Early in the morning on Monday this week, I was awakened to an item going viral on social media as forwarded to me by a number of good friends alleging that I wrote a petition that led to the alleged abduction of an FIJ Reporter. Under the title: “CONFIRMED: Muiz Banire Wrote the Petition That Triggered FIJ Reporter’s Abduction”, it was said that one Daniel Ojukwu was allegedly abducted by the police as a result of my petition. The story mischievously linked my alleged  petition and the arrest of Mr. Ojukwu to the activities of my non-governmental organization, United Action for Change and what we stand for being protection of human rights, amongst other values. The story in issue appeared to have been published by an organization whose name was reflected as Foundation for Investigative Journalism. If this organization were to live up to its name and its acclaimed purpose, one would expect that it would have done some investigative journalism to unearth what actually led to the petition and the capacity in which Muiz Banire wrote the petition. The organization would not have descended into the abuse of gutter journalism of roping in UAC that had nothing to do with the development.

•Bosun, Minister of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy


The purpose of bringing in UAC into the story is to engage in another instance of cyber-bullying and intimidation. This is rather irresponsible. Let me use this opportunity to clear air on some wrong impressions that the publication in issue could have portrayed to the general public. It is beyond cavil that my source of livelihood for which I was trained is to act as a legal practitioner. My services are available to all who can afford to pay and to those whom I consider to deserve my service notwithstanding their inability to pay. That is why I have a huge portfolio of pro bono legal services being rendered in my firm, M. A. Banire & Associates. Just recently, a client brought to my attention the false reports of embezzlement and mismanagement of public funds levied against her by the tabloid that Mr. Daniel Ojukwu represents. As a legal practitioner, I will not encourage my client to engage in unnecessary social media war or procure violent services of thugs to deal with her attackers, or any other act of lawlessness.

Rather than descending to the abyss of irresponsibility as many politicians would do, and since my Client believe that she is innocent, we agreed to subject the allegation since it is criminal to the investigation arm of the Nigerain government which is the Nigeria police force.  Since if the allegation of falsity of the claim against her  is uncovered,  the  story published against her amounts to  nothing but cyber-bullying and many other offences prohibited under the Cyber Crimes Act of 2015 (as amended). It is in this capacity of doing the job of a lawyer that I wrote the petition on behalf of my client, just like Mr. Ojukwu peddles his story in the course of his professional capacity. Another line of action available to my client is to bring a civil action to claim damages against the publisher of the fake story which we definitely are going to utilize at the appropriate time, as we live in a civilized society. I do not condone irresponsible exercise of freedom of the press despite my absolute belief in the right to freedom of speech.

The absoluteness of my belief in right to freedom of speech and the press is not loose and unrestrained as I believe that every citizen must exercise the right or freedom within the precincts of what is provided by the Constitution and the laws of the land. It is in this regard that the common law of slander or libel under the generic name of defamation was brought into existence before I was born and was received as part of the laws of Nigeria. It was in regulating society that so many statutes were brought into existence to control irresponsible and reckless exercise of right to freedom of speech. One of such is the more recent Cybercrimes Act of 2015 which makes publishing and spreading of fake news an offence for which a person may be jailed if convicted. These laws are put in place to avoid a situation where other citizens would be destroyed through publication of fake stories that some jobless individuals are using to drive traffic to their social media page.

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Some of them have become wealthy through this wrongful and destructive use of social media which is largely insufficiently regulated as it masks a lot of faceless, untrained and mannerless individuals who masquerade as journalists. An investigative journalist will not engage in the rat race of who publishes a story first but rather insist on the veracity of the story before publishing anyone who has been a victim of fake news before would appreciate the truism and accuracy of the idiom, my right begins where yours stops.

The police have invited Mr. Ojukwu to defend and justify his publication which is the normal process. I have not enlisted in the Police force so as to decide for the Police force whether to investigate the petition or otherwise, neither am I privy to the ongoing developments beyond initiating the process on behalf of my client.  Rather than the said reporter justifying his claims , more so  when the Police office is not the court nor do the Police constitute arbiter,  he chose to blame the petition and his plight on the Professional who authored the petition on behalf of his client.. If you have the liberty to publish to the whole world what you believe enhances your bread as a journalist that you claim to be, how can my right to petition the authorities against you on behalf of my Client  be limited since I also live by the bread derived from my services as a lawyer.

