Some of Nigeria’s top lawyers were yesterday divided over the move by the All Progressives Congress, APC to have Mrs. Patience Jonathan, wife of President Goodluck Jonathan prosecuted by the International Criminal Court over alleged hate speech.
The move which was derided by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP was, however, thumbed up by a number of Nigeria’s prominent political actors who said it would serve as a deterrent to other political actors from inciting violence.
Among the lawyers who spoke on the issue, yesterday were constitutional lawyers, Prof. Itse Sagay, Mr. Frank Odita, QC and Chief Olisa Agbakoba. Political actors who spoke on the development included the speaker of the Osun State House of Assembly, Najeem Salam, former Lagos State commissioner of police, Mr. Abubakar Tsav, Labour Party chieftain, Chief Frank Kokori, former member of the House of Representatives, Dr. Junaid Mohammed and Chief Olisa Metuh, the spokesman of the PDP.
Mrs. Jonathan had at a PDP women rally in Calabar, Cross River State last week reportedly told her audience to stone anyone coming to them with the message of change. Change is the slogan of the opposition party, APC.
“I’m telling you, anyone that comes and tell you change, stone that person,” Mrs. Jonathan had reportedly said.
The director-general of the APC Presidential Campaign Organisation, Governor Rotimi Amaehci had upon her assertion vowed to report Mrs. Jonathan to the ICC for promoting hate speech that he said could lead to widespread violence. He had drawn allusions to the ongoing trial of former Ivory Cost First Lady, Mrs. Simone Gbagbo, who is currently facing trial for similar allegations.
The letter to the ICC is to be dispatched today by email after being signed by Amaechi, sources in the APC campaign headquarters confirmed yesterday. A paper copy is to follow subsequently.
Sagay, who spoke on the issue, expressed displeasure over the First Lady, said the remarks was of poor taste.
He said, “I feel very sad given the level of the person it is coming from. It is extremely in bad taste because it is purely abusive and insulting, it has no value because it does not add to the value of the PDP. It does not enhance the possibility of the president being re-elected. It was a very bad insult and raw abuse, which is not expected of people of the status of the First Lady. I am extremely disappointed. It is below the status of the First Lady.”
Prof Fidelis Oditah, SAN, QC, said, “On what issue would the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, be dragged to the International Criminal Court, ICC? I do not know what the issue is, so it will be difficult for me to give my view. But if it is for allegedly mobilizing a hate campaign against the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari him, I do not see how the ICC would entertain such matter. So I do not think anything has been filed.”
Dr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN said, “I have actually not followed that story. But I do not know whether the ICC is the appropriate venue. The worst case is to say that Nigeria laws can deal with whatever issue that APC is making. There are two ways to do it. First is to approach our national laws on defamatory so that you can go to court and sue the person. Secondly, they can say that she is criminally inciting. My point is that the ICC is made for more serious issues and not for political issues, for God’s sake. Whatever the First Lady must have said right or wrong, the point is that there are national laws.”
Chief Morah Ekwunoh said, “Notwithstanding the highly abhorrent languages and phraseology of the First Lady on the person and office of the APC presidential candidate, same, stricto sensu, do not satisfy all the legal trappings and ingredients of criminal wrongs triable at the lCC in the terms threatened by APC. My view is that the APC threats are intended for political purposes only, and not founded in law, except within the ambit and scope of the law of libel and defamation, actionable in Nigeria and not at Hague.”
Emeka Ngige, SAN, said, “I think anything one is doing now, once it does not conform to International Court practices, you can find yourself answerable in or outside the shores of your country. And one of the issues that are taken to ICC are matters that could lead to anarchy, like seen in Ivory Coast.”
Supporting the move, Tsav said: “As far as I am concerned the decision of the APC is in order. The First Lady is a woman who should have been on the path of peace. She recently started calling herself Madam Peace, but her utterances are not in line with such name. She even made statements to debase the north. That was insulting. It is wrong for her to say that Buhari is brain dead. It is wrong to speak about a former Head of State in that manner.
What she is doing is not different from what Mrs. Gbagbo did in Ivory Coast. We have had First Ladies in this country, and none ever conducted herself like the current one. I am surprised that the President has not called her
Similarly, Kokori said: “She is over zealous about her husband’s desire to win the elections. She is enjoying the freedom that democracy brought to this country. She is used to talking like that and every Nigerian knows her for that. The people who are saying more dangerous things are Fani-Kayode and Ayo Fayose. They are doing terrible things to democracy. The things they are saying are injurious to this democracy. They are inviting trouble and when it happens we will all be drenched. All we need is a level playing field. My advice is for the PDP to act with civility. If the country goes in flame, it is the present crop of leaders that will lose. They should allow INEC perform its duties because it is better to lose honourably. I strongly advice them to be very careful.”
On his part, Speaker of the Osun State House of Assembly, Salam said, “The calibre of the First Lady passing such unwarranted comments on a former president of this country, a general in the army, it is not too good for her. For the fact that General Buhari is contesting against her husband does not give her the leverage to disparage Buhari. General Buhari is mentally and physically fit to preside over the affairs of the country.”
Also, a Second Republic lawmaker, Dr Junaid Mohammed said: “The woman has shown the world she did not pass through school at all and I believe strongly it is the responsibility of the husband who is President Jonathan and the leadership of the PDP to call her to order but unfortunately that has not happened. I feel strongly that President Jonathan and the PDP campaign organisation headed by Fani Kayode should have called the woman to order, but we have since realised she is being encouraged by these people. As far as I am concerned, I think the political parties need to address issues and not name calling.”
Debunking the insinuations of hate speech in the assertion of the First Lady, PDP spokesman, Metuh charged the opposition to focus on its campaign describing the allegation as a distraction to the campaign.
“They should confirm what she said before they start making a mountain out of the molehill. We feel that the issue is being blown out of proportion because what they are accusing her is not exactly what she said, it is an interpretation and people cannot be interpreting anything the way they have.