By Michael Nwabueze
As we countdown to the end of the 7 days given to Hon Ikechukwu Iroha by Kenneth Ahia, SAN to retract his essay titled “Payment of legal fees through contract award?” and pay N1bn in damages to compensate for the damages the said article was purported to have done to the reputation of Barr Ahia, let us consider facts of the issue.
In what is supposed to be a pre-action notice titled RE: MALICIOUS AND LIBELOUS PUBLICATION AGAINST KENNETH AHIA, SAN: DEMAND FOR APOLOGY AND DAMAGES OF ONE BILLION NAIRA, sent to (not served on) Ikechukwu Iroha via whatsapp, solicitors to Kenneth Ahia, SAN, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa SAN & Co had claimed among other things that the publication had exposed Kenneth Ahia, SAN “to public ridicule, opprobrium and odium.”
Let me state categorically clear that unless Kenneth Ahia and his solicitors have other meanings to what makes up a libelous publication aside what is known to Law, their pursuit of a never-coming apology and a non-existent N1,000,000.00 (One Billion Naira) is not only a wishful thinking but also a wild goose chase, and the earlier they retract, the more of their energy and resources they will save for themselves.
First, Ikechukwu was intelligent enough to only express his fundamental human right of freedom of expression in that essay in question by making postulations and asking questions. Even the title of the essay does not suggest any malice but a treatise in responsible citizenship seeking answers to issues that could lead to a compromise of government covenant with the people. As a question, the title, “Payment of legal fees through contract award?”, tried to create a basis for discussion and constructive argument for the good of society.
One of the statements highlighted by Kenneth Ahia, SAN in his notice of legal action to Hon. Ikechukwu Iroha says:
“In what seems like an attempt at organized heist, Gov Otti has been caught up in another scandal involving award of road project contracts in Aba…We have just received information that Mr Otti allegedly awarded all or most of these contracts to a company where his election petition tribunal lead counsel, Kenneth Ahia, SAN has major shareholding interest…”
Surely, nothing is libelous in the above statement as words/phrases like “seems”, “just received information” (the source of which the law protects Ikechukwu from not revealing as a public commentator), and “allegedly” all settle the fact that the essay was meant to raise and appraise critical occurrences including relationships between Otti and Ahia that could jeopardise transparent and accountable use of Abia’s resources.
With that, Ikechukwu could not have fallen foul of libel.
The other highlighted statement for which Ahia is threatening Ikechukwu with a libel suit goes thus:
“Are those jobs meant to defray the cost of legal representation at the tribunal as the SAN, who is a major shareholder of Solberg and a major stakeholder of Labour Party is in charge of all the Labour Party’s candidates’ legal matters in Abia?”
This is another fundamental question Ikechukwu asked in public interest, well deserving of answers and not a suit, as the people deserve to know if such relationships are capable of leading to a compromise in the deployment of state resources.
The last of the part of the essay for which Hon Ikechukwu Iroha was threatened with a lawsuit by Kenneth Ahia was the part that states that:
“The most scary implication of the above is that the cost of these jobs will likely be inflated to make up for the cost of these litigations, which is allegedly the main consideration in awarding the fraudulent jobs.”
Again, the above statement was a postulation to create room for further discussion and robust debate in a bid to check any iota of executive recklessness. With words/phrases like “will likely” and “allegedly” used, Ikechukwu’s true intentions of being an unbiased public commentator come to the fore. And rather than be vilified, he should be edified for his courage to speak up at a time it is unfashionable to go against the government of the day.
One of the fundamental defences against libel suit is public interest. Ikechukwu’s essay is self-sufficient in proving that it was written in the interest of the public which the law recognizes as “comments on public policies, matters of public interest, or executive decisions not constituting sedition, incitement or treason.” The content of that essay raised pertinent questions deserving closer scrutiny to ensure that our commonwealth is not shared among a circle of friends masquerading as redeemers.
