The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) welcomes the release of Nigerian activist, Ibrahim Wala, who was convicted of defamation for accusing a public official of corruption in a Facebook post.
Wala was released on April 15, 2020, exactly a year after he was sentenced, as part of an amnesty granted by President Muhammadu Buhari to some 2,600 prisoners across Nigeria in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The activist was jailed by Justice Yusuf Halilu of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory following a defamation complaint filed by the Chairman of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, Abdullahi Mukhtar.
Wala, who is the convener of the anti-corruption group Citizens Action to Take Back Nigeria, (CATBAN) was to spend seven years in prison after he was handed a total of 12 years for defamation, organising an unlawful assembly by convening the anti-corruption organization. and inciting the public against Mukhtar. The court sentenced him to seven years, two years and three years in connection with the respective charges. All three sentences were to run concurrently.
However, the Court of Appeal in Abuja on March 20, 2020, reduced all three jail terms. The longest term of seven years, which was imposed on Wala for unlawful assembly, was reduced to two years. Having already spent one year in prison, the activist had one more year to serve before the presidential pardon.
The MFWA welcomes the release of Wala, whose conviction we had always condemned. We had argued that the charge of unlawful assembly levelled against the activist in connection with the alleged defamatory Facebook post was rather curious. More intriguingly, he was handed a two-year jail term on the count of defaming Abdullahi Mukhtar, which was the main issue, whereas the count of unlawful assembly relating to the legal status of the organisation the activist leads, attracted a seven-year jail term.
While we salute presidential pardon granted to Wala, we urge judges and prosecutors to handle defamation cases fairly to avoid giving the impression of persecuting freedom of expression.