After failing for more than a week to carry out his threat of filing a lawsuit against SaharaReporters in New York, and against The Punch and Premium Times in Nigeria, Nigeria’s former Minister of State for Defense, Musiliu Obanikoro, seemed to have chickened out by having a New York-based law firm send a mere warning letter to SaharaReporters.
A former senator, Mr. Obanikoro had been threatening legal action against SaharaReporters since the website first released, on February 5th, an audio recording in which he and other PDP officials are heard plotting to illegally manipulate the 2014 Ekiti State governorship election. The ex-Defense minister and his co-conspirators, including now Governor Ayo Fayose, are heard in turns berating Brigadier General A.A. Momoh and promising him promotions and other inducements for helping the PDP in its scheme to handicap APC members during the elections.
In the recording released by SaharaReporters, Mr. Obanikoro is heard stating that he was on “special assignment” from President Goodluck Jonathan to make sure the election was carried by the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
In a statement he gave to The Breaking Times, a Nigeria news site linked to Mr. Obanikoro, Mr. Obanikoro falsely claimed that his lawyers had served SaharaReporters with court papers last week, and that SaharaReporters had 42 days to prepare its defense.
Instead, a New York law firm emailed a warning letter to SaharaReporters on February 19th asking SaharaReporters to “cease and desist from making false and disparaging statements about Sen. Obanikoro on the Internet.” Under US rules of legal proceedings, such a letter does not amount to a lawsuit itself.
Since SaharaReporters first released the audio recording, a third party consultancy firm, Guardian Consulting, has authenticated Mr. Obanikoro as the voice offering a bribe to Brigadier General A.A. Momoh. In addition to the secret recording, a sworn affidavit was signed by a whistleblower present during the meeting where Mr. Obanikoro illegally bribed the army officer and plotted to rig the Ekiti State elections in 2014.
The warning letter sent to SaharaReporters also substantiates that Mr. Obanikoro was present during the meeting where plans were made to illegally manipulate the Ekiti State elections even though claims the conversations were vague and only relates to how the conspirators would ensure security .
Mr. Obanikoro’s warning letter comes just as he awaits Senate confirmation of his nomination by President Jonathan to a ministerial post. Analysts and observers, however, argue that Senator Obanikoro is trying to give a false impression of legal action against SaharaReporters in order to ease through his confirmation hearings.
The law offices of Tacopina and Seigel sent the warning letter on behalf of Mr. Musiliu Obanikoro. For days, Mr. Obanikoro and websites/social media outlets associated with him had made bones about Mr. Tacopina’s law firm as a firm that famously represented American baseball sensation Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez in a case which he lost.