A group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, has faulted the Abuja High Court for granting an exparte injunction stopping the publication of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s controversial autobiography, My Watch.
The court, presided over by Justice Valentine Ashi, on Wednesday, found Mr. Obasanjo guilty of contempt, after he defied its directive restraining him from releasing the book.
Justice Ashi had ordered that the book launch be put on hold over claims the three volume series autobiography contained details of a libel case instituted by a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Prince Buruji Kashamu, was already before the court.
The judge gave Mr. Obasanjo 21 days to give reasons why he should not be ‘punished’ for contempt of court.
In its response to the ruling, HURIWA said it was an attempt by the court to dabble into the arena of partisan politics and muzzle freedom of expression.
“In the considered thinking of the HURIWA, any Nigerian who feels that his/her reputation is tarnished by the contents of the book written by erstwhile President Obasanjo should do any of the two options – go to court to file a case of libel or do your version of the story told in this latest book by Olusegun Obasanjo”, the group said in a statement by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko and the National Media Affairs Director, Zainab Yusuf, on Thursday.
It, therefore, called on Chairman of the National Judicial Council, NJC, and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Muhammad “to immediately activate mechanism to clean up the Aegean stable in the judiciary and stop judges from issuing baseless exparte orders which has created spectacular public image deficit for the Nigerian Judicial system over the past couple of years”.
HURIWA said it took exception to the attempt by the court to stop the exercise by Mr. Obasanjo of his constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of expression and right to fair hearing as enshrined in chapter four of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria through the issuance of an inexplicable and heavily one-sided court injunction.
HURIWA further stated that any court’s attempt and/or action that appeared to be anti-intellectual should be rejected and jettisoned for that was an attempt to return Nigeria to the disgraceful days of military dictatorship and tyranny through the back door.
While faulting what it described as “belated injunction” from the court, which reportedly emanated as soon as the author had made every arrangement to publicly present the book, the group argued that it was “immoral and disgusting for a court of law to involve itself in a bitter intra-party squabbles by seeking to halt the publication and circulation of a book written by a Nigerian who has the unfettered fundamental right to freedom of expression”.
According to HURIWA, the enjoyment of the fundamental freedom of expression was the very foundation for the existence of democracy and the principle of the rule of law.
It also stated that it was inconceivable that a judge could have attempted to stop an act that was already completed just as it asked any Nigerian whose reputation was reportedly injured and/or tarnished by the contents of Mr. Obasanjo’s book to file a proper and appropriate libel case in the competent court of law rather than engage in what it called an exercise in futility.
It said, “We are all living witnesses to the gross abuses that exparte motions were subjected to by politicians only in the recent past and these frequently abused privileged orders of the court which is seen largely as a professional ambush against respondents who ought to be properly served and put on notice and so it is imperative that the hierarchy of the nation’s judiciary takes immediate and effective action to check the abuse of exparte applications by litigants.
“We have not forgotten that it was also by the abuse of exparte application for an injunction from an Abuja High Court obtained by mid-night by the notorious Association for a better Nigeria [ABN] that truncated the planned transition to civil rule during the General Babangida’s regime when the now martyred Icon of democracy Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola was coasting home with victory in the popularly acclaimed free and fair Presidential election of June 12, 1993.
“We completely reject any court injunction that seeks to keep Nigerians perpetually in information and intellectual darkness regarding the undercurrents of our politics especially in the contemporary times. Indeed the court of law should give judgements that will promote the exercise of the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms as encapsulated in the nation’s supreme body of laws”.