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MP Claudia Webbe could face jail after harassment conviction

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Claudia Webbe

MP Claudia Webbe could face jail after harassment conviction

The MP Claudia Webbe is facing a potential jail sentence and demands to stand down from her seat after being found guilty of a campaign of harassment including threatening an acid attack.

Webbe, the independent MP for Leicester East, who was elected as a Labour candidate in 2019 but had the party whip withdrawn, was accused of harassing Michelle Merritt, a friend of her partner, with threatening phone calls. The trial was told she had called Merritt a slag, threatened to “use acid” and said she would distribute naked pictures of Merritt to her family.

Following the guilty verdict and a warning from the judge that she could face a prison sentence, Labour called for Webbe to quit her seat, which would trigger a byelection. Webbe protested her innocence and made clear that she planned to continue as an MP.

“While I’m preparing for the appeal I want to assure the people of Leicester East that I will continue to stand up for them in parliament, fighting on their behalf,” she said.

Webbe, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, was elected as Labour MP for Leicester East with a majority of 6,019 but had the whip withdrawn last year after being charged.

She denied harassment between 1 September 2018 and 26 April 2020 but after a two-day trial chief district judge Paul Goldspring found her guilty.

“I find she was jealous of the relationship between Lester [Thomas, her partner] and Michelle. Whatever the nature of that relationship, she certainly thought it was something she was not happy with,” he said. “I found Ms Webbe’s evidence to be vague, inconsistent and at times to be illogical. It was shaped around the overwhelming evidence against her she could not innocently answer, but ultimately I found it to be untruthful.”

He said her conduct towards Merritt was “oppressive and was designed to be so”. “In particular threatening to send intimate photographs to her family and to ‘use acid’ are in my view the best evidence of the intent.”

He adjourned sentencing to 4 November and released Webbe, 56, on unconditional bail but warned she could face prison.

A Labour spokesperson said: “The Labour party strongly condemns Claudia Webbe’s actions and she should now resign.”

During the trial Paul Hynes QC, defending, read out a string of character references from figures including Corbyn, the former shadow chancellor John McDonnell and the former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott.

Webbe is a former chair of Operation Trident, which was set up in response to shootings disproportionately affecting black people in London. She was a councillor in Islington between 2010 and 2018 and was a member of Labour’s national executive committee.

She entered the House of Commons in December 2019, winning the seat formerly held by Keith Vaz, the former Labour minister who retired from parliament in the wake of a scandal involving cocaine and sex workers. Last month an official report found Vaz had engaged in “sustained and unpleasant bullying” towards a member of parliamentary staff.

If Webbe receives a custodial sentence of less than a year and her appeal fails, a recall petition would be triggered in her constituency. To prompt a byelection, 10% of the electorate within the constituency would need to sign the petition.

Vaz told the Guardian last month that he would not stand again as a Labour candidate in Leicester East but he is known to still carry some support among the constituency party’s executive and voters.

Westminster magistrates court heard Webbe made a string of unwanted calls to Merritt. Merritt told the court that the calls, most of which were from withheld telephone numbers, made her “worried and unnerved”. “When you’re being called and there’s no one answering it unnerves you, especially as a woman who lives alone,” she said.

After Merritt received a call on Mother’s Day in 2019, in which Webbe identified herself, she decided to contact police, telling them: “She works for the Labour party, she is in the public arena and she’s accusing me of, in her words, ‘slagging around with her boyfriend’, which I’m not. She’s threatened to throw acid over me, she knows where I live, she’s going to send pictures of me and him to my daughters.”

Police officers spoke to Webbe and Merritt and requested that contact should cease, the court heard. But on 25 April last year Merritt received two calls, both eight seconds long and from the same number. Merritt told the court: “I just hung up very quickly. I didn’t want to speak to her.

“[Having received those two calls] I had to somehow prove that she was calling me because until that date all the calls had been no caller ID and the first threat call wasn’t recorded … so I called back the number that was on my phone.”

In the recording, played to the court, Webbe answered the phone and shouted at Merritt: “Why are you still butting in and getting with Lester? Why, why? He’s not your friend, he’s with me and I don’t want you to be in touch with me, I don’t want you to be in touch with him.”

Webbe screamed “get out of my relationship” 11 times, according to the recording. She also said: “I’ve seen all of your posts, I’ve seen all of your naked pictures, I’ve seen all of your relationship with Lester. Otherwise I will tell all of your family and I will show them all of your pictures.”