Justify your assertions to the investigators and do not avoid lawful invitation  only to be tracked down and arrested and your fellow travellers are alleging “abduction” and striving to locate fault elsewhere. It will be recalled that at a point in time, I only read about allegations in social media about me giving money to a friend as a bribe  and I turned myself in for investigation without any formal invitation. I also resigned my position as the National Legal Adviser of All Progressives Congress and stepped aside as a member of the Constitutional reforms committee of the federal government  to give room for unbiased investigation. I had to do all these as the public might believe that I could use my positions to prevent or corrupt investigation which I will never do in my life. At the end of the day, I was exonerated but you can imagine the emotional trauma I had to undergo as a result of the publication. All you need to do when you publish a story and are invited by the police is to go and justify the allegations made against your victim and not turn your sword against another person doing his legitimate business of executing his client’s instruction.

I am one of the greatest critics of strangulation of social media or the press in general and I believe that the Cyber Crimes Act of 2015 (as amended) has sufficiently addressed the issues generated by the reckless activities of some social media miscreants. I, therefore, do not condone abuse of the press or social media in the name of practising journalism. While technology has made the practice of journalism to be more liberal and expansive today, it is not a tool to be abused to destroy the reputation of others. Many victims of such illicit practice do not overcome the trauma and many die as a result of depression occasioned by such sleazy type of journalism. Kindly note that that where lawyers act professionally, you cannot leave the substance and be grudging lawyer. It is my duty as a lawyer to write petitions and it is the duty of the police to arrest suspects.

I have options of petitioning under Cybercrime Act or initiating a civil suit or engaging in both. I chose to report the crime committed by Mr. Ojukwu first to the appropriate authorities in line with my Client’s instruction  and if his fundamental rights have been breached or likely to be breached by the police, the court of law is there to ventilate his grievances and seek redress. The option is not to turn the public against the innocent lawyer who has done what preserves sanity in society by reporting a crime.

The police power to act or not to act on a petition is discretionary and no one can even compel the police to prosecute a crime. They may choose not to prosecute or refuse to even act on a petition if they believe it is frivolous. Having considered the said  petition weighty enough as to deserve some attention, the baton turns to Mr. Ojukwu to justify why he should not be prosecuted for what he has done if a crime is found to have been committed. The Police is not ultimately the court as I remarked above  and that is why their actions and activities can be challenged in court. From the publication of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism as contained in the above banal allegation, it is obvious that they do not take legal advice before publishing. It is obvious that their own brand of investigative journalism does not include reaching out to me to hear my own side of the story or my client’s side of the story. All they are concerned with is the need to stigmatize anyone who dares challenge their illicit trade.

No law in any part of the world makes freedoms absolute. Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that guarantees freedom of expression does not make it absolute. It contains some restrictions and in section 45(1)(a) and (b), the Constitution provides that “Nothing in sections 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.”

Where the rights of others are breached in the exercise of your rights, there must be consequences for your wrong actions otherwise impunity will destroy the country. There is no reason for anyone to engage in lawlessness simply because you want to seek relevance on social media. Let the Foundation for Investigative Journalism be more investigative. They can mobilize resources to protect any right of their colleague perceived to have been violated but there is no basis trying to intimidate me or use my reputation as a social and human rights crusader to attack my organization, United Action for Change.

This is nothing but another instance of cyber-bullying to cause me to refrain from protecting the rights of others. The petition I wrote is in the defence of the rights of my client not to be wantonly destroyed by the activities of their likes. Kindly embrace what is regarded as investigative journalism so as to last long in the noble profession. I implore the police to bring charges against Mr. Ojukwu within a reasonable time as stipulated by the Constitution where the allegations against him are found to merit prosecution or otherwise grant him bail. The exercise of my client’s rights shall not be a denial of Mr. Ojukwu’s precious freedom. Woe betide the day when a lawyer refuses to do his job due to the terrorism of others!