The Coalition for Press Freedom and Whistleblower Protection (CPFWP), a coalition of media and civil society organisations, views with increasing concern, the perversion of the judicial process in an effort to silence the online media organisation, Sahara Reporters, and the use of violence, with impunity, against its supporters at the apparent behest of Senate President Bukola Saraki.
We are also concerned about the abuse of the judicial process which has led to the freezing of the bank accounts of Sahara Reporters Media Foundation, a completely different legal entity from Sahara Reporters, which has not been accused of any offence, is not a party to any judicial proceedings and against which there is no pending judgment debt or court order.
Mr. Saraki obtained a N4 billion judgment from a Kwara State High Court against Sahara Reporters on June 28, 2017 in suit No. KWS/23/2017 in wich the Senate President claimed that he was defamed in several reports and opinion articles published by SaharaReporters between September and December 2015.
Sahara Reporters has appealed against judgment at the Court of Appeal and is seeking a speedy resolution of the appeal, although the appeal has suffered a lot of delays.
However, in a puzzling twist, the judgment, which was against Saharareporter.com and its publisher Omoyele Sowore, was used in obtaining a garnishee order that froze the bank accounts of Sahara Reporters Media Foundation, a separate legal entity that was not named in the suit. In effect, the judgment obtained against the online platform was implemented against a different and separate entity.
In August 2017, Sahara Reporters Media Foundation, through its lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), filed an application asking the court to set aside the judgment made on June 28 by a Kwara State High Court.
Through the application, Sahara Reporters is challenging the jurisdiction of the court in entertaining the suit in the first instance.
It is important to state that neither Sahara Reporters nor its publisher was served the originating summons in the suit. Hence, neither of them was given an opportunity to defend itself. It is important to note that the organization is registered and functions in the United States of America. It has no address in Nigeria and every publication is filed from New York in United States, where it was incorporated.
The addresses Mr. Saraki and his lawyers claimed to have served are neither address of Sahara Reporters nor the residence of its publisher.
It is on these grounds that the application filed by Sahara Reporters is seeking to set aside the entire proceedings in the suit as well as Justice Sikiru Oyinloye’s judgment in the matter.
Besides the incessant delays and adjournments suffered by the case, supporters and sympathizers of the online platform have been harassed and molested in the court premises by individuals suspected to be the Senate president’s hirelings.
On July 29, 2017. a group of journalists and Sahara Reporters associates were beaten up within the court premises as they tried to observe the proceedings of the case. This same harassment and beating were repeated on next adjourned date, September 14, 2017, albeit with a new dimension of police arrest and unlawful detention. There can be no clearer evidence of intimidation than this.
It has been four months now since the judgment has been given against Sahara Reporters Media Group (New York) and four months since the accounts of Sahara Reporters Media Foundation, a separate entity has been unjustly frozen.
We are concerned that efforts to move the matter forward have been met with a series of adjournments, which now appear to be part of a strategy to delay the matter in order to enable injustice to be perpetrated against Sahara Reporters Media Foundation under the pretext of executing the obviously flawed judgment.
While we recognise the right of Mr. Saraki or any aggrieved party to sue any news medium for defamation, the manner in which this matter is being handled does not accord with the principles of equity, justice or fairness.
We condemn any attempt to muscle and intimidate the media through direct or indirect means, as in this case. Any redress sought against any perceived adverse media content should be done within the ambit of the law and should be in accordance with the judicial dictum that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done. We do not believe the Media to be above the law but we also do not subscribe to the apparent perversion of the judicial process by powerful political forces in order to muscle the media under the guide of enforcing a legal right.
We call on all relevant judicial authorities and oversight bodies to closely monitor this case and investigate the contentious judgment and the resultant garnishee order, with a view to ensuring that the temple of justice is not desecrated in the service of any personal or political interests.
Names and organizations in the Coalition
– Simon Kolawole, The Cable Newspaper
– Kamri Apollo, WE.FM
– Joshua Olufemi, Premium Times Center for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)
– Theophilus Abbah, Daily Trust Newspaper
– Catherine Agbo, Leadership Newspapers
– Dayo Aiyetan, International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR)
– Dapo Olorunyomi, Premium Times
– Oke Epia, Order Paper NG
– Olanrewaju Suraj HEDA Resource Centre
– Adetokunbo Mumuni SERAP
– Edetaen Ojo, Media Rights Agenda
– Lanre Arogundade, International Press Centre
– Motunrayo Alaka, Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism
– Chido Onumah, African Centre for Media Information Literacy
– Waheed Odusile, Nigeria Union of Journalists