Giving evidence last month, Webbe, from Islington, denied harassment, claiming she had made “courtesy calls” to warn Merritt not to breach coronavirus rules by meeting Thomas.

Asked whether she had threatened Merritt, Webbe told the court: “I’ve spent my lifetime campaigning for the rights of women, challenging this kind of behaviour. This is not something that’s in my character and it’s not something I would ever do.”

After the verdict, Webbe said she was “deeply shocked”. “I am innocent and will appeal this verdict. As I said in court and repeat now, I have never threatened violence nor have I ever harassed anyone,” she said.

Her lawyer, Raj Chada, added: “We will be appealing this unjust verdict. The recording of the call Ms Webbe made has been taken out of context. We are sure that Ms Webbe will be vindicated at an appeal.”

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Impeachment: Deputy gov drags Oyo Assembly to court

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Impeachment: Deputy gov drags Oyo Assembly to court

The Oyo State Deputy Governor, Rauf Olaniyan, has dragged the State House of Assembly to court over the impeachment move against him by the lawmakers.

The deputy governor was represented in court by his counsel, Chief Afolabi Fashanu, SAN, in the case which came up before Justice Ladiran Akintola at the Oyo State High Court, Ring Road, Ibadan, on Tuesday.

The judge ordered that the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Adebo Ogundoyin, and the Clerk of the House be put on notice before he adjourned the matter to Wednesday.

The lawmakers had, two weeks ago, initiated an impeachment move against Olaniyan.

The House in a letter read by the clerk, accused the deputy governor of financial recklessness, gross misconduct, and insubordination among other allegations following his defection from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress.

Olaniyan had also filed his response to the allegations against him and the lawmakers had said the matter would come up for discussion on Wednesday.

The Speaker of the House, Adebo Ogundoyin, said the petition met the two-thirds requirements to initiate the impeachment process.

Olaniyan had recently defected from the PDP to the APC and the ruling PDP recently asked him to resign or be ready to be removed.

Rising to defend the embattled deputy governor, the governorship candidate of the APC, Senator Teslim Folarin, said the moves to remove Olaniyan would be resisted.

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Why I Did Not Implement Report Of 2014 National Conference – Jonathan

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Why I Did Not Implement Report Of 2014 National Conference – Jonathan

Former president Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday said he did not have enough time to implement the report of the 2014 national conference.

He made the comment at the public presentation of a book ‘The National Question’ authored by Akpandem James and Sam Akpe.

Jonathan was represented at the event by former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim.

“Whenever people say that I should have implemented its recommendations, my feeling is either those people did not understand the political environment at that time, the length of time it would take to implement the report of a conference like that or probably were just playing politics with such an important matter,” Jonathan said.

“Those knowledgeable about the processes of constitutional reforms will
know that to implement the Confab report, a number of alterations will be
made in the constitution which would require the involvement of the National Assembly and state assemblies.

“Such elaborate review couldn’t have been possible at that time because by the time the report was submitted in August 2014, we were already on the verge of a general election.

“It is also important to point out that at that time, the speaker of the House of representatives, Rt Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who was a member of my party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had already moved out, with some members, to the opposition party.

“When you know that your parliament is under that kind of situation, it would have been imprudent on my own part to take such a precious document, which I consider as crucial to our development yearnings, to a parliament that would not give it due consideration.

“If we had a task that would require the alteration of the constitution, enactment of new laws, and amendment of some existing ones, there was no way that could have been done overnight.”

Read the full text of Jonathan’s address at the book launch:

REMARKS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, DR. GOODLUCK EBELE JONATHAN GCFR, GCON, PRESIDENT FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (2010-2015) AT THE PUBLIC
PRESENTATION OF THE NATIONAL QUESTION’, A BOOK BY AKPANDEM JAMES & SAM AKPE
ABUJA TUESDAY JUNE 28, 202

(PROTOCOLS)

I am pleased to be part of the public presentation of this special book titled ‘The National Conversation’.

I thank the authors, Akpandem James and Sam Akpe for inviting me to chair the event. I would have loved to be physically present to carry out this important function myself. Unfortunately, I had to travel abroad for an equally significant international assignment, hence my decision to assign former secretary to the government of the Federation (SGF) and former President of the Senate, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, to represent me at this event.

