S’Africa-based human rights activist cry for help from Nnewi prisons

The High Court sitting in Nnewi, Anambra State, has adjourned the trial of an activist, Boniface Okonkwo, till May 21.

The activist was arrested on January 3 and has been in detention since then.

Okonkwo said he had pleaded with the Chief Judge of Anambra State to reassign the defamation case against him to a new judge, but alleged that the request was turned down.

His arrest and detention followed a complaint by businessman Sir Emeka Offor.

Sir Offor was said to have alleged that he was defamed by the defendant on their Oraifite town’s WhatsApp platform.

The activist was said to have described Offor’s meter manufacturing factory in Anambra as a “decorated warehouse”.

Although a bailable offence, Okonkwo was said to have been denied bail as commencement of trial was ordered.

At the last hearing, a forensic expert testified for the prosecution.

The expert identified the device from which the alleged defamatory statement was sent.

Okonkwo’s brother, Pastor Cyril Okonkwo, said the family was exploring settlement with Sir Offor, who hails from the same town.

He told reporters: “We’re suing for peace because one can’t win a case without having peace with your brother. In such a situation, there will be no progress in the town and charity begins at home.

“The Bible says ‘follow peace with all men’. How much more your town’s brother?

“I want peace to prevail between my brother and Sir Emeka Offor, so there will be progress in our town. I’m talking about settling out of court.

“I have reached out to Emeka through the President General of Oraifite. I have spoken to him.

“I have consulted those close to him; they have spoken to him and we’re thinking there is a kind of progress.

“The way I’m looking at it, he (Offor) is likely to accept our entreaties. We have pleaded with him for peace.”

Defence counsel Oseloka Osuigwe added: “As a minister in the temple of justice, our role is to promote settlement where possible. If it’s not possible, we continue with the hearing of the matter.

“So, I cannot stand in the way of settlement. It’s not a felony, so nobody will be accused of compounding felony. So, it’s a matter that can be settled.

“Even the court is enjoined by rules to promote settlement. But for now, my duty is to defend him; but if the family wishes to explore other opportunities, I’m not against it.

“I won’t take initiative, because it’s not my duty to do so. The court is amenable to the family’s move for an out-of-court settlement. We say all is well that ends well.”

Okonkwo said he was surprised to be denied bail.

He said the last time he had a similar case with Offor, he never jumped bail.

“In 2007 and 2013, I was arrested by the same man on alleged defamation of character.

“But at the end of the day, the Magistrate Court in Abuja threw the case out. It’s on record that they never asked for my International Passport. They only asked for a royal father and one guarantor resident in Abuja.

“I never jumped bail. I sued through Femi Falana and the court awarded me N5million.

“An Abuja Magistrate Court granted me bail, yet a High Court within my jurisdiction is talking about absconding. It’s unbelievable,” Okonkwo said.

On his brother’s peace moves, the activist said: “As a Pastor of 30 years calling, what do you expect him to say? He means well to sue for peace. Of course, if the matter is still in court and there’s an option for peace, why won’t I go for peace?

“You can win a matter in court, but you’ll never win peace. But I won’t be seeking peace in detention.

“As a human rights activist, I fight for the vulnerable. I speak out against atrocities and injustice. I joined the Campaign for Democracy in 1990 under Ransome Kuti.

“I was given chieftaincy title by the monarch of Ezumeru. Even though I rejected it, I was prevailed upon to accept it. I don’t lobby for titles. That was on December 27 before I was arrested on January 3.

“Since then, I have been in detention. My current address now is Nnewi prison. If they’re talking about peace, yes I want peace, but not the peace of the graveyard. If you’re talking of peace, I won’t be in detention for four months.

“I ask again, the alleged defamation of character, is it a capital offence? I’m once again appealing to His Excellency, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, his wife Oluremi and the Vice President, Kashima Shettima, to intervene. I also want the press to help me out of this pathetic situation.

“My children are all in school and I can’t pay their fees. The judge said I was a flight risk. Which flight risk? I’m a Nigerian, though I live in South Africa. But I’m an indigene of Oraifite. Where will I run to?

“I’m equally calling on Femi Falana (SAN) to help out as a member of the human rights community to ensure I secure my bail so I can come to the court from my home.

“Presently, I’m sick and can’t access treatment. The other day I nearly fainted. I was told they wanted to test me, but I said no.

“I can afford to pay my bill in the hospital. I can’t be subjected to medication by those whom I don’t know.

“I’m still open for peace, but it’s not when I’m still in prison.”

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