Afegbua files N1bn suit against police, media houses

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*Idris, Afegbua, Babangida

Kassim Afegbua, media aide to the former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, who was declared wanted by the police, has instituted a suit against the inspector general of police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris for the enforcement of his fundamental human rights.

Other defendants listed in the case are the Nigeria Police Force, Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Jimoh Moshood, Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), and Channels Television as 1st to 5th respondents, respectively.

Mr. Afegbua is also requesting N1 billion in damages from the police, its spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood and the two media houses for a breach of his rights.

In the suit lodged at the Federal High Court, Abuja, the plaintiff alleged that Idris and the other respondents trampled upon his fundamental rights when they declared him wanted even though no invitation was handed over to him by the police.

The suit, FHC/ABJ/CS/129/2018, was filed pursuant to fundamental rights enforcement procedure rules 2009.

Dr. Kayode Ajulo filed the suit on behalf of Afegbua.

The complainant urged the court to declare that his continued “witch-hunt, harassment, intimidation, and persecution or threats” by the inspector general of police and the police on the basis of a letter he wrote on behalf of his boss, Babangida, was unlawful.

The originating motion was dated and filed on February 6, 2018.

He also prayed the court for a declaration that the announcement by the 1st to 3rd respondents through the NTA and Channels Television declaring him wanted, when in fact there was no formal invitation extended to him or any attempt made to arrest him, constitutes prosecutorial misconduct and malfeasance in public office by the police chief and the FPPRO, Jimoh.

He claimed before the court that the respondents’ action infringed on his fundamental rights to life, dignity of human person and liberty.

In view of the action of the police, Ajulo, on behalf of his client sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents by themselves, their officers, servants, agents and privies from the continued witch-hunt, harassment and persecution of the applicant (Afegbua) or threats thereof as well as an order directing the respondents to pay to the applicant severally and jointly the sum of N1 billion as damages for breach of his fundamental rights of the applicant.

Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has condemned Afegbua’s intimidation and harassment by the police

Idris had declared Afegbua wanted over the statement he issued and ordered his arrest for “making false statements, defamation of character, and for an act capable of instigating public disturbance.”

“Everyone has the right to speak out about political or other public interest issues. To do so cannot qualify as ‘making false statements’. And it’s certainly not ‘defamation of character’ let alone rising to ‘an act capable of instigating public disturbance.’ It is the essence of democracy and human rights. Declaring Afegbua wanted is unwarranted because there is no evidence of inciting violence against him,” said SERAP in a statement issued by its deputy director, Timothy Adewale.

“Afegbua’s statement doesn’t contain incitement to violence. Declaring him wanted simply for exercising his right to freedom of expression is the hallmark of an oppressive government. The police should immediately withdraw its unlawful declaration and end the harassment of Afegbua. President Muhammadu Buhari should publicly instruct the police authorities that it’s their duty to facilitate people’s enjoyment of their freedoms, not to hinder them,” it added.

The statement read in part: “Afegbua’s statement is within reasonable limits, and entirely within his constitutional right to freedom of expression. The allegation that he instigated public disturbance is to say the least, bizarre. Expressing one’s opinion is at the heart of freedom of expression, not sedition. At any rate, Babangida is not known to have lodged any complaint to the police on the matter. He reportedly confirmed Afegbua’s statement. Even if Babangida had issues with Afegbua’s statement, it’s not the police’s business to take upon itself Babangida’s perceived cause of action.”

“This government is striving to promote Nigeria as a free society and a good place to do business, but people in a country that calls itself a democracy shouldn’t be afraid to speak out about political issues. This kind of action by the police can stifle debate on matters of public interest in Nigeria and have broader chilling effect on free speech.”

“People may hold and express strong political views. These may sound offensive, but such expressions should not be branded as criminal simply because they involve critical views about the government and authority.”

“Indeed, the UN Human Rights Committee established pursuant to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party has emphasized that the value placed by the Covenant upon uninhibited expression is particularly high. All public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition. It is absolutely necessary in a free society that restrictions on public debate or discourse are not implemented at the detriment of human rights, such as freedom of expression.”

It would be recalled that the statement which Afegbua issued on behalf of Babangida detailed the alleged failings of the Buhari-led government and called for the emergence of a younger, vibrant leader that could tackle the country’s 21st-century challenges headlong.

Few hours after the first statement was released, another one purportedly signed by Babangida was made public.

The statement denied the critical issues raised in the earlier one.

However, Afegbua insisted that Babangida authorised the statement he issued. Babangida also reportedly confirmed to ThisDay newspaper that the statement which Afegbua signed on his behalf still stands.

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