the law of libel where the plaintiff must of necessity put his character and reputation in issue.”
He said; “Since General Babangida has now turned round to insist that he authorised Mr. Afegbua to issue the controversial statement it is hoped that he will be prepared to say so in a criminal court.
“His testimony will go a long way to destroy the criminal case which the Inspector-General intends to institute against Mr. Afegbua”.
Falana accused the IGP of defaming Afegbua by declaring him wanted and for portraying him as a fugitive running from the law.
He advised the IGP to withdraw the statement.
“It is undoubtedly that it is the Inspector General of police who has defamed Mr. Afegbua by portraying him as a fugitive from the law. Therefore, Mr. Idris is advised to withdraw the offensive declaration without any further delay”, he stated.
Falana recalled that Babangida, last Sunday, issued a press statement through his press secretary, Mr. Kassim Afegbua. He noted that in the statement, the former military ruler was said to have advised President Mohammadu Buhari not to participate in the 2019 presidential election.
He also noted that Babangida, in his characteristic manner, promptly disowned the well publicised press statement and the views ascribed to him by Mr. Afegbua.
He said since this is not the first time that General Babangida has disowned controversial statements made by him, Mr. Afegbua ought to have been more circumspect in issuing this particular statement.
“However, notwithstanding that the retired General has dissociated himself from the statement the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris has declared Mr. Afegbua wanted for alleged “character defamation”.
“By declaring Mr. Afegbua wanted when he has not failed to honour the invitation of the Police, the Inspector-General of police has over reached himself”, he argued.
Falana however, advised the IGP not to popularise the discredited views of both Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida who, he said, failed woefully to institutionalised democracy, rule of law, human rights, self-reliance and probity during the 20 years that both of them had ruled the country.