An Abuja-based legal practitioner, Osuagwu Ugochukwu, has given the Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, a seven-day ultimatum to withdraw his statement branding the sitting Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Tukur Buratai as corrupt or risk court action.
Osuagwu who is a counsel to the COAS in a letter at the weekend stated that the governor’s statement on television concerning the COAS was defaming and reckless.
He said while it is admitted that the governor enjoys immunity, he said the immunity clause does not cover him to malign the character of any citizen.
His exact words: “I watched with dismay, a programme ‘State of the Nation’ on African Television (AIT), where Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, without regard for caution, made reckless and unsubstantiated statements to the point of maligning and defaming Lieutenant General Tukur Yusufu Buratai, Chief of Army Staff, by describing him as corrupt.
“Mr. Ayodele Fayose failed to provide any tangible or verifiable evidence to back his claim during the programme apart from alluding to an alleged Dubai property belonging to Buratai’s spouse without furnishing further details on how General Buratai became corrupt.
“Till date, I am yet to see any evidence presented by anybody let alone Governor Fayose over this allegation.
“As a matter of fact, the Code of Conduct Bureau cleared the General and even asked others to emulate him along other Nigerians who duly declared their assets which were verified,” Osuagwu said.
The lawyer added that the spurious allegations against the person of the Chief of Army Staff were unacceptable and must be retracted immediately because the governor or anyone else in the country cannot just malign and injure the credibility of General Buratai and go scot-free without providing evidence to substantiate the corruption allegation.
“Even if anyone is standing trial, the principle of rule of law states that such is presumed innocent until proven otherwise by a competent law court.
“The governor fails to realise that he can be sued civilly in his personal capacity in court and can even be invited, detained and investigated by the police for criminal defamation.
“The constitutional immunity for the president, vice president, governors and deputy governors only protects them from prosecution in the court of law, not from being investigated over civil and criminal matters.
“The constitutional immunity only shields president and vice together with the governors from prosecution while on seat but not from being investigated,” he said.
According to him, if the constitution allows investigation of a sitting governor, there is nothing wrong getting him invited and detained if there was enough evidence that he has breached any part of the criminal laws including that of criminal defamation.
“A sitting governor can be investigated, invited and detained. The Supreme Court has held in FAWEHINMI v. IGP that any of the office holders mentioned in Section 308 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (the President, Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governor) can be investigated by the police or any other law enforcement agency for any allegation of crime or offence in office.
“Consequently, Mr. Ayodele Fayose has seven days from today, within which to provide certified and credible evidence to justify tagging General Buratai as corrupt, failing which relevant provisions of the Law will be invoked against him,” Osuagwu concluded.