A STUDENT of Federal University Dutse (FUD), Aminu Adamu Muhammed, who was in the custody of security operatives and later released over a tweet tagged as defamatory against the wife of the president, Aisha Buhari has continued to generate debate.
Aisha has been Nigeria’s first lady since 2015, when President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration assumed office.
Adamu, a 23-year-old, 500-level student studying environmental management, was allegedly arrested on November 18 for a post he tweeted on his Twitter page on June 8. In some quarters, the arrest has been likened to abduction, citing that due process was not followed.
After public outcry, the detained critic was released from Suleja correctional facility on December 2, 2022.
The student alluding to her weight gain, wrote in Hausa, “Su Mama anchi kudin talakawa ankoshi”, which translates to “Mother has fed fat on public fund”, mother here referring to Aisha.
Muhammad was reported to have been beaten up alongside a former social media aide to the first lady, Zainab Kazeem, before he was eventually arraigned.
At the time, a call to the Police spokesperson, Muyiwa Adejobi, in reaction to the claim that Adamu was arrested, told The ICIR via text message that he was unaware of the student’s arrest, although several media platforms reported that the student has been arraigned and was remanded.
The issue generated reactions from Nigerians, with many describing it as a misuse of power and abuse of government apparatus while citing the arrest as not in conformity with democratic principles. The hashtag #FreeAminu was also created on social media.
While condemning the action, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) described it as an abuse of power and demanded Muhammed’s release.
Also, the Global rights organisation, Amnesty International, called for the immediate release of Aminu, saying, despite having a stable democracy since 1999 after years of military dictatorships, illegal arrests are still a common feature in the country.
Joining the outcry, Nigerian comedian and skit maker, who is also a social activist, Macaroni, who took to his verified Twitter page, urged Aisha to go to court if she has any grievances.
Reacting further, Nigerian social activist, Aisha Yesufu, slammed Aisha Buhari for allegedly ‘ordering’ the arrest and detention of Aminu Muhammed. Noting that it is unlawful.
Hanan Buhari’s SIM card controversy
It will be recalled that in 2019, Aisha and President Buhari’s daughter Hanan was the subject of media reports which linked her to the arrest of Anthony Okolie.
In July 2019, the Department of State Service (DSS), arrested Anthony Okolie, and was detained for 10 weeks for using a sim card earlier used by Hanan.
The sim card the service provider, MTN, had recycled after it became dormant and sold to Okolie.
On May 14, 2020, a Federal High Court sitting in Asaba, Delta State, awarded the sum of N10 million naira to Anthony Okolie for his illegal detention by the Department of State Security (DSS).
Following the release of Aminu, reactions trailed the withdrawal of the suit by Aisha against the student.
Former Senator representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District, Shehu Sani, opined that voices raised in the defense of Aminu were voices raised in defence of the freedom of speech.
A professor and social commentator, Kawu Garba, called on the student’s legal team to sue Aisha over the arrest and alleged torture.
“I call on Aminu’s legal team to sue Aisha Buhari over the abduction and torture of their client and seek compensation of N300M for him. This grave injustice should not be allowed to go scot-free,” he said.
This then brings to the fore a pertinent question on the legality and process of the arrest and release.
Can Aminu Sue?
To sue is to institute legal proceedings against a person and or an institution, typically to seek redress.
The ICIR spoke with human rights lawyers and Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), to get their reaction and legal opinion on what steps can be taken by the student.
The deputy director of SERAP, Kolawole Oluwadare, in a telephone conversation with The ICIR, said Aminu has a cause of action against both the law enforcement agency and those that carried out his unlawful detention beyond the constitutionally allowed period.
“The law is very clear. The court has held consistently that those who initiated the process of using law enforcement agencies to infringe on other people’s rights will be liable,” Oluwadare stated.
The SERAP deputy director added that “It is very important to understand that the context of constitutional provisions of fundamental rights state clearly that you can approach the court to enforce your fundamental rights if your rights have been breached, that is, past tense if your rights are being breached, present continuous if your rights are going to be breached or likely to be breached”.
Speaking also with The ICIR, Abdulkareem Musa, a legal practitioner, also shed more light on the issue from the penal code angle.
He said, “Looking at it from the legal perspective and not just the social perspective, you will begin to consider relevant provisions of the law. Has Aminu conducted himself in a lawful manner?”
Musa explaining further stated, “By provision of Section 391 of the Penal code, which is like the criminal code that governs the northern part of Nigeria, a person is prohibited from making any statement, whether physically or through mechanical means, where he or she knows that the statement is capable of damaging the character of another person, or injuring the character of another person, or reducing that person in the estimation of the members of the society”.
After stating that the penal code prohibits defamation, he added that there are exceptions to the provision. He said are:
- When what you are saying is true, you can say it.
- When what you are saying is in the interest of the public
- When what you are saying is to prevent a danger that the society or public interest may suffer as a result of your holding on to that information, then the law allows you to say it.
Musa explained further, saying, “the question then is, upon which ground did he make the assertion that Aisha has stolen the money of the ‘poor people’? Does he have the requisite information or defence? If there is a good defence for the statement that is ordinarily defamatory, then he has a right to sue under the fundamental rights procedure.”
Another human rights lawyer, Pelumi Olajengbesi, adding his legal opinion, also averred that Aminu can sue.
“The facts from News Agencies report that Aminu was arrested by the police and was not allowed to communicate with his family members or friends. He was neither allowed to contact any lawyer nor charged to court within 48 hours of his arrest. His family members only got to see him five days after his arrest.
“The foregoing indicates a breach of Aminu’s constitutional and fundamental right to liberty as guaranteed under Section 35 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Additionally, it also violates his right to be timeously brought before a competent court of jurisdiction within a reasonable time of his arrest,” he said.
Olajengbesi added that it may be reasonable to presume that he must have been interviewed and questioned about the alleged crime while in custody before the whereabouts of his custody became known.
Suggesting that he would have been made to give a statement without the presence of his lawyer, which he says is against the provisions of the Administration Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).
If Aminu wants to sue, who will he sue?
“By the provisions of the law, the first point of call is the Nigerian Police Force, who arrested and deprived him of his right to liberty. But because of the vicarious liabilities in our law, the person who committed the action immediately and the person who engineered him to commit the act are both liable for the act a person may complain of”, Musa explained.
Olajengbesi also said law enforcement agencies involved in the breach of Aminu’s constitutional rights may also join Aisha as a party to the suit.
“There is no office of the First Lady in the Constitution of Nigeria,” Olajengbesi said, “She is in no way covered by the immunity clause of the Constitution.”
Adding that if Aisha must be sued, it must be done in her personal capacity.
SERAP deputy director, Oluwadare, in his opinion, said Aminu’s rights were breached and therefore has a cause of action.
He said, “Constitutional provisions and case laws decided by the court, including the Supreme Court of Nigeria, have established clearly that damages would lie in favour of individuals whose fundamental rights have been breached, and in this instance, he has been released, so his rights are no longer being breached continually as it were. But he can ask for damages, and that is pecuniary damages in this instance.”
Oluwadre added that he can sue everyone that participated in that action, including individuals that made the complaint and law enforcement agencies that carried out the arrest and detention.
However, both lawyers spoken with agree that Aminu can be held liable under the Cybercrimes Act of 2015, particularly Section 24 (1), which makes him liable for the offence of cyberstalking unless he can prove his tweet to be true. Otherwise, he may be liable for both civil and criminal defamation.