Dr Patrick Osagie Eholor, Diaspora Director of Contact and Mobilisation for the Labour Party, has told the Campaign Officer of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State, Mr John Mayaki that he should stop threatening to sue the Labour Party VP candidate, Datti Baba-Ahmed over his recent comment during a Channels TV interview.
The Labour Party chieftain stated this in a statement on Friday, in which he explained that the Nigerian Court of Appeal had declared the offence of sedition as unconstitutional.
Muhammadu Buhari-led Nigerian government in its characteristic media clampdown had slammed N5 million fine on Channels TV over the interview with Datti Baba-Ahmed.
In a March 27 letter addressed to Channels TV Chief Executive Officer and obtained on Friday in Abuja, NBC said the television station violated the broadcasting code.
In his statement, Chief Patrick said Mayaki would have no proper cause of action if he proceeded to court and urged the APC chieftain to seek proper legal advice on the issue.
His statement reads: “Chief Patrick Eholor Reply to John Mayaki threat to take legal action against Labour Party vice presidential candidate (Datti BabaAhmed).
“Ordinarily I would have just ignored and faced other serious issues that are seeking my attention. But in response to the recent article by the APC presidential council campaign officer in Edo state, Mr John Mayaki where in a trending published article, threatened to prosecute and take criminal and legal action against Mr Datti Ahmed over his recent interview with Channels Television, is imperative that I respond to Mr John Mayaki as follows and thus.
“By the court of appeal decision as cited in Arthur Nwankwo v. The State (1985) 6 NCLR 228, where a bonafide citizen being the defendant in this case was charged with sedition under section 51 of the Criminal Code before an Onitsha High Court for publishing a book that had exposed corrupt practices under former Governor Jim Nwobodo of Anambra State.
“The appellant was convicted and sentenced to one-year imprisonment. But the conviction and sentence were set aside by the Court of Appeal on the grounds that the offence of sedition is illegal and unconstitutional.
“Speaking for the court, Olatawura JCA as he then was held inter alia: ‘We are no longer the illiterates or the mob society our colonial masters had mind when the law was promulgated…To retain S. 51 of the Criminal Code, in its present form, that is even if not inconsistent with the freedom of expression guaranteed by our constitution will be a deadly weapon to be used at will by a corrupt government or a tyrant…Let us not diminish from the freedom gained from our colonial masters by resorting to laws enacted by them to suit their purpose.’
“The laws enacted by ‘our colonial masters’ and imposed on the country include the Official Secrets Act and the provisions of the Criminal Code relating to sedition and criminal libel. As criticism is indispensable in a democratic society, Olatawura J.C.A. charged the Nigerian people to defend their hard-won freedom of expression at all times. According to his lordship:
“’The decision of the founding fathers of this present constitution which guarantees freedom of speech just like that made by Datti Ahmed, 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 the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Nwankwo v The State supra is binding on all authorities and persons in Nigeria it is submitted that the resort to criminal libel, incitement and sedition by public officers to settle scores with critics and political opponents is illegal in every material particular. However, public officers who feel offended by any defamatory publication are not without remedy. They have been rightly advised by the Court of Appeal to defend their reputation and bruised ego by suing for libel in a court of law.
“Flowing from all the above, I then wonder why has Mr Mayaki not sought the opinions of lawyers and be educated on the current state of the law on sedition, criminal law of defamation and incitement in this regard. The answer to all the above is that the threat to prosecute Mr Datti Ahmed over a Channels Television interview by Mr John Mayaki is dead on arrival, as by the current state of our laws, the law of sedition, incitement and including criminal libel is no longer existent.
“More so, we all remember in 2015, the present vice president of Nigeria in the person of Professor Yemi Osinbajo was in the same Channels Television and made certain and some sensitive statements against the then PDP government, we also hope that Mr Mayaki will extend his threat to the APC and vice president Yemi Osinbajo also.”