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The Coalition for Press Freedom and Whistleblower Protection (CPFWP), a coalition of media and civil society organisations, has condemned the use of violence with impunity against the online media organisation, Sahara Reporters, “at the apparent behest of Senate President Bukola Saraki”.
In a joint statement signed by 15 of its members, the coalition expressed worries that every attempt by Sahara Reporters to legally redress the N4 billion judgment awarded against it has been frustrated.
“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,” it said.
Saraki had secured a N4 billion judgment from a Kwara state high court against Sahara Reporters on June 28, 2017 in a defamation suit.
The Sahara Reporters Group has filed an appeal that is suffering an unusual series of delay.
CPFWP said it is “puzzling” that the judgment against Saharareporter.com and its publisher, Omoyele Sowore, was used to freeze the account of Sahara Reporters Media Foundation — an entity that is not a party to the suit.
In August, Sahara Reporters Media Foundation’s lawyer, Femi Falana, filed an application asking the court to set aside the judgment and challenged its jurisdiction on the suit in the first instance.
“It is important to state that neither Saharareporters nor its publisher was served the originating summon in the suit,” the coalition said, pointing out that they were never given an opportunity to defend themselves.
It further said: “It is also a well-established principle of law that an entity not known to law cannot sue or be sued. Sahara Reporters Media Group is not known to Nigerian law. It 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.
“Aside 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 (Nigeria) 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.”
The statement was signed by Kamri Apollo (WE.FM), Joshua Olufemi (Premium Times Center for Investigative Journalism, PTCIJ), Theophilus Abbah (Daily Trust Newspaper), Catherine Agbo (Leadership), Dayo Aiyetan (International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR) and Dapo Olorunyomi (Premium Times).
Others are Oke Epia (Order Paper NG), Olanrewaju Suraj (HEDA Resource Centre), Adetokunbo Mumini (SERAP), Edetaen Ojo (Media Rights Agenda), Lanre Arogundade (International Press Centre), Simon Kolawole (TheCable), Motunrayo Alaka (Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism), Chido Onumah (Africa Centre for Media Information Literacy) and Waheed Odusile (Nigeria Union of Journalists).