Ikechukwu Iroha owes the public both social and moral duty/responsibility to make known the relationships existing between the governor of Abia State and Kenneth Ahia, SAN to the extent that such a relationship could cause a conflict of interest to the governor thereby causing damage to the sociopolitical and moral fabric of the state, or even cause the state some unnecessary financial losses preventable through such expositions.
It is, therefore, not only disingenuous but a terrible disservice to the state and her people to slam or threaten to slam a libel suit against a man with such a heavy burden of sociopolitical/moral duty to society. Such a threat is meant to gag the citizens and cow them into silence, and it is not going to be accepted. Anyone who does not wish to be scrutinized should keep away from Abia State government because we are more committed to scrutinizing them more than they are committed to browbeating the people into silence.
From the foregoing, that threat of a lawsuit against Hon Ikechukwu Iroha by Kenneth Ahia is patently, latently, and inherently defective. What Ahia has succeeded in achieving by going public with the pre-action notice is a fulfilment of his desire to expose Hon Iroha and his young family to all forms of security threats and breaches by exposing his private residence even up to his flat number. Such notices are by convention private and are only made public if someone is evading service after which alternative means of service can be deployed but only as ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction. At Ahai’s age and stage, and professional experience, one would have thought that he had overgrown such exuberance usually associated with fresh lawyers still learning the basic rudiments of their trade. We hereby wish to put Kenneth Ahia on notice that should anything untoward happen to Hon Ikechukwu Iroha and/or his young family, the world knows where to direct their suspicion and things will not be left lying low.
See you guys in court!
Michael Nwabueze writes from Aba
Justice For Sale? – By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa
Increasingly but alarmingly, it is gaining ground that Nigerians now believe that justice is for sale. This position seems to be gaining ground increasingly. Is it possible to buy justice? Is it true that some politicians have all manners of mobile injunctions already typed and prepared, stocked in their portfolios and they just bring them out to suit any occasion? Can it be true that there are some judges who have been earmarked for such jobs as issuing out any order, injunction or judgment? Can it ever be said that parties before a court of law can know their fate even before the case starts?
I am worried and worried. Not long ago, Chief Robert Clarke, SAN, warned about the dangerous dimensions of the influence of politics on justice administration generally. ‘So, one disadvantage in Nigeria today, which we have to look into, is how to curb the excesses of these politicians. They have ruined the judiciary. I feel sorry for them’, says Chief Clarke. I have also heard speculatively, that hardly is there any judgment from any election tribunal that is not a product of ‘transactions’.
My personal view is that most judges are incorrigible, above board and they decide cases according to law and their conscience, but the things that I hear are very troubling. They are spoken in hushed tones amongst the senior lawyers, they are posted with style on restricted WhatsApp platforms and they are ripe with the clients themselves. The question then is this: what is Transactional Justice? It is one in which the decision of the court on a case pending before it is procured or influenced by extraneous considerations other than the merit of the case. Such influence can be financial, tribal, religious or even social. At times it can be relational, such as when family members of a judge are recruited to put pressure on him to bend the scale of justice. The sphere is almost endless.
In Transactional Justice, there are lawyers involved as couriers of monetary offers to judicial officers and it is prevalent mostly in election petition cases. The politicians have become so desperate that they will do just anything to cling on to power, by all means necessary. The ugly side of this is that once it is possible to influence a judge in a particular judicial transaction, then the door is open permanently for other subsequent influences, as for instance once you are able to sway a judge to tilt the even scale of justice in an election petition, then that judge becomes a permanent customer even in other regular cases, whenever the need arises. This is how it goes. The litigant hires the very best lawyers in the field of his case, pays them well to handle all legal issues in the open court and then turn around to hire other lawyers or individuals in the background, purely for networking. These latter set of people have no business in the preparation of the case on the merit, they are not involved in the settlement of pleadings or briefs of arguments and they care less about the knowledge and erudition of counsel on record, but to work to secure victory for the paying litigant at all cost. They know the text of the judgment well ahead of time.