Once again, I commend Akpandem and Sam for this great idea of documenting the experience of the 2014 National Conference, including the intrigues, schemings, interests and the side attractions that formed part of the activities that produced the beautiful document we have as the report of the Conference.

I believe that such a historic event would continue to attract the attention of writers and historians, as a way of documenting and preserving all that went down, for the future generation.

I am pleased that this work has been put together by no less individuals than seasoned journalists who participated directly in the conference, with Mr. Akpandem James playing a key role as the media officer of the conference.

I thank them specially because they have made it easier in this book for people to understand the vision of the Confab. It is understandable that not everybody will have the time and take the pains to go through the 900 page report. This book, I believe, is therefore designed to give the
people a bird’s eye view of the document and it is being launched at the most appropriate time. A time the country is preparing for the next general elections.
I see their effort as a way of preserving this momentous national accomplishment in an engaging book, for posterity.

There is no doubt that a conference of this nature will continue to generate interests and debates with people approaching the discourse from the viewpoints of their beliefs, sectional sentiments, political orientation and ideological persuasion.

The comments, appraisal and controversy have continued, many years
after the conference. One of the questions that has been variously asked
has to do with why my administration did not implement the recommendations of the conference before leaving office.
Although I had offered reasons for this on many occasions and even addressed it in my book ‘My Transition Hours’, the concern has continued to recur. However, since this is the first major public event on the 2014 Confab after I left office, I feel obliged to offer further explanations on my thoughts on the conference.

The essence of the 2014 Confab was to encourage a healthy conversation among the populace, address the queries agitating the mind of Nigerians and mend fences, where possible. As at that time, it was obvious that the ethnic nationalities were singing discordant tunes on the state of the nation and future of the country. The widening fault lines posed a clear threat to the stability and existence of our dear nation.

In responding to the yearnings of the people, my administration inaugurated the conference to provide the opportunity for Nigerians to discuss their issues and agree on the way forward.

My message to the conference was very clear; that they could discuss everything, save for the sovereignty of our great country, Nigeria. I believe, like most Nigerians, that we are better off as one united country.
The ethnic diversity and population of our great country can be deployed to enhance our economic development and our relevance in the global scheme of things. On the contrary, disintegration into smaller fragments will diminish the status of our people and their standing in the world.

As a show of concern and demonstration of goodwill of our administration, my charge to the conference was to discuss matters comprehensively and exhaustively before agreeing on a common point. I implored the members not to rely on simple majority if they must vote on any issue but a convincing approval by no less than 75 percent of the members, before passing any decision. I am happy that most of the resolutions reached were not through voting but by overwhelming consensus.

That showed that the conference tried to mend fences and create a common focus for the country.

As the chairman of this event, I will not take too much time because I know that the guest speakers and the reviewers will have all the time to ventilate the issues. It is their day. However, I would be remiss in my duties if I do not use this unique opportunity to address this particular issue which some people continue to raise on the implementation of the Confab report.

Whenever people say that I should implemented its recommendations, my feeling is either those people did not understand the political environment at that time, the length of time it would take to implement the report of a conference like that or probably were just playing politics with such an important matter.

Those knowledgeable about the processes of constitutional reforms will
know that to implement the Confab report, a number of alterations will be
made in the constitution which would require the involvement of the National Assembly and state assemblies.

Such elaborate review couldn’t have been possible at that time because by the time the report was submitted in August 2014, we were already on the verge of a general election.

It is also important to point out that at that time, the speaker of the House of representatives, Rt Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who was a member of my party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had already moved out, with some members, to the opposition party.

When you know that your parliament is under that kind of situation, it would have been imprudent on my own part to take such a precious document, which I consider as crucial to our development yearnings, to a parliament that would not give it due consideration.

If we had a task that would require the alteration of the constitution, enactment of new laws, and amendment of some existing ones, there was no way that could have been done overnight.

We were also fully aware that, for the segments of our population that were already suspicious of all the actions of government, our intentions could have been misread, especially against the backdrop of the ECOWAS protocol on constitutional reforms which states that no substantial modification shall be made to the electoral laws of member states in the last six months before elections.”

When I contested the 2015 elections, my expectations was that I would win a second term within which period I would have worked for the implementation of the Confab report. I felt that within the next four year mandate, my first two years would have been dedicated to implementing a reasonable part of the recommendations.

