As we countdown to the end of the 7 days given to Hon Ikechukwu Iroha by Kenneth Ahia, SAN to retract his essay titled “Payment of legal fees through contract award?” and pay N1bn in damages to compensate for the damages the said article was purported to have done to the reputation of Barr Ahia, let us consider facts of the issue.
In what is supposed to be a pre-action notice titled RE: MALICIOUS AND LIBELOUS PUBLICATION AGAINST KENNETH AHIA, SAN: DEMAND FOR APOLOGY AND DAMAGES OF ONE BILLION NAIRA, sent to (not served on) Ikechukwu Iroha via whatsapp, solicitors to Kenneth Ahia, SAN, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa SAN & Co had claimed among other things that the publication had exposed Kenneth Ahia, SAN “to public ridicule, opprobrium and odium.”
Let me state categorically clear that unless Kenneth Ahia and his solicitors have other meanings to what makes up a libelous publication aside what is known to Law, their pursuit of a never-coming apology and a non-existent N1,000,000.00 (One Billion Naira) is not only a wishful thinking but also a wild goose chase, and the earlier they retract, the more of their energy and resources they will save for themselves.
First, Ikechukwu was intelligent enough to only express his fundamental human right of freedom of expression in that essay in question by making postulations and asking questions. Even the title of the essay does not suggest any malice but a treatise in responsible citizenship seeking answers to issues that could lead to a compromise of government covenant with the people. As a question, the title, “Payment of legal fees through contract award?”, tried to create a basis for discussion and constructive argument for the good of society.
One of the statements highlighted by Kenneth Ahia, SAN in his notice of legal action to Hon. Ikechukwu Iroha says:
“In what seems like an attempt at organized heist, Gov Otti has been caught up in another scandal involving award of road project contracts in Aba…We have just received information that Mr Otti allegedly awarded all or most of these contracts to a company where his election petition tribunal lead counsel, Kenneth Ahia, SAN has major shareholding interest…”
Surely, nothing is libelous in the above statement as words/phrases like “seems”, “just received information” (the source of which the law protects Ikechukwu from not revealing as a public commentator), and “allegedly” all settle the fact that the essay was meant to raise and appraise critical occurrences including relationships between Otti and Ahia that could jeopardise transparent and accountable use of Abia’s resources.
With that, Ikechukwu could not have fallen foul of libel.
The other highlighted statement for which Ahia is threatening Ikechukwu with a libel suit goes thus:
“Are those jobs meant to defray the cost of legal representation at the tribunal as the SAN, who is a major shareholder of Solberg and a major stakeholder of Labour Party is in charge of all the Labour Party’s candidates’ legal matters in Abia?”
This is another fundamental question Ikechukwu asked in public interest, well deserving of answers and not a suit, as the people deserve to know if such relationships are capable of leading to a compromise in the deployment of state resources.
The last of the part of the essay for which Hon Ikechukwu Iroha was threatened with a lawsuit by Kenneth Ahia was the part that states that:
“The most scary implication of the above is that the cost of these jobs will likely be inflated to make up for the cost of these litigations, which is allegedly the main consideration in awarding the fraudulent jobs.”
Again, the above statement was a postulation to create room for further discussion and robust debate in a bid to check any iota of executive recklessness. With words/phrases like “will likely” and “allegedly” used, Ikechukwu’s true intentions of being an unbiased public commentator come to the fore. And rather than be vilified, he should be edified for his courage to speak up at a time it is unfashionable to go against the government of the day.
One of the fundamental defences against libel suit is public interest. Ikechukwu’s essay is self-sufficient in proving that it was written in the interest of the public which the law recognizes as “comments on public policies, matters of public interest, or executive decisions not constituting sedition, incitement or treason.” The content of that essay raised pertinent questions deserving closer scrutiny to ensure that our commonwealth is not shared among a circle of friends masquerading as redeemers.
Ikechukwu Iroha owes the public both social and moral duty/responsibility to make known the relationships existing between the governor of Abia State and Kenneth Ahia, SAN to the extent that such a relationship could cause a conflict of interest to the governor thereby causing damage to the sociopolitical and moral fabric of the state, or even cause the state some unnecessary financial losses preventable through such expositions.
It is, therefore, not only disingenuous but a terrible disservice to the state and her people to slam or threaten to slam a libel suit against a man with such a heavy burden of sociopolitical/moral duty to society. Such a threat is meant to gag the citizens and cow them into silence, and it is not going to be accepted. Anyone who does not wish to be scrutinized should keep away from Abia State government because we are more committed to scrutinizing them more than they are committed to browbeating the people into silence.
From the foregoing, that threat of a lawsuit against Hon Ikechukwu Iroha by Kenneth Ahia is patently, latently, and inherently defective. What Ahia has succeeded in achieving by going public with the pre-action notice is a fulfilment of his desire to expose Hon Iroha and his young family to all forms of security threats and breaches by exposing his private residence even up to his flat number. Such notices are by convention private and are only made public if someone is evading service after which alternative means of service can be deployed but only as ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction. At Ahai’s age and stage, and professional experience, one would have thought that he had overgrown such exuberance usually associated with fresh lawyers still learning the basic rudiments of their trade. We hereby wish to put Kenneth Ahia on notice that should anything untoward happen to Hon Ikechukwu Iroha and/or his young family, the world knows where to direct their suspicion and things will not be left lying low.
See you guys in court!
*Michael Nwabueze writes from Aba