Promise Peter Etete, Akwa-Ibom: An Akwa Ibom State High Court sitting in Uyo has ordered a lawmaker and two-time member of the State House of Assembly to pay compensation for the arrest and detention of a critic who consistently used Facebook to criticise the lawmaker for poor representation.
The judge, Edem Akpan, in his judgment delivered on Thursday, February 2, 2023, ordered the lawmaker representing Ikot Abasi and Eastern Obolo State Constituency, Mr. Uduak Odudoh, to pay the sum of N1.5million to a 20-year-old activist, Promise Peter Etete, for illegally instigating the Nigerian police to arrest and detain the activist for posting series of critical posts on Facebook.
A Lagos-based human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, had taken up Etete’s case and filed a lawsuit against the lawmaker and the police for the enforcement of the fundamental rights of the activist.
The police had arrested Etete in 2020, detained and later charged with threat to life and defamation of character after he posted an article on Facebook against the lawmaker.
He had said in the Facebook article the lawmaker was acting as though he was representing a faction, and not the whole of his constituency.
Mr. Effiong along with his colleague, Augustine Asuquo, also represented Etete at the Magistrate Court where the charges were later struck-out after the lawmaker failed twice to show up in court.
Effiong, on August 9, 2021 filed a suit in the State High Court, Uyo, seeking a court declaration of Mr Etete’s arrest and detention illegal and a breach of his fundamental rights to dignity, personal liberty and freedom of movement and freedom of expression as guaranteed by Sections 34, 35, 39 and 41 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
In the articles, Mr Etete said the lawmaker was acting as though he (Odudoh) was representing a faction, and not the whole of his constituency.
He said Ikot Abasi, with “scam leaders”, has continued to remain “underdeveloped”. He also accused the lawmaker of poor representation and complained of bad roads in the constituency, among others.
Delivering judgment in the suit on Thursday, Justice Akpan said that the petition written to the police by Ududoh was ill-motivated and that the allegations of threat to life and cultism in the petition were baseless.
The judge ruled that after carefully reviewing the posts made on Facebook by Mr Etete, he found them to be fair comments.
According to the judge, Mr Etete as a citizen had the right to complain about issues in his constituency that he was aggrieved about, and that the lawmaker had a duty to respect such criticisms.
The judge therefore found Mr Ududoh liable for violating Mr Etete’s right to freedom of expression, dignity and personal liberty and ordered him to publish a public apology to Etete in the Punch Newspapers and a local newspaper in Akwa Ibom and also pay him the sum of N1.5 million as damages.
The court however exempted the police from liability, holding that they are not liable because they only carried out the illegal arrest and detention as ordered by Mr Odudoh.
Reacting to the judgment, Mr Effiong whose law firm handled the case pro bono, thanked the judge for serving the course of justice and truth. He said the verdict is a strong rebuke to Mr Ududoh and other political office holders in the country who feel that they can use their influence to subjugate citizens for criticizing their misdeeds.
“We are telling them again today that oppressive and reckless deployment of law enforcement agencies to attack innocent citizens for voicing concerns over the poor state of our country will never be tolerated.”