Our attention has been drawn to a statement signed by a group of journalists under the aegis of The Coalition for Press Freedom and Whistleblower Protection (CPFWP). We are concerned about a number of erroneous assertions in the statement, to the effect that a media organisation, Sahara Reporters, is subject to intimidation at the behest of the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki. The CPFWP suggests that the alleged intimidation is purportedly on account of a libel case against Sahara Reporters, for which there is an award by the High Court of damages of N4 billion in favour of the Senate President. The statement is misleading, and we are therefore constrained to set the record straight.
Sahara Reporters and the Sahara Reporters Media Foundation are one and the same. It is a known fact that advert payments for Sahara Reportershave on occasion been paid into the bank accounts of the Foundation on the instructions of the publisher, Omoyele Sowore. We have records that show that Sowore has used the two accounts interchangeably over time, particularly for nefarious purposes. We urge the Coalition to ascertain the true position from Sowore, even as we stand ready to disprove any denials on his part with evidence.
It is instructive that, while Sahara Reporters and Sowore were prosecuting their vicious ‘all is fair in war’ agenda against the person of the Senate President, Dr. Saraki chose to put his trust in the rule of law, and sought redress in the court. Saraki has never been an advocate or believer in extra-judicial means, as is the unfortunate suggestion of the CPFWPstatement. On the contrary, his recourse was to the law because he has full confidence in the legal process.
Now, we ask the Coalition, what has Dr. Saraki done wrong in this entire process? How does going to the law on his part amount to wrongdoing by the Coalition’s reckoning? If anything, he is the one who has been subject to relentless intimidation and persecution by Sahara Reporters and Mr. Sowore. Where was the Coalition when Sowore, in frequent prejudicial actions, published malicious stories against judges during Dr. Saraki’s asset declaration case, blackmailing some of them into withdrawing from the case? Why was the Coalition silent when, even after the court judgement ordering him to halt false publications against the Senate President, he ignored the judgement, and in contempt, intensified his attacks?
It will be recalled that the court case started in December 2015. Until judgement was given against Sowore, he did everything to evade service. When he was eventually served as directed by the court, he refused to enter his defence. It wasn’t until several months after the judgement that the Sahara Reporter publishers filed their appeal. All they have done in the last six months is file motions or documents and withdraw them, over and over again. After wasting much time, at the last sitting of the court, they filed a motion to withdraw the case, to enable them go to the Court of Appeal. We invite members of the public to judge for themselves which party was really responsible for the delay in this matter.
Dr. Saraki has diligently pursued this case, because his interest is for itsexpeditious determination, so that he can access the 4 billion naira judgement debt in order to use it for the purposes earlier announced. It is therefore not in Dr. Saraki’s interest for the matter to be delayed.
As to the alleged harassment and molestation of Sahara Reporters’ supporters on court premises, the evidence indicates the contrary. It is on record, from news reports published by mediums edited by some of the signatories to the Coalition Statement, that Sowore imported cultists andunsavoury elements from other states to disturb the peace and create chaos on the court premises, all in a desperate bid to show that he has support. The Police merely came in to prevent a breakdown of law and order. We had no hand in the Police decision to intervene or the manner of its execution.
Furthermore, the freezing of the Sahara Reporters Media Foundation account was a decision of the court. We must also point out that it is now part of an ongoing appeal process and therefore sub-judice. We question whether the Coalition Statement does not also amount to interference in the judicial process, given that the case is ongoing. We are of the opinion that all parties concerned should allow the law to take its course.
If any person is aggrieved by the decision of a court, there is a process to be followed. The Coalition Statement strikes us as another way of intimidating the judiciary and frustrating the course of justice. This is the highest form of corruption of the judicial process.
To reiterate, if there is any delay in this particular case, it was caused by Sahara Reporters and its lawyers. If they were not avoiding service, they were busy raising technicalities or requesting unnecessary adjournments. We call on signatories to study the records of the court proceedings, toproperly acquaint themselves with the facts.
On a final note, we would like to advise the signatories to the Statement that they should not allow themselves to be railroaded into endorsing the unscrupulous methods for which Sahara Reporters is known. We would like to believe that the signatories do not have the full information surroundingthe libel suit. We hope this statement will go some way in clearing up any confusion on their part.
Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to Senate President