The Media Adviser to a former military dictator, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Mr. Kassim Afegbua, has sued the Nigeria Police Force, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, and two media houses, for alleged harassment and persecution over a statement he issued on behalf of his principal considered critical of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Afegbua, in the suit marked, FHC/ABJ/CS/129/2018, which was filed before the Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday, asked for N1bn as damages for the breach of his fundamental human rights.
Those joined as respondents to the suit are the Nigeria Police Force, the IGP, the Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Moshood Jimoh, the Nigerian Television Authority and the Channels TV.
The IG had, in a statement issued by Jimoh on Monday, ordered the arrest of Afegbua for “making false statements, defamation of character and for an act capable of instigating public disturbance throughout the country.”
There was confusion on Sunday over two statements purportedly written by the former military dictator, which bordered on the 2019 elections, herdsmen-farmers’ crisis and other issues plaguing the nation.
In an earlier statement titled, ‘Towards a National Rebirth,’ and signed by Afegbua, Babangida advised Nigerians to do away with analogue leaders and embrace those of the digital age.
However, another statement issued hours after the first distanced Babangida from the first statement.
Afegbua had stood by his statement, saying he sat with Babangida before it was issued.
But the Inspector-General of Police, in a statement by the police spokesman on Monday, declared Afegbua wanted in connection with the statement he issued.
Afegbua, in his suit filed on Tuesday by his lawyer, Dr Kayode Ajulo, argued that he was not formally invited by the police before he was declared wanted and painted “as a fugitive and common criminal with no modicum of dignity.”
He described his being declared wanted as a witch-hunt, harassment, intimidation and persecution, saying his principal had not denied the statement he issued on his behalf.
According to the applicant, the police, the IGP and the Force PPRO used the platforms of the NTA andChannels TV to declare him wanted.
He sought, as part of his prayers, a declaration that “the continued witch-hunt, harassment, intimidation, and persecution of the applicant or threats thereof by the respondents ostensibly on the basis of a letter he wrote on behalf of his principal, General lbrahim Badamosi Babangida, GCFR, when his principal has not lodged any formal complaint to the police or any other security agency, amounted to the violation of his rights.”
He also sought that “the declaration by the 1st to 3rd respondents through the media of the 4th to 5th respondents that the applicant is wanted when there has been no formal invitation extended to the applicant or any attempt has been made to arrest him and he has resisted or refused to honour such invitation do not only constitute prosecutorial misconduct, malicious process, malfeasance in public office by the 1st to 3rd respondents, but also infringe unjustifiably, illegally and unconstitutionally upon the applicant’s fundamental rights to life, dignity of human person, liberty to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, freedom of expression, association and movement.”
He claimed his said rights were “guaranteed and protected respectively by sections 33, 34, 35, 36, 39, 40 and 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Articles 2,4,5,6,7,9,1o,11,12 and 13 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement)Act, Cap. A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.”
In addition, he sought “an order of perpetual injunction, restraining the respondents by themselves, their officers, servants, agents and privies from the continued witch-hunt, harassment, intimidation, and persecution of the applicant or threats thereof ostensibly on the basis of a letter he wrote on behalf of his principal, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, GCFR.”
He also sought “an order directing the respondents to stay all actions and to desist forthwith from proceeding with any process whatsoever, including but not limited to any purported investigation, detention, prosecution of the applicant or otherwise, which is connected, associated with or premised upon the letter he wrote on behalf of his principal, General lbrahim Badamosi Babangida, GCFR.”
He also sought an order directing the respondents to pay him “severally and jointly the sum of N1,000,000,000 (N1bn) as damages for the breach of the fundamental rights of the applicant.”
He also sought “an order directing the respondents to apologise to the applicant through the media of the 4th to the 5th respondents and three national newspapers.”
As part of his grounds of the suit, Afegbua described himself as a “renowned journalist, publisher, writer, spokesperson for General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, GCFR, and a former commissioner in Edo State.”
He said he “wrote a letter on behalf of his principal, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, GCFR on February 4, 2016, which was widely publicised.”
He added that there was another letter, “purportedly to have emanated from the applicant’s principal on the evening of the same February 4, 2018.”
But he noted that “there has been no formal complaint by the applicant’s principal to the police or any other security agency of any infraction by the applicant.
“The 1st to 3rd respondents, through the media of the 4th and 5th respondents, declared the applicant wanted and the action of the respondents has put the life of the applicant in serious jeopardy and he now has real trepidation for his life.
“There was no formal invitation to the applicant from the 1st to 3rd respondents and there was no attempt by the 1st to 3rd respondents to arrest the applicant.
“The applicant has not refused to honour any formal invitation by the 1st to 3rd respondents and he has not resisted arrest by the applicant, hence there is no basis for declaring the applicant wanted.
“The 4th to 5th respondents used their media to broadcast to the whole world that the applicant is wanted at the behest of the 1st to 3rd respondents.”
IG has defamed Afegbua –Falana
A human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), said the Inspector-General of Police had defamed Afegbua by declaring him wanted.
Falana, in a statement on Monday said “no criminal offence known to law has been committed to warrant the action of the Inspector-General of Police.”
The SAN said, “By declaring Mr. Afegbua wanted when he has not failed to honour the invitation of the police, the Inspector-General of Police has overreached himself. 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.
“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, both General Babangida and President Buhari have not complained that the controversial press statement 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.”
Falana said those in public office should not be intolerant of criticisms.
According to him, 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.’’
‘We are on a dangerous road to dictatorship’
Another lawyer, Mr. Jiti Ogunye, said the nation was on the road to dictatorship.
He said, “For us, this is not about Afegbua. It is about the dangerous road to civilian dictatorship that our much raped and abused country is, again, taking by the IGP’s attempt to kill rights to freedom of expression.
“We are not so much interested in what IBB said or what he didn’t say. It is the brightness of the day that brings forth the adder. We are concerned about the role the police are now being allowed to play in our democracy.”