There are other aspects of Transactional Justice, I’m told. Some lawyers have perfected the style of always getting their cases assigned to a particular judge and God save you if you have to appear against them in any case, because you are doomed to always lose any point of law, no matter how brilliant you are and even if that point of law has been settled up to the Supreme Court. I don’t know how this works but it is said to be very common, especially amongst a few senior lawyers. It will surely take the connivance of court officials and the judge himself for this to happen, because once a judge has noticed the trend that a particular counsel is always appearing before him, almost on a daily basis, then that should raise the flag, if there is no collusion.
Then there are the professional litigants, who have no personal court cases of their own but have been recruited to help monitor the progress of some cases and to help secure victory ultimately. You see them in the courtroom, sitting prominently, for the judge’s attention and recognition. The court registrars know them, to always reserve vintage positions for them in the courtroom. In some very bizarre cases, they exude such irritating arrogance as to even sit by the entrance of the judge’s chambers, on each day that the cases come up, so that even the opponent would feel the pressure of the unofficial lobby. These ones are in the categories of family members, classmates, religious associates, social partners, either in the club or in the cult. The other side of this is that it gets so bad that even the registrars of the judges at times do complain openly.
How does it sound that judgment is no longer based on law or precedents? That law has become totally unpredictable, even for the same set of facts? We are unable to properly advise clients who approach us for legal counsel, as we now have different decisions, even of the Supreme Court, in the same set of facts and circumstances. Whereas this can be due to human error precipitated by the workload of judicial officers based on the volume of cases that they handle daily, it is also said that it can be the result of Transactional Justice. Good enough I have not had cause to be involved in any form of Transactional Justice, even for my own personal cases, all of which I believe I have won or lost purely due the facts of the cases and the application of law thereto. But I have no doubt that there is a high possibility that Transactional Justice is real.
Part of the Judicial Oath goes thus: ‘… I will discharge my duties and perform my functions honestly, to the best of my ability and faithfully in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the law; that I will not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or my official decisions.’ Transactional Justice is allowing personal, family, social or financial benefit to influence judicial decisions. But we all call it the ‘High Court of Justice’, as it is described in the Constitution. According to the learned authors of the very persuasive Black’s Dictionary of Law, the notion of justice is ‘the fair and proper administration of laws’, meaning that it must be balanced, be equitable, be fair and just and it must substantially conform with known principles and standards of law. In human affairs, the judge is next to God, which is why they have earned the title ‘My Lord’. In the same way that the words of God become established to man without question, so also are we all enjoined to obey all decisions of courts in order to guarantee peace and orderliness in the society. But then, how do you go about obeying Transactional Judgments, procured through fraud and other extraneous influences?
This has raised a great challenge for the judiciary and the Nigerian Bar Association, to tackle as a matter of national emergency, or else we should all just close down our chambers and leave legal practice for Transactional Lawyers. Why on earth should I bother myself to prepare for a court case that I know I will win or lose, as the case may be, and one in which the outcome is already predetermined? Now the trouble in all of these is that the rich and affluent, the ones so very well connected and powerful, will always get the upper hand in situations of Transactional Justice, which will be a game for the highest bidder. The poor man and his lawyer, the weak litigant and the lowly members of society stand to lose in all cases where Transactional Justice is at play, as they simply cannot match the stakes.
The negative consequence of Transactional Justice is that impunity, lawlessness and wickedness will continue to plague society, if the wicked and lawless oppressor cannot even be called to order by the court. When they breach your rights, they then turn around and taunt you to go to court, if you feel sufficiently aggrieved. ‘We will meet in court’, is what you get when you dare challenge impunity. It has gotten to the point that there are now individuals and even corporate entities that their names evoke fear, such that once you mention their names, people just throw up their hands in the air in total submission, meaning that you waste your time challenging any of their actions in court. But this should not be at all. We must not drive people to the point of frustration that will lead them to take law into their hands. If the courts cease to be the last hope of the common man, then the consequences can be very dire indeed. The rule of might, the power of money and the influence of man, should not determine the ends of justice.
