Tuesday, February 4, 2020 5:26 am
By Richard Akinnola
Though you passed on few days ago, but your struggle and resilience in the quest for a free society where freedom of expression is respected, led to your case at the Court of Appeal which intered the remains of Sedition law.
Chief Nwankwo, a publisher, had written a book in 1982 titled: “How Jim Nwobodo Rules Anambra State” a book that seriously attacked Chief Nwobodo, then Governor of Old Anambra State, accusing him of corruption and tyranny.
Chief Nwankwo was charged with Sedition before Justice F.O. Nwokedi, then of Onitsha High Court and was found guilty and jailed 12 months.
At the Court of Appeal, Enugu, to which he appealed, the Court made up of Justices Alfa Belgore, Olajide Olatawura, and Aikawa, made a landmark jurisprudential decision that overturned the verdict of the High Court and went further to inter the remains of Sedition Law.
The Appeal Court ruled that Sedition law – Sections 50 and 51 of the Criminal Code is inconsistent with Section 36 of the 1979 Constitution and therefore void and the conviction of Nwankwo overturned.
Said Justice Olatawura: “It is my view that the law of Sedition which has derogated from the freedom of speech guaranteed under this Constitution is inconsistent with the 1979 Constitution, more so when this cannot lead to a public disorder as envisaged under Section 41(a) of the 1979 Constitution. We are no longer the illiterates or the mob society our colonial masters had in mind when the law was promulgated. The safeguard provided under Section 50(2) is inadequate more so where the truth of what is published is no defence. To retain Section 51 of the Criminal Code in its present form, that is even if not inconsistent with the freedom of expression guaranteed by our Constitution, will be a deadly weapon and to be used at will by a corrupt government or tyrant … Let us not diminish from the freedom gained from our colonial masters by resorting to laws enacted by them to suit their purpose. The decision of the founding fathers of this present Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech must include freedom to criticize should be praised and any attempt to derogate from it except as provided by the Constitution must be resisted. Those in public office should not be intolerant of criticism. Where a writer exceeds the bounds, there should be a resort to the law of libel where the plaintiff must be of necessity put his character and reputation in issue. Criticism is indispensable in a free society”. See Arthur Nwankwo v The State (1985)6NCLR 228).
-Richard Akinnola, journalist and judicial affairs expert, writes from Lagos