I have wanted to share this mind of mine in a legal fiction work of mine yet to be published but for my laziness delaying it. But the issue it is supposed to address keeps coming up every now and then, therefore, making this post imperative- Politicians nay political office holders arresting people over alleged defamatory publications.
To me, a public officer should never arrest anyone for publishing defamatory content against him. It’s otiose to do so and very counterproductive.
Once you occupy a public office you hold it in trust for the people and the people are at liberty to treat “their” office which you occupy the way they like. Whatever is published for or against you is to the glory or gory of the office. Unfortunately, your ego, person, emotions or character may be bruised in the process. Sometimes the bruises can be dismissed as collateral damage if not work hazard. But some other times it could be too grievous to condone especially where your legal right is truncated. In that case what do you do? Arrest them? Yes, you can but don’t. I’m getting to why…
The media can lie! I swear. Especially about politicians. In fact, in Akwa Ibom it is a way of life. A certified hustle in deed. Just publish anything whether on newspaper or social media against any politician whether true or false and he’ll come negotiating for a stand down while his Political opponents will come patronizing. And the gullible masses will hail you for your “boldness” “exposing” the “idiot”.
Invariably, when those wiser than us who came before us introduced the aphorism “wonders shall never end” what they didn’t know was that “wonders had never even began” in their time. We live in the days of wonders now. And Uyo Facebook community is the universal headquarters. Sincerely, we deserve a seat at the United Nations for our authocthonous media autonomy! A free for all madness.
Here, people believe everything said about a politician by anyone more than what the politician has to say about himself. Unfortunately, the politician is more than seldom the prey yet treated as the predator. Double Jeopardy. In his misfortune the politician is desparate to claim some pound of flesh for himself by arresting his assailant only to find the masses in sympathy with the latter.
People believe that the guy writing the stuff is a “small poor guy” being intimidated by the “big rich man”. A fixed narrative in the minds of all of us.
This is what makes the arrest regardless of how legal it may be wrong! Vox Populi, Vox Deo. The voice of the people is the voice of God. It’s long since the devil knew this and started speaking through the people.
If you arrest the fellow, prosecute him and possibly convict him you’ve practically benefitted nothing at the detriment of the people’s tax that pays for the entire process. So I think we should be creative a little. To every criminal defamation is a civil liability.
As a public officer or politician when you’re defamed or attacked by any means on the media the best way to punish the fellow without incurring the wrathful attention of the public is by quietly writing him demanding retraction and thereafter instituting a civil suit against him where he fails to retract. Here are the reasons:
1. Civil suits carry less public attention.
2. In criminal prosecution the fellow will have public sympathy which will most likely attract access to free lawyers innocently rendering ignorant pro-bono services but in a civil suit he’ll have to engage a lawyer and pay for his services. As the case runs trust me the guy very likely may run bankrupt.
3. It will distract him seriously instead of gaining traction for him, his social media handle and/or media platform
4. You’d be asking for apology and retraction which when granted will cost him a whole lot of credibility.
5. You’d also be demanding a very good amount of hundreds of millions for damages and compensation. You could jolly well ask him to pay the money to state government account or a specific charity organization if you don’t want the cash for yourself.
6. Even if he opts for out of court settlement he still will have to publish the apology and retraction while you wave the money compensation. Still his reputation will suffer.
7. People tend to consider some merits in your case if it’s civil than criminal. They begin to think that you may have been truly wronged by his publication thereby earning you some sympathy and solidarity.
I could go on and on on the benefits here. But for paucity of time not space.
Now, to the rest of us. It is very disturbing how we quickly jump to conclusions that the arrested is always the prey. We forget that the politician like us has reputation, character and family to protect. We forget that our guy may also have an interest he’s not revealing to us away from what he’s publishing, we forget that there could have been a romance period between them that we’re not invited to join.
Instead we quickly take up “arms” on social media and begin to issue threats. These threats of ours sometimes may even be the undoing of our Comrade. It could be that he’s actually at fault and while some people are trying to pacify honourable to condone the misfeasance our threats is fueling honourable to earn his points.
We owe our friends the duty to find out from both sides the full gist of the matter before embarking on a crusade for his release. We don’t even know that sometimes the way we go about our so called demand for a person’s release could be interpreted as attempt to aid and abet a crime and an act in obstruction of justice as well as a conduct capable of causing breach of the peace.
I write this from a point of authority of experience as one who’s been involved in negotiating settlements in a civil suit against publishers and as one who’s had to represent innocent and not so innocent publishers for criminal defamation. Once again, there is no Solidarity in threats.
So let me warn you ahead, when you hear of the arrest of a friend instead of publishing it or issuing threats make real effort to help by finding out what really happened and how you can help to get him out of it as soon as possible. Stop issuing threats you can’t effect. Ordinary slap now you’ve fainted but when you come to Facebook you talk like you’re iron Mike Tyson. Lawyer here you no fit pay. We will be trying to resolve a quarrel you’ll be throwing the first blow. Audio warrior!
Happy Solidarity Comrades.
Ewa Okpo Edmund II
Street Lawyer, Arbitrator & Literati