By Richard Akinnola
“There is nothing wrong in addressing the President as Major-General as long as they don’t commit an offence doing so. If they commit any offence, then the government will deal with them.
“They can call him anything they like but if what they call him is derogatory then they bear the consequences. It is not only PUNCH. Anyone who refers to the President in derogatory terms will face the music”.
-APC Chieftain, Prince Tony Momoh
Prince Momoh is a revered elder and a senior journalist /lawyer. So, l would appreciate is he can expatiate on his own meaning of the word “derogatory” with examples, within the context he made reference to , vis-a-vis the position of the Court of Appeal in the Sedition case of Arthur Nwankwo v. The State (1985)6NCLR 228.
I say this with all sense of responsibility because some people, speak about today. I’m more concerned about tomorrow, an enduring legacy because no one can be in power for ever. I say this because Prince Momoh was once Minister of Information in the General Ibrahim Babangida’s government and he never made a similar comment. I for one don’t subscribe to insulting leaders but hey, if you want to hear about insults against the president and governors, go to newspaper stands and enter the commercial buses.
Even the media, we have heard such monikers like “IBB, the evil genius” ; “Abacha, the butcher” ; “Yar’dua, the lifeless president” ;”Jonathan, the clueless president”, et AL, while they were in government. So, it would be interesting to know from our revered Prince Momoh to tell us his own definition of “derogatory term”.
LAW OF SEDITION
The law of Sedition is a by-product of colonialism. It crept into the statute books of Ghana (then The Gold Coast) in 1934 where it was an offence to bring to hatred or disaffection against His Majesty, His Heirs or the government of Gold Coast. Nigeria imbibed this colonial legacy in 1942.
It had similar provisions like that of Gold Coast where it was an offence to bring into hatred or cause disaffection against the persons of His Majesty, His Heirs or successors or the Government of United Kingdom or Nigeria. These provisions, by virtue of the Adaptation of Laws Order 1954 and the Adaptation of Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Order 1964, sedition as an offence, was brought under Section 50 (2 (a) of the Criminal Code which defines sedition as a intention “to bring into hatred or contempt or excite disaffection against the person of the Head of the Federal Government or of the Governor of a State or the Government of the Federation or any State of Nigeria as by law established or against the administration of Justice in Nigeria.”
Prior to its being ingrained in our statute books, India had in 1870 imbibed the Sedition Law. Their sedition law had similar provisions like that of Nigeria and Gold Coast (Ghana).
The Sedition law was also introduced into the American legal system in 1789, a law that prohibited publication of ‘false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States or either House of Congress or the President, with intent to defame or to bring them into contempt or disrepute”.
However, with the American liberal disposition at play, truth was a defence under their sedition law unlike Britain and other former British colonies that state that the greater the truth, the greater the Sedition. And of course, the First amendment to the American constitution had death with that regarding non-interference with freedom of expression.
In the case of Arthur Nwankwo (Supra), greater light was shed on the Sedition Law.
Chief Nwankwo, a publisher, had written a book in 1982 titled: “How Jim Nwobodo Rules Anambra State” a book that seriously excoriated Chief Nwobodo, then Governor of Old Anambra State, accusing him of corruption and tyranny.
Chief Nwankwo was charged with Sedition before Justice F.O. Nwokedi, then of Onitsha High Court and was found guilty and jailed 12 months.
At the Court of Appeal, Enugu, to which he appealed, the Court made up of Justices Alfa Belgore, Olajide Olatawura, and Aikawa, made a landmark jurisprudential decision that overturned the verdict of the High Court and went further to inter the remains of Sedition Law.
The Appeal Court ruled that Sedition law – Sections 50 and 51 of the Criminal Code is inconsistent with Section 36 of the 1979 Constitution and therefore void and the conviction of Nwankwo overturned.
Said Justice Olatawura: “It is my view that the law of Sedition which has derogated from the freedom of speech guaranteed under this Constitution is inconsistent with the 1979 Constitution, more so when this cannot lead to a public disorder as envisaged under Section 41(a) of the 1979 Constitution. We are no longer the illiterates or the mob society our colonial masters had in mind when the law was promulgated. The safeguard provided under Section 50(2) is inadequate more so where the truth of what is published is no defence. To retain Section 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 and to be used at will by a corrupt government or 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 decision of the founding fathers of this present Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech must include freedom to criticize should be praised and any attempt to derogate from it except as provided by 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 be of necessity put his character and reputation in issue. Criticism is indispensable in a free society”.
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