Why Col. Imuse is Liable under a Charge for Impersonation
Adaze A. Emwanta
‘ln a situation where the rule of law is jettisoned, anarchy becomes the sole beneficiary_’ – Atanda Fatayi-Williams CJN.
I will begin this short expose by offering a verbatim statement of
the statutory position of criminal impersonation in Nigeria. This will enable the reader to understand the gravity of the offence which the subject of this piece and those enabling him may have committed, albeit ignorantly. But, it remains a trite principle of law that ignorance of the law is not an excuse, (ignorantia juris neminem non excusat).
Section 484 of the Criminal Code provides that: ‘Any person who, with intent to defraud any person, falsely represents himself to be some other person, living or dead, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for three years.’
The above provision of the law is crystal clear on what constitutes impersonation as a crime in Nigeria and the punishment to be imposed on violators of the provision. Violators, in this sense, include those who may have conspired with or aided the impersonator. Our human focus in this piece is Col David Imuse, a retired military officer who has been parading himself as the Chairman of the Edo State Chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He is not alone, as he is being aided by the embattled National Chairman of the APC, Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole and the ring leaders of the proscribed Edo Peoples Movement (EPM).
In an attempt to factionalize the Edo State chapter of the APC, Col. Imuse, with the cover of Oshiomhole, started holding himself out as the Edo State Chairman of the APC. As a consequence of this act of impersonation, an action was brought against him and others at the Edo State High Court. On November 22, 2019, the Court, presided over by Hon. Justice V.O.A. Oviawe granted an order restraining Col. Imuse from parading himself as Chairman of the Edo State chapter of the APC. In gross disregard of this order, the embattled national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, officially invited Col. Imuse for a meeting of all State APC Chairmen with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. At that meeting, Oshiomhole introduced Col. Imuse as the Edo State Chairman of the APC.
It was on the strength of the foregoing act of impersonation that contempt proceedings were brought against Col Imuse, the embattled National Publicity Secretary of the APC Issa-Onilu and his now suspended Edo State counterpart, Chris Azebamwan. For fear of being docked for criminal contempt of Court, Col. Imuse ran to the Court of Appeal Benin Judicial Division to halt proceedings at the High Court. While the matter was pending at the Court of Appeal, he was still parading himself as the APC’s State Chairman in Edo.
On Friday, March 13, 2020, in a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal sitting in Benin held that the proceedings in the High Court, including the contempt of Court proceedings against Imuse and two others, should continue. The court, therefore, struck out Imuse’s application for stay of execution of the order of the Edo State High Court, restraining him from impersonating the Chairman of the Edo State chapter of the APC, Barrister Anselm Ojezua.
In drawing my conclusion, it is worth emphasizing that the offence of criminal impersonation as spelt out under Section 484 of the Criminal Code is different from criminal contempt of court. Both offences can be pursued against a violator of the law before two separate courts or judges, albeit simultaneously. It is on the basis of this legal reality that l humbly call on the Hon. Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of Edo State to, without delay, commence the process of prosecuting Imuse and his accessories for the offence of impersonation and conspiracy in committing the crime. No individual or group can be bigger than the State or above the law. A stitch in time saves nine!
Adaze Andrew Emwanta Esq is a Constitutional lawyer and University law teacher.