Human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, has called for the immediate release of an advertising agent, Baron Nnamdi, arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for “offensive campaign messages”.
The anti-corruption agency said earlier on Sunday it had arrested an outdoor advertising executive over political advertisements that appeared on two billboards in Enugu bearing the Commission’s name and logo.
The arrest was made on Saturday, according to the agency.
However, in a statement on Sunday, Effiong said that in addition to releasing Nnamdi immediately, the agency should also apologize and compensate him.
Effiong said Nnamdi did nothing wrong.
He said: “I call on the Commission to immediately release the advertising executive, issue a public apology to him and pay him adequate compensation for the malicious damage to his billboards. The Commission should arrest the politicians corrupt officials in Enugu State and the rest of the country who use stolen public funds to promote their insatiable political campaigns and ambitions.
“This is unnecessary persecution and distraction. If the Bawa-led EFCC is now officially supporting corrupt candidates and politicians, the Commission should say so unequivocally. The announcement is commendable, and the concerned citizens of Enugu who sponsored it should be congratulated by the EFCC and the public.”
The notice board message which the EFCC called offensive read: “2023: ENUGU PDP LEARN FROM 2007 ELECTION. EFCC ARRIVES WITH KOBOKO ON CORRUPTED CANDIDATES.
Effiong, in his disagreement with the anti-corruption agency, further said, “In the statement, the Commission claims that the advertising executive was arrested because of the two billboards bearing the name and logo of The Commission also claims that the billboards “carried offensive messages” and that it was being used to “threaten the aspirations of certain state politicians in the run-up to the 2023 general election.”
“The reasons given by the EFCC for their action in this case are groundless, false and legally unfounded. The use of the EFCC logo or name is not in itself a criminal offence. It does not There is no Section of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2004 which makes the mere use of the EFCC name or logo, without more, a criminal offence.
“Section 6(q) of the EFCC Act provides for the functions of the Commission, including: “to conduct and support a vigorous public and information campaign against economic and financial crimes inside and outside Nigeria “.
“By Section 24 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), citizens have a constitutional duty to assist law enforcement in the discharge of their duties. Thus, the Commission should encourage, not penalize or persecute citizens , who engage in rigorous public information campaigns against economic and financial crimes. There is no doubt that the message on the billboards is intended to deter economic and financial crime. In essence, the concerned citizens of Enugu in Scotland who have sponsored the advertisements are simply fulfilling their constitutional duty. The message on the billboards is patriotic and timely.
What offense did the advertising executive commit to justify his arrest by the EFCC? Those who say the ad amounts to the EFCC impersonation are wrong. Those who hold this erroneous view should be properly guided on the elements of the offense of impersonation. For the offense of impersonation to be constituted in law, there must be a criminal intent (mens rea).
“Section 484 of the Criminal Code Act specifically defines impersonation generally as: “Any person who, with intent to defraud another person, falsely impersonates another person, living or dead , is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for three years.
“On the billboards it is clearly written that the advertisement is sponsored (powered) by ‘Concerned Enugu Citizens in Scotland’. It is therefore illegal, malicious and ridiculous for the EFCC to arrest the advertiser despite the apparent fact that the advertisement is not credited to the EFCC or to any agent of the Commission. There was no intention to defraud anyone. There is nothing in the billboards that warrant the heinous arrest of the ad executive or anyone for that matter.
“The abbreviation ‘EFCC’ is not a registered trademark of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Even if it was a registered trademark, unauthorized use of it should be considered trademark infringement which is a tort and not an Any citizen may lawfully use the abbreviation or acronym “EFCC” for lawful and legitimate purposes.
“Similarly, the use of the EFCC logo is not a criminal offence, except when used with criminal intent.
“Let the Commission refer Nigerians to any section of the EFCC (Establishment) Act, 2004 which criminalizes the use of the Commission’s logo or name for public information purposes by citizens. If such a prohibition existed, film producers, for example, who consistently use the EFCC name and logo for informational or artistic and entertainment purposes would be subject to prosecution.
“In law, more than a physical act (actus reus) is required for a crime to be committed. There must be mens rea (criminal mind or criminal intent). These two elements must co-exist. This is consistent with the Article 36 (12) of the 1999 Constitution which states that no one shall be punished except for the offense and the penalty for it is expressly defined in a written law.
“The offensive advertisements of the EFCC, to which the EFCC alludes, are not a recognized offense under the law in Nigeria. The message of the ad is positive; it promotes the “war” on corruption that the EFCC is supposed to wage. It is rather ironic that the same EFCC that claims to investigate politicians regarding the source of the huge sums they use to purchase nomination forms is now antagonizing patriotic citizens who warn corrupt politicians to be aware of the same EFCC.
The Commission’s claim that the billboards were used to threaten the aspirations of “certain state politicians” is false and misleading. The message on the billboards specifically targeted corrupt candidates and politicians. There is nowhere on the billboards where the name of a particular candidate or politician has been mentioned.
“It is therefore astonishing that a commission which is statutorily mandated to fight corruption, is now keeping a record for corrupt politicians in Enugu State. No matter how we look at it, this action by the EFCC is a setback in the war on corruption and must be strongly condemned.”