Earlier today, the Nigerian Army did something that would on the surface appear to have exonerated them from the allegations of trying to silence the Press. They released this statement.
Following the arrest of Premium Times publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi and Evelyn Okakwu, the paper’s judiciary correspondent last week, Nigerians have been very vocal about their determination to speak up against any attempt to silence the press by this administration. A civil rights organisation, SERAP has even already initiated a petition against the Federal Government over what it considers a “crackdown on journalists”.
This kind of response from Nigerians usually means there are eyes on the government agency or officers that got them cross. Which explains why the Nigerian Army swiftly released a sort of disclaimer on the issue today.
According to the statement, the issue at hand is purely allegation of libel in which Premium Times falsely and unjustifiably accused the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusufu Buratai, of false declaration of assets, owning mansions and estates in Dubai and further stated that he was being investigated by Code of Conduct Bureau for false declaration of assets in their publication of 12th December 2015.
The statement reads further:
“Consequently, concerted efforts were made to make Premium Times retract the story and apologise, to no avail. As a law-abiding citizen, he took appropriate legal steps of seeking redress through the courts. Therefore, this case is between the person of Lieutenant General TY Buratai and the Premium Times and not the Nigerian Army; the issue at hand is libel and not about disclosure of military information by the medium.
By this, the Nigerian Army tried to remove itself from the issue and that makes perfect sense. In fact their promise that a separate matter against the same outfit, this time by the Nigeria Army effectively sealed the argument for their non-involvement.
Libel is one part of the twin offences that make up defamation. The other being slander. A Defamatory matter according to the Criminal Code Act is any matter likely to injure the reputation of any person by exposing him to hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or likely to damage any person in his profession or trade by an injury to his reputation. Such matter may be expressed in spoken words (slander) or in any written form (libel).
It is immaterial whether at the time of the publication of the defamatory matter; the person concerning whom such matter is published is living or dead, defamation is considered a crime by Sections 375 and 376 of the Criminal Code Act which also prescribes punishments for the crime.
Any person, who publishes any defamatory matter, is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for one year; and any person who publishes any defamatory matter knowing it to be false, is liable to imprisonment for two years. Also, defamation may be regarded as a felony making the offender liable to imprisonment for seven years where the publication is made with the goal of extortion.
Now, there’s a catch. Because the publication by Premium Times easily falls under the category of publications made for public benefit, if the matter proceeds and Dapo Olorunyomi and Evelyn Okakwu can prove that the December 12, 2015 publication on their platform is true, then they would have effectively fielded a defence against the charge(s) against them. That removes the publication from the realm of defamatory matter.
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