Obasanjo’s book presentation and the judiciary

 By Chukwudi Nweje  / Acting Features Editor


Tuesday’s launch of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s new autobiography entitled ‘My Watch,’ has sparked heated debate among analysts and legal minds in the country.

Obasanjo-in-the-eye-of-the-stormAn Abuja High Court sitting in Wuse Zone 2, presided over by Justice Valentine Ashi, had earlier restrained the former President from making a public presentation of the book, after a chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Buruji Kashamu, whose lawyer Alex Izinyon (SAN), argued that the content of the book related to issues contained in Obasanjo’s December 2, 2013, letter to President Goodluck Jonathan and former PDP National Chairman, Bamanga Tukur, where he (Obasanjo) claimed that Kashamu was allegedly a fugitive, wanted in the United States.

Ashi had ordered that “The defendant, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, whether by himself, his agents, servants, privies or any other person by whatever name called and howsoever described, is hereby restrained from publishing or caused to be published in the yet-to-be published book, ‘My Watch’ or any autobiography or biography and any extracts of same, by whatever name called or howsoever titled, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice hereof.”

However, the launch reportedly initially scheduled for Thursday took place on Tuesday in Lagos at the Lagos Country Club.

Lawyers to the former president had reportedly advised that the launch of the autobiography go ahead, claiming the injunction could not stop it.

Obasanjo is quoted as saying that “I had given the book to my editors and to the publisher. As far as I am concerned, my job is done. I had written the book and printed before the court injunction.

“In a normal judiciary, the judge should be sanctioned and I hope something will be done. We are here legally and lawfully and we will continue to act lawfully and legally.” He called on National Judicial Council (NJC) to sanction the judge who he said made the restraining order without a hearing.

Analysts and legal experts differ on the presentation of the book despite the injunction.

Adebayo Adeolu, public affairs analyst said: “How can you stop a book that has been published already? You don’t give court injunctions like that especially if the Judge has not read it.

“What the complainant is fussing about has been written on pages of newspapers, all he has to do is visit the United States not screaming on the pages of newspaper.  When Achebe wrote his book ‘There Was a Country’ a lot of noise came up and people had to read it and either agree, disagree or make their opinion.  In America or Europe you don’t go about stopping books or biographies no matter the scandal; remember the Satanic Verses by Rushdie. The former president has his facts.”

Debo Adeniran, Executive Chairman Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) disagrees.

He said the former president should have presented a counter pronouncement by a superior court. “Chief Obasanjo and any other person or persons connected with the book launch, are bound by the pronouncement  and so should be made to answer to a charge of contempt of the court; an offence that is criminal in nature.

“But besides the punishment prescribed by our laws on this act, it should be regarded as a monumental embarrassment to the nation, more so, when such is coming from no one else but the former president and number one citizen of the country; a personality, who by his standing, should, indisputably, be a symbol of the sanctity of the law and constitutionality.”

Constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Fred Agbaje said: “Whatever literary goodness in that book has been defeated by the defiance of the court injunction.” He argued that the former president should have approached another court to vacate the earlier injunction.

While the debate rages on, an FCT High Court on Wednesday ordered the Inspector General of Police, Director-General of State Security Services and Controller General of Nigeria Customs Services to confiscate Obasanjo`s book from public vendors.

Justice Valentine Ashi, gave the order after Obasanjo allegedly went ahead to publish his book in spite of a court order made on Dec. 5, restraining him from making the publication.

“ I am of the view that the defendant having gone ahead to publish the book, he should therefore show cause within 21 days of the order served on him on why he should not be punished for contempt of court.

“ The Inspector-General of Police, the Director-General of State Security Services and the Controller General of Nigeria Customs Services are hereby directed to recover the book from sales vendors,” the Judge ordered.

He directed that the book should be kept with the registrar of the court pending the determination of the suit.

Ashi also restrained the defendant from further printing, publishing or circulating the book “ My Watch’’ which, he said “touches on the subject matter of the suit before the court.’’

Earlier, counsel to Obasanjo, Mr Realwan Okpanachi, told the court that the book was published before the order was granted.

Okpanachi argued that the book had been in circulation since November and the order was made on December 5.

The Counsel to Buruji Kashamu, Mr Alex Izinyo, SAN, submitted that the defendant`s application was a calculated attempt to deceive the court.

Izinyo argued that the defendant admitted in his motion papers that the book was published on November 10 and in another paragraph, it was also stated that the book was published on November 2.

“My lord, the burden of proof lay with the defendant to show the court three volumes of the book,’’ he said.

Ashi adjourned to January 13 and 14, 2015, for hearing of the substantive case.

The plaintiff Mr Buruji Kashamu, had earlier dragged former President Olusegun Obasanjo before the court for libel.

Kashamu alleged that the former addressed him as ex-convict in the letter he wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan titled, “Before it is too late’’.

 SOURCE: Daily Independent.

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