7 Oct 2014

Why AIT Reporter Must Sue AIG Mbu - by Azuka Onwuka

Please take a look at this matter. John was called a troublemaker by his kinsman, Ugonna. John did not like that at all. He was one of the elders in his community. He decided to seek legal redress. After the long and tortuous legal tussle, he was proved not to be a troublemaker. He felt happy and fulfilled. But something else happened: members of the community began to describe John as John the Troublemaker.

That is the type of thing Mr. Joseph Mbu, the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone 7, Abuja, has done to himself. Last week he added another controversy to his bag of controversies, thereby drawing the attention of the entire nation to his association with controversy. Henceforth, it would be hard not to add “controversial” any time Mbu’s name is mentioned. And it has begun to manifest.

On Saturday, Punch ran a story with the headline: “Journalist floors controversial AIG Mbu in court.” Premium Times’ headline on Friday read, “Controversial Police AIG, Mbu, detains AIT journalist for describing him as ‘controversial.’” The Scoop’s headline said: “Mr. Controversy: AIG Joseph Mbu drags AIT reporter to court, then withdraws charge.”

Last week, Mbu arrested, detained and charged a senior correspondent with Africa Independent Television, Mr. Amaechi Anakwue, to court for describing him as controversial while presenting a programme, Matters Arising, on AIT, which he felt amounted to defamation of character.

When Anakwue was brought to court in Abuja on Friday by the police, news went round the court premises that a journalist was being arraigned for calling Mbu controversial. Lawyers, who were in court for other issues, stormed the courtroom to defend Anakwue. Mbu, who seems to enjoy swimming in controversy, read the message and hurriedly asked to withdraw the case. The magistrate promptly struck out the case and set Anakwue free.

But it is necessary that Anakwue should sue Mbu for as many things as possible, including unlawful detention, deprivation of right and freedom, harassment, mental, psychological and emotional torture and trauma, abuse of office, etc, and claim damages of nothing less than N50m. That is just to serve as a warning to officers and so-called VIPs who enjoy harassing and intimidating journalists and other civilians.

Recounting his experience in detention, Anakwue said the cell was dirty, stinking, dark, and not fit for human habitation, yet he met many people who were similarly arrested and detained there for a long time on frivolous reasons. Unfortunately, many of such people are not journalists or celebrities who can attract the attention of the public to speak for them.

He said that when he left the cell, he did not take the clothes he wore in there home for fear that diseases worse than Ebola could infect his home.

Mbu has every right to sue anyone who calls him “controversial,” but he does not have the right to abuse his office by taking advantage of his position to arrest and detain a journalist for freely expressing himself. Being involved in the case, he should not have arrested and detained the journalist. He should have gone to court to file a case against the journalist.

The magistrate should have sent a summons to Anakwue to appear and defend himself rather than Mbu making himself the complainant and judge in his own case.

By arresting, detaining and suing a journalist, Mbu stirred another controversy in the country. People were shocked and angry over such an act, wondering if the meaning of “controversial” had changed. I watched the 2010 British PM debate on TV when the then Liberal Democratic candidate, Nick Clegg, told the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown that his argument was silly.

The PM grimaced and the debate continued as if Clegg just wished the PM a happy Christmas. In August of 2013, the then All Progressives Congress interim National Chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, went overboard and said that President Goodluck Jonathan was an “unserious-minded president” who ran “a kindergarten presidency.” This was in addition to other words and phrases that had been thrown at Jonathan, including “clueless,” etc. The Presidency merely sent out a press statement, warning Akande to “respect his age.” Nobody was arrested, detained or sued.

If I were the one charged to court by Mbu, I would plead that I be allowed to defend myself without the help of a lawyer. I would use only 10 dictionaries that will define “controversial” and then cite at least 5 incidents involving Mbu which caused controversy in the nation.

What does “controversial” mean? The Cambridge Dictionary describes “controversial” as “causing disagreement or discussion.”

Today, Nigerians know Mbu more than the Acting Inspector-General of Police. Nigerians know Mbu more than any other police officer in Nigeria. Why is that so? Is it because Mbu is more gallant than other police officers or more intelligent or has faced and defeated more criminals than any other police officer? No. It is simply because when he was the commissioner of police in Rivers and Federal Capital Territory, many of his actions and comments caused controversy. Just less than a month ago, while handing over to the new commissioner of police of the Federal Capital Territory, Mbu boasted that he was the lion that tamed the leopard of Port Harcourt, a veiled reference to Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, with whom he had a running battle while he was the CP of Rivers State.

The Nigerian media faced military dictators like Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, General Ibrahim Babangida, and Gen. Sani Abacha, who arrested, detained and jailed them and some non-journalists for merely expressing themselves. Some were killed; some sustained injuries that led to their eventual deaths. Some went into exile to avoid arrest. Like the crab said, having swum in rivers and oceans and survived, it cannot be frightened by the little pot of soup of the old woman. The Nigerian media and the masses must not allow themselves to be cowed by people like Mbu, especially now that we are in a democracy. I don’t remember reading anywhere that Mbu participated in securing this democracy that we have been enjoying since 1999.

Mbu should be happy that he was only described as “controversial”. Football commentator, Ernest Okonkwo, coined names for Nigerian footballers like “Gangling Yekini,” “Mathematical Segun,” “Elastic Elahor,” “Head Master Mutiu Adepoju”. They bore such soubriquets with pride. Mbu should thank Anakwue for coining a memorable name for him. Let him bear it without grudges, for he earned it. If he does not like the name, he has an option: let him steer clear of controversy. He is not the only commissioner of police or AIG in the nation.

Let the IG of police also show Nigerians that Mbu is not above him and above the law. Let the IG beat him into line. Or is the IG another leopard that is afraid of being tamed by Lion Mbu?

Since Mbu is a self-confessed lion, let the IG promptly redeploy him to Borno State to tame the Boko Haram. If he succeeds, we will gladly give him any new title he wants instead of this “controversial.”

If the wild does not like the visit of monkeys, let it stop growing wild fruits that attract monkeys. In the same vein, the bush to which the basket is a taboo must stop allowing mushrooms to grow in it. Our elders are wise.


Credit: Punch/Azuka Onwuka

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