– Last Sunday, former military President Ibrahim Babangida issued a press statement through his press secretary, Mr. Kassim Afegbua. In the statement, the former military ruler was said to have advised President Muhammadu Buhari not to participate in the 2019 presidential election. But in his characteristic manner, General Babangida promptly disowned the well-publicised press statement and the views ascribed to him by Mr. Afegbua. 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 when he has not failed to honour the invitation of the Police the Inspector-General of police has overreached himself. 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.
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 offense 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. 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 General Babangida has now turned round to insist that he authorized 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 Inspector-general of Police should be advised not to popularise the discredited views of both Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida who failed woefully to institutionalized democracy, rule of law, human rights, self-reliance and probity during the 20 years that both of them had ruled the country.