Tope Akinyode, a human rights lawyer, has condemned the arrest of Lawal Abdullahi, the 70-year-old man who allegedly insulted President Muhammadu Buhari and Aminu Masari, governor of Katsina state, describing it as unconstitutional.
In a video which went viral on social media, Abdullahi, wose cows were rustled and some of his family members killed by suspected bandits, had accused Buhari and Masari of failing the people.
Sanusi Buba, commissioner of police in Katsina, had ordered his men to investigate the issue which led to the arrest of Abdullahi and two others.
In a statement, Akinyode said public officers or government agencies are barred by law from suing for defamation, vowing to challenge the “illegality”.
“In the case of OMEGA BANK PLC V GOVT OF EKITI STATE (2007) 16 NWLR (PT. 1061) 445 AT 478 – 479 PARA. E (CA), the Court held that “…in view of the personal nature of libel actions, public officers have no right to sue or be sued for libel. In the instant case, the respondent being public officers had no right of action in libel”,” he said in a statement.
“The idea that an organ of government or public officers cannot sue for defamation is premised on the ground that state resources must never be deployed against citizens to intimidate them into silence.
“It will be against the public interest for government/public officers to use the tax paid by the people to institute actions against them in libel. If right of action is granted to the government /public officers to maintain an action in libel.” the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression will be curtailed.
“The justifiability of libel actions at the instance of public offices and public institutions and the desirability of allowing public institutions/bodies to use tax payers money to fund libel actions against the very same tax payers were issues which were determined.
“It is sad to note the rising spate of intolerance of public officers. The fact remains that in 2018, President Buhari declared that Nigerian youths are lazy, uneducated and wanting everything free. Nobody sued the President for defamation. How come government agencies are quickly launching defamation suits these days?”
Akinyode gave the police a 24-hour ultimatum to release the three persons arrested for “insulting” the president and governor, saying he would proceed to the court to determine the constitutionality of the act and to enforce the fundamental human right of the victims if the police fail to release them.