Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, on Tuesday described as illegal the planned prosecution of ex- President Ibrahim Babangida’s media aide, Kassim Afegbua, over a controversial statement he issued on behalf of the ex-President, accusing the present administration of ineptitude, divisiveness and sectionalism.
In the statement the former military ruler was also said to have advised President Muhammadu Buhari not to seek re-election in 2019.
However, Babangida has disowned the well publicised statement and the views ascribed to him by Afegbua.
Following the ex-President’s denial, the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, on Monday declared Afegbua wanted for alleged “character defamation.
But in a statement issued on Tuesday in Lagos, Falana advised the IGP to withdraw the offensive declaration without further delay.
The rights activist said Idris has “over reached” himself by declaring Afegbua wanted when he has not failed to honour the police invitation.
“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,” Falana stated.
On the circumstances leading to the issuance of the statement and the denial by Babangida, Falana said no criminal offence known to law has been committed by the journalist to warrant the action of the IGP since the two leaders (Buhari and Babangida) have not complained that the controversial statement defamed them.
He added: “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. 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 erstwhile 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.”
“Since Gen. 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. However, the IGP should be advised not to popularise the discredited views of both Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida who 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.”