I believe in my heart as most lawyers do that judges are human and they can err at times, but all cases of Transactional Justice should be met with open resistance and humiliation by all lovers of justice, less we all become helpless victims of injustice, because when judgment is procured by any means whatsoever and howsoever, it ceases to wear the noble garment of justice.
Adegboruwa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), wrote from Lagos
Home and abroad, Tinubu’s Nigeria is taking its rightful place
By Mohammed Idris
Having hit the ground running at home, with a series of very bold and unprecedented reform decisions, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has gone ahead to seize the opportunity offered by the month of September 2023, to make a grand entry onto the global stage.
In what has been his busiest month on the global stage since he assumed office, President Tinubu traveled to India for the G20 Summit on the special invitation of Prime Minister Modi, made a stopover on his way back home for a crucial meeting with the leadership of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on lingering issues of concern between UAE and Nigeria, and then traveled to New York to make his debut at the most important annual gathering of Heads of State, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
At the UN—in a delivery reminiscent of the powerful and iconic ‘Africa Has Come Of Age’ speech by the late Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed, almost five decades ago—President Tinubu caught the attention of a listening world with his emphasis on an equal and mutually beneficial relationship between Africa and the world, instead of one defined by condescension, pity and greed.
The President spoke boldly for the entire African continent, tracing the history of the post-World War 2 global system, starting with a Marshall Plan that helped redeem Europe. Asking for a 21st century equivalent for that Plan, President Tinubu added, “We realize that underlying conditions and causes of the economic challenges facing today’s Africa are significantly different from those of post war Europe. We are not asking for identical programs and actions. What we seek is an equally firm commitment to partnership. We seek enhanced international cooperation with African nations to achieve the 2030 agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.”
At every engagement, he has taken the time to remind the world of just how significant his first four months in office have been, in terms of laying the foundation for unlocking levels of economic growth and prosperity that we have always been capable of, but have sadly remained a pipe dream.
He ended a costly and wasteful fuel subsidy regime that has, over the decades, deprived the country of tens of billions of dollars in potential infrastructure and human capital investments. He also commenced an overhaul of the Central Bank of Nigeria, shaking up the leadership of the bank and supporting it to abolish an inefficient system of multiple exchange rates, which, like the petrol subsidy, has seen a lot of abuse, and stifled domestic and international confidence in the economy.
President Tinubu has also assembled a cabinet with an impressive representation of young people and women, while also creating new Ministries and ministerial portfolios to reflect the pressing realities of the 21st century, as well as the priorities of our administration.
For example, we now have a Federal Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy, recognizing the unlimited potential of that sector to produce national prosperity. We also now have a dedicated Ministry for the Creative Economy. In addition, the Ministry of Agriculture has been expanded to include Food Security, underpinning the President’s declaration of a national emergency on Food Security early on in his administration.
On the regional level, President Tinubu has, in his role as recently-elected Chairman of ECOWAS, shown great commitment to stemming the condemnable wave of military takeovers that have rocked the sub-region, and I expect his diplomatic efforts to yield enduring fruit in the months ahead.
The President is being supported in his many onerous assignments by a very energetic and committed Cabinet. In the last few days, I joined some of my colleagues for events at the UN General Assembly, and can testify to the remarkable levels of determination within the cabinet, to solve Nigeria’s problems with the support and cooperation of the global community.
I can boldly assert that we stand on the threshold of a Nigeria that is a true global giant, a country that is able to fully exploit its immense potential energy of demographics, culture, and entrepreneurial dynamism. I have no doubt that my colleagues and I, under the leadership of the President, will step boldly forward, not backwards, from this historic threshold.
We have a very busy last quarter of the year ahead of us. The administration will finalize and unveil its inaugural budget, which will set the tone for investors and other potential partners, about our priorities. Nigeria will take part in the annual global gathering for Climate Change, COP28, in Dubai. We will push forward with work on the various reforms that the President has kickstarted, from tax policy reform to a Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) transition for petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles, to the full implementation of a comprehensive relief package to cushion the effects of the fuel subsidy.