If we take politics out of our national calculations, we would all agree that
with a fresh government it would have been easier to achieve the implementation of the report. One of the problems of this country is that we like playing politics with things that have very much to do with national interest. We play politics with our security. We play politics with our economy. We play politics with almost everything. That, definitely, is not the way to go, if we must make progress in realising our national
aspirations and goals.

May God bless the soul of Justice Idris Kutigi, chairman of the Conference, who died in 2018. However, the Vice Chairman Professor Bolaji Akinyemi and other members who are still alive can testify that I never interfered with any decision of the conference. I can recall a
particular incident when the chairman and his vice approached me for my guidance on a pressing matter before them, but I bluntly told them to figure it out themselves.

I reminded them that, apart from the representatives of the youths, human rights and student groups, most of the members of the conference, up to 60 per cent of them, were older and even more
experienced than myself. I encouraged them to deploy their vast experience to execute the assignment without interference.

In closing, I implore our citizens to realise that the 2014 Conference was
neither about me nor what my administration stood to gain from it at that time. It was all for the good of our country, our children and our grandchildren.

I plead with Nigerians not to play politics with the 2014 Conference report. I believe that at the appropriate time, the country through a dedicated parliament will do the right thing. And the right thing is to duly and dispassionately consider the report of the conference with a view to implementing the recommendations for the good of the country.

I thank you all.

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Reps to ‘apply diplomatic pressure’ to ensure Ekweremadus get justice in UK

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Reps to ‘apply diplomatic pressure’ to ensure Ekweremadus get justice in UK

The house of representatives has resolved to take measures to enable Ike Ekweremadu, former deputy senate president, and his wife, Beatrice, to get justice in the UK.

At Tuesday’s plenary session, Femi Gbajabiamila, speaker of the house, said he will “try” to meet his UK counterpart to ensure the Ekweremadus are given fair treatment.

Gbajabiamila made the remarks following the adoption of a motion of urgent public importance sponsored by Abdullahi Abdulkadir, a legislator from Bauchi state.

The former deputy senate president and his wife were recently arrested for allegedly taking an individual to the UK for organ harvesting.

They were subsequently remanded in custody till July 7.

Gbajabiamila said the lower legislative chamber will use “diplomatic pressure” to ensure that “due process” is followed in the issue.

“I have spoken with the Nigerian high commissioner (to the UK, Sharafa Ishola) who has been extremely proactive in this matter and I expressed the need for him to continue to avail Senator Ekweremadu with all the necessary assistance that he will need to prove his case. I think this should be heightened as well to the UK parliament,” Gbajabiamila said.

“I would try and get in touch with the speaker of the parliament (UK) whom I was opportune to meet with and had fruitful discussions with just a couple of months ago. I believe honourable Buba Yusuf (chairman of the house committee on foreign affairs) should also get in touch with his foreign affairs counterpart in the UK parliament.

“We are not talking about anything but for the parliament in the UK to make sure that Senator Ekweremadu gets the proper due process, that the rule of law is applied and that he is treated fairly on this matter. I believe the UK parliament or the congress of the United States, if their own was involved or if they have one of theirs, even a citizen, in this country that was going through the same travails, I believe that those parliaments would responsibly get involved as well. So, we must apply diplomatic pressure.”

The speaker said Nigeria and the UK have “strong diplomatic ties”, adding that “we have to wait to gather all the facts” on the matter.

THE MOTION

While moving his motion, Abdulkadir said fresh information suggests a different narrative which might not be available to the UK police at the time of the arrest of Ekweremadu and his wife.

He said the UK should work with Nigeria to “conduct a holistic and thorough investigation to ascertain all the facts relating to the allegation in order to make a fair determination on the issues in the best interest of equity and justice for all concerned”.

Contribution to the motion, Toby Okechukwu, deputy minority leader, said the UK may have acted on inaccurate information.

The motion was unanimously adopted when it was put to a voice vote by Gbajabiamila.

The house subsequently mandated the ministry of foreign affairs and the high commission of Nigeria to the UK to wade into the matter.

The lower chamber asked the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and banks to “swiftly respond to legitimate requests for information to facilitate the prompt resolution of the charges”.

The minister of foreign affairs, acting comptroller of the NIS, director-general and chief executive officer of NIMC were also invited to “brief the house of representatives through the relevant committees on all necessary actions taken regarding this matter”.

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