Audu Maikori, a respected lawyer, and entertainment industry veteran has been arrested for the unintentional publishing of fake news.
Last month Maikori, the President of Chocolate City Group, tweeted that five students of the College of Education, Gidan-Waya, in Kaduna, were killed by armed Fulani herdsmen. After his tweets, members of the public and the school challenged his statements calling them false. Maikori subsequently conducted his own investigation and offered a retraction and public apology, a little over a week ago, admitting that the story was indeed false, he was misled to believe it as true and unintentionally published it.
Following his public apology, on Friday, February 17, 2017, the police arrested him. An excerpt from a news report of his arrest follows:
“…Audu Maikori, a Nigerian lawyer and CEO of Chocolate City Entertainment, has been arrested by the police. The arrest is linked to his tweets about a fatal attack on his relatives in Southern Kaduna that turned out to be false, his lawyer said Friday.
Mark Jacobs told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr. Maikori, 41, was arrested in Lagos around noon Friday by a team of police officers attached to inspector-general monitoring and intelligence team and was immediately transferred to the Force Headquarters in Abuja.
“I arrived at the Force Headquarters and learnt that a detention order has already been signed for him,” Mr. Jacobs said of his client. “I am not sure he will be released tonight.”
Mr. Jacobs said he was told by the police that a magistrate issued warrant for Mr. Maikori’s arrest and are planning to charge him with attempt to “incite” the public.
Police spokesman, Jimoh Moshood, did not immediately respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ requests for comments Friday night.
The arrest of Mr. Maikori, a vocal advocate for the plight of residents of the restive area, came nearly four weeks after he narrated an attack that purportedly took place in Southern Kaduna.
In a series of tweets on January 23, Mr. Maikori said his driver, later identified as Simon Joseph, told him that he lost his brother in a Fulani herdsmen ambush in Southern Kaduna and will be travelling for burial.
“My driver’syounger brother and five others students of college of education Gidan Waya were ambushed and killed by herdsmen yesterday #SouthernKaduna…” – Premium Times
I have since had the opportunity to confirm that Maikori, in fact, was arrested through an AML source in direct contact with his team.
First, let me say we live in very interesting times. Isn’t it interesting that the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, technically the most powerful man in the world, can share false stories or “alternative facts,” with the world with no repercussions, in fact, he got elected sharing such false news. Yet, Nigeria which models its constitution after that of the United States chooses to arrest a private citizen and lawyer who unintentionally published false news and apologized for doing so?
Second, there are many burning questions I know some of you have. Let me address a few of them as this story is still developing:
1. Is it a crime to report false news under Nigerian law?
Yes, it is. While Nigeria, like the U.S., does constitutionally guarantee its citizens the Freedom of speech and expression, these rights are limited by several laws including the publication of false news. The applicable laws governing false news are section 392 of the Nigerian Penal Code and section 59 of the Criminal Code, which both essentially prohibit any person from “publication of false news with intent to cause fear and alarm to the public.” In 2015, Nigerian senators proposed a bill that would sentence any person who published false statements against a public officer or institutions on social media to two years imprisonment. Thankfully, it was shot down.
2.Can the case be made that Audu Maikori INTENDED to cause fear and alarm the public at the time he published what turned out to be fake news?
I don’t believe so. His own voluntary statement of apology, his taking the initiative to contact the police, and turning over the person who created and orally distributed the false news doesn’t support the intent part of the law. But, a judge in a Nigerian criminal court will be the final decision maker, should the case proceed to trial.
3.His criminal defense lawyer in the news report says he was “detained” and will not be released on Friday night. What does it mean to be “detained”?
When a person is detained, it means such person, the defendant, is kept in police custody or cell. Further, Nigeria’s Constitution requires that when the police effectuate an arrest without a warrant and the crime is a non-capital offense, the police must release the defendant on bail if they cannot bring the defendant before a court within 24hours from the time they arrested and detained such defendant. There is an exception. If the 24hours falls on a weekend or holiday, then the police have 48hours maximum to bring you to court for an arraignment.
Here, Audu Maikori, unfortunately, was allegedly lured into visiting the police station, per my AML source, this Friday. Therefore, since it is a weekend, there is a high probability he will not appear before a judge until Monday for an arraignment, meaning he will have to spend the weekend in the police cell.
4.What is an arraignment?
An “arraignment” is a legal fancy word for saying the first day a defendant makes an appearance in court where he is informed of the charges against him. In Nigeria, the Judge will inform the defendant of the charges against him, read the defendant his rights and ask how he pleads i.e. guilty or not guilty. In the USA, it is a similar procedure. We do add a “no contest” plea to the mix. This means a defendant can plead “guilty,” “not guilty” or “no contest.” A “no contest” plea is essentially the same as a guilty plea.
Finally, the judge will decide whether the defendant should be released on bail. In the USA, courts will look at a defendant’s ties to the community, the seriousness of the crime, whether the defendant has a criminal record, whether the defendant is a flight risk etc. . The Judge assesses all of these factors as part of what is called a release on “OR” meaning your own recognizance. If all checks out, a defendant will be released on OR pending next court hearing. If all does not check out, then the judge can release the defendant on bail or not release him at all.
5.How about bail? How does that work?
The Nigerian police have the broad discretion, per the Criminal Procedure Act, to determine whether they will grant a criminal defendant bail. The judges/judiciary tend to be passive letting the police basically do whatever they want to do. This creates opportunities for abuse that has been ongoing for decades within the legal justice system, specifically detentions without trials.
6. What next for Audu Maikori? Audu is loved in general by the Nigerian public on the continent and in the diaspora. His name has come to be synonymous, in the eye of the public, with integrity, advocacy, passion and inspirational leadership. There is a hashtag #FreeAudu that is already going viral since this story broke a few hours ago. You can use the hashtag to join in mounting the necessary pressure on the respective law enforcement agencies to get him released. You can also tweet directly at the Kaduna state (where it is rumored he may end up) and Abuja state (where he is currently being detained) governments to investigate and have him released, effective immediately.
For AML readers reading this, Audu is a member of our community and we, of course, have a vested interested, in seeing him released ASAP.
Finally, fake news is unfortunately an issue and many, myself included, have fallen prey to these false/fake news, albeit in completely different circumstances i.e. the re-sharing of such news on social media. Given the damaging effect fake news can have on all of us, I am including a video of my appearance on ‘The News with OB’ where I discuss some tips to help avoid fake news. It’s not fool proof. They are just extra tools to help.