As the President has repeatedly said, most recently last week in New York, “I am mindful of the transient hardship that reform can cause. However, it is necessary to go through this phase in order to establish a foundation for durable growth and investment to build the economy our people deserve.”
He understands how important it is to engage with the world to achieve this. During this month of diplomatic shuttling, he has met with Presidents and Head of States from the United States, India, Germany, South Korea, South Africa, Angola, Jordan, among others.
From the global business executives he has held meetings with this month—Exxon Mobil, Bharti Enterprises, Oracle, Hinduja Group, Indorama, Skipper Seil, and others—he has received pledges amounting to several billions of dollars in new investments. This cannot be overemphasized: at the end of the day, one of our administration’s overriding goals is to attract new investment that will create jobs and wealth for the people of Nigeria.
We will continue to finetune and amplify our narrative in this regard—a message that the President reiterated at every opportunity in New Delhi and New York—that Nigeria is open and ready for business, with partners who are equally open and ready for business with us, and who are not looking to exploit us or treat us like junior partners. And we will follow up the talk with action.
My Ministry, the Federal Ministry of Information and National Orientation will be very critical to the success of our national messaging, and we will give it everything required for our narratives to succeed. We have a vision that includes redesigning how the Federal Government of Nigeria engages with the Nigerian people at home and abroad, and with the world.
As part of this, we will scale up our engagements with stakeholders, modernise our tools and platforms of information and communication, and work to craft credible and believable narratives that Nigerians will be proud of and delighted to share with the world.
In a few days, our dear country will celebrate its 63rd Independence Anniversary. It will offer an opportunity to further reflect on our nationhood journey, and the expectations of our citizens, and for us as leaders to rededicate ourselves to delivering on the bold and dynamic leadership that will enable Nigeria to fully assume its rightful place on the global stage. I have absolute confidence that success in this regard will be a defining legacy of this momentous era of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Idris, Minister of Information and National Orientation, wrote in from Abuja
Soyinka, Obi, Tinubu: When repayment of mafia debt is inescapable
By Sunny Igboanugo
Amerigo Bonasera was a longtime friend to Vito Corleone, otherwise known as Don Corleone the alter ego of The Godfather – that Mario Puzo epic novel depicting the mafia influence of the American society. However, unlike many who had pitted their tents with the godfather, in the Italian neighbourhood, he would rather avoid him and his syndicate, because he felt the consequential backlash could rub off on his well-laid business and reputation as a law-abiding, straight American citizen. On many occasions, the godfather courted his loyalty, but he rebuffed it, feeling safe inside the protective cocoon of the American system.
But that same system failed him when his prized daughter was attacked and assaulted by his boyfriend and his friend. Maria Bonasera was not only his only daughter, but the only child and despite his fears, was the goddaughter of Carmela Corleone, the wife of Don Corleone. Kelvin Moonan, her new American boyfriend had tried to rape her after she rebuffed his sexual advances, but after succeeding in fending him off, the young man, aided by his friend, Jerry Wegner, beat her so badly and damaged her beautiful face.
Completely gutted, Bonasera, a successful owner of Funeral Parlour, did the right thing, or what he thought the right thing in America. He went to court to seek justice for his daughter. But instead of putting the rapists away, at the most for their clearly heinous crime, after finding them guilty, the judge did the unthinkable – he handed them – suspended sentence. So, the two young men walked out free from the same court leering and practically mocking him – no thanks to the powerful influence of their parents, who pulled the strings from behind.
Suspended sentence?! Bonasere had exclaimed before the godfather in whose presence he ran to seek the real justice. After chiding him for rebuffing his earlier offer of protection in preference for trust in the American system, Don Corleone accepted his request to give him justice. However, he would not accede to Bonasera’s extreme demands. He had wanted the godfather to kill the two young men. But he declined. Bonesera’s daughter was still alive. Let her attackers suffer the same way she suffered, was his own option.
Pressed further to the option of murder, offering to pay for it, he again reprimanded his kinsman for trying to lure him to commit murder, particularly on the wedding day of his daughter. “Bonasera, Bonasera, what have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? If you’d come to me in friendship, this scum who ruined your daughter would have been suffering this very day. And if by some chance, an honest man like yourself made enemies, they would be my enemies. And then, they would fear you,” he had emphasised?
Having agreed to help him in his own way in return for his “friendship” he had given the job to his executor to conclude. At the end of the day, the two young men were so beaten with so much damage to their faces that their parents could not recognise them. So, that was how Bonasera, who had earlier pledged his everlasting loyalty by kissing the shoes of the godfather, got justice. Nothing could have given him more excitement and satisfaction than the disfigured faces of the two boys, splashed in the newspapers the next day.
But did Bonasera not pay eventually? Of course he did. But he did in a different way, different from monetary payment. Don Corleone, had visited him at the funeral parlour, three years after. His irascible son, Sonny had been heavily disfigured by the bullets of the competitors and enemies of his mafia organisation. He wanted his Italian brother and friend to fix him to look normal and fit for presentation for an open-casket funeral. Bonasera, who was the best in the land, ought not to have touched such a job, coming from Vito Corleone, a criminal to be avoided. But he was in debt, so high a debt. Backing out was out of the question. Either by way of gratitude and conscience or by knowing the grave consequences of saying no to the godfather, he was in debt.
How apt this story to the new reality in Nigeria of today. For years, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu had played the same role of Vito Corleone, though at a different level – politics. Countless Nigerians who were hurt one way or the other, found succour in him and through him.
When Muhammadu Buhari, before the end of his disastrous outing as President between 2015 and 2023, tried, or so it seemed, to shirk this obligation of playing ball after Tinubu single-handed made him President, either due to patriotism, knowing that Tinubu would probably be a worse calamity or out of mischief to hand over to another Northerner, knowing his proclivity for nepotism, he was stopped in his track. Tinubu simply reminded him where he was coming from.
He was not only quickly reminded of his debt – remember Tinubu’s Abeokuta declaration and his infamous Emilokan speech – but the enforcers moved in. They were the ones who completed the first stage of the project at the All Progressives Congress (APC) convention in Abuja, beginning with the Northern governors, who took the initiative to rally around him. Now, you might be wondering why the North with their touted unquenchable taste for power could become so amenable. Well, mafia debts are paid to the full.
Asari Dokubo, currently has a standing army ready to go to war against naysayers on his behalf. His reason: Tinubu was his patron when as the leader of the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), he was arrested and detained by the Federal Government. Tinubu fully provided for his family including a home in Victoria Garden City (VGC), one of the most glamorous areas of Lagos. Debt!
If, perhaps, you are wondering what debt Yakoub Mahmood, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), who virtually threw caution out of the window by practically killing the 2023 presidential election owed, listen to Chibuike Amaechi. The former Governor of Rivers State and former Minister of Transportation, provided the answer when he told the world how his appointment came via the Tinubu camp.
So, why then would anyone be surprised about our own dear Prof. Wole Soyinka? He provided the answer to his current wacky undertaking long today before now. To every ear, he had told the story of how Tinubu and his family provided for him when he was down and out on return from exile imposed on him by former Nigerian despot, the late General Sani Abacha who went after the necks of leaders of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), of which he was one during his iron-fist reign.
He himself narrated how Remi Tinubu, the supportive wife of the former Governor of Lagos State, now President, provided him with pots and pans and other household utensils to start life anew. He also told the world how Tinubu it was that got him a letter of recommendation with which he then approached the government of Taiwan for the rice contract that supplied his daily bread. Nobody knows whether that source and the stream of income thereof has closed yet. Kongi did not tell us.
So, what would you not do for someone who fed you when you were hungry and probably saved you from the frustration of starvation and even death? Today, South Africa, despite all the threats from Europe and the US, has remained the major ally of Russia in Africa for the simple reason that the country was its bastion of struggle and hope to extricate itself from the vice grip of white man’s rule during the struggle for apartheid.
September 27, 2023 10:31 pm
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