A lawyer representing Omoyele Sowore, the founder and publisher of SaharaReporters, has accused the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, of conniving with Lekan Fatodu and others who on Wednesday assaulted the online publisher to manufacturer a petition accusing Mr. Sowore of “criminal defamation and blackmail.”
In a statement released today, Inibehe Effiong, a solicitor and one of the counsel to Mr. Sowore, decried some reports in print, online and social media suggesting that the publisher of the New York City-based SaharaReporters “was arrested and is being investigated by the Nigeria Police Force on allegations bothering on ‘criminal defamation’ and ‘blackmail.’” Mr. Effiong dismissed the reports as outright falsehood, adding that they were “variously credited to the duo of Mr. Lekan Fatodu and the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, SP. Dolapo Badmos and her Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni.”
Mr. Effiong declared that he issued a statement in order to set the records straight for the sake of credulous and unsuspecting members of the public who may be misled by the outright falsehood being fed the public by the police in active connivance with Mr. Sowore’s assailants.
Mr. Effiong gave a blow-by-account of what transpired between Mr. Sowore and his assailant, Mr. Fatodu, an associate of former Aviation Minister Femi Fani-Kayode. In a report early last year, SaharaReporters had identified Mr. Fatodu as a role player in the former minister’s massive money laundering schemes.
Part of Mr. Effiong’s statement read, “On Wednesday the 11th day of January 2017 while driving in company of two of his associates through the Government Reserved Area (GRA) in Ikeja, Lagos State, Mr. Sowore was waylaid and gruesomely attacked by one Mr. Lekan Fatodu and his accomplice simply identified as Dare aka “Mr. ‘Andre’.” The said assailants assaulted Sowore and made attempts on his life before they were restrained and overpowered by concerned members of the public.
“Following the intervention of concerned members of the public, the assailants fled from the scene only to return soon afterwards in company with a team of armed policemen from the Area ‘F’ Police Station, Ikeja on the pretext that Sowore had committed ‘traffic offence’ and should be arrested and taken to the nearest Police Station.
“The policemen first took Sowore and his associates to the Area ‘F’ Police Station in Ikeja after which he was taken before the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Fatai Owoseni at the State Police Command, Ikeja. In what smacks of an unholy alliance between the assailants and the Policemen from Area ‘F’, Fatodu continued to assault and molest Sowore right inside the Police van while he was being conveyed to the State Police Command and at the police station without any resistance from the policemen.
Shockingly, when Sowore drew the CP’s attention to the assault on his person and the attempt on his life by Fatodu and his accomplice, he was ignored and treated with scorn by the CP. He was subsequently transferred to the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), Panti, Yaba, Lagos State where he also reported the assault on his person and the attempt on his life by Fatodu and his accomplice.
Today, without any plausible or prior investigation, the Lagos CP held a press conference where he dismissed the assault and attempt made on the life of Sowore by Fatodu and his accomplice as ‘’false alarm’’. This is not surprising given the unfriendly, rude and aggressive manner the CP treated Sowore when he was brought before him on Wednesday, January 11th, 2017.
Unknown to the Lagos State Police Command, the so-called offense of ‘’criminal defamation’’ no longer exist in Lagos State. Just for clarity, the existing penal legislation in Lagos State is the Criminal Code Law of Lagos State 2011 which came into force on the August 8th, 2011. The Police may have wrongly relied on the provisions of a repealed law, specifically Chapter 33 of the Criminal Code Law, Chapter C17, Vol. 2, Laws of Lagos State of Nigeria, 2003 (now repealed by Section 417 of the Criminal Code Law of Lagos State 2011) under which the said offence was created. However, the offence was abrogated and expunged by the Lagos State House of Assembly under the current law (The Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011) as it cannot be found in any of the 418 Sections of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011.
“Sowore was released unconditionally from the SCID Panti late in the night of Wednesday the 11th day of January 2017 and asked to report the following day by 2:00 p.m. On his part, the assailant and his accomplice were only released after signing a bail bond.
“Before they were released on Wednesday night, the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of the SCID, Panti (DCP) Bolaji Salami invited the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) in charge of the matter and asked him openly the offense that he was investigating as it concerns Sowore, Fatodu and his accomplice. The IPO in the presence of and to the hearing of the following persons: Sowore and his Counsel (Mr. Inibehe Effiong, Esq.); Comrade Olanrewaju Suraj; and the Assistant Commissioner of Police SCID, Panti ACP Frank Mba, declared that he was investigating a case of ‘TWO FIGHTING’.
When Sowore reported at the SCID, Panti on Thursday January 12, 2017 by 2:00 p.m. as requested, the DCP and the ACP in charge of the SCID, Panti rather than investigating the assault and attempt made on the life of Sowore, or the alleged offense of ‘two fighting’ earlier alluded to by the IPO, told him in unmistaken terms to forego the case and accept an amicable settlement or resolution with Fatodu. A senior lawyer and activist, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, who was among the numerous persons present during the meeting at the DCP’s office where the peaceful settlement was discussed offered to interface between the parties and report back to the DCP on Tuesday the 17th day of January, 2017.
“We are indicating to the Nigerian public our total rejection of the so-called mediation; it was a ruse packaged by the CP to fool the public.”
Mr. Effiong stated that the police never informed Mr. Sowore throughout his stay at Area ‘F’ and SCID, Panti that he was being investigated for alleged criminal defamation or blackmail. He added that his client was never “questioned or confronted with evidence in respect of the malicious, unfounded and spurious allegations even though Mr. Mba admitted that the CP had sent a ‘petition’ against Sowore to his office in a separate car. The petition was a photocopy, a situation Mr. Mba told Sowore, was also irregular.
Though the Lagos CP had brandished a piece of paper which he claimed contained a petition supposedly written by Fatodu against Sowore and UK-based activist, Kayode Ogundamisi for ‘criminal defamation’, Sowore was neither given, shown nor allowed to peruse or respond to the alleged petition and the contents thereof despite asking for same.” According to Mr. Effiong, “The CP was actually incensed by Sowore’s demand to be given the petition and allowed to respond,” adding that the commissioner furiously asked Mr Sowore, “who do you think you are’’?
Mr. Effiong stated that he was dismayed that “the very person who assaulted and attempted to kill Sowore is now doling out tissues of lies to the public despite the questionable mediation initiated by the Police for his benefit.
The fact that Fatodu and the Mr. Owoseni disingenuously went to press after Thursday’s meeting at the SCID, Panti and infamously accused Sowore of ‘criminal defamation’, ‘blackmail’ and boasted of having in his possession either non-existent or fabricated evidence is, to say the least defamatory, irresponsible and utterly ludicrous.”
Mr. Effiong vehemently “again” condemn a press interview that appeared earlier today and attributed to the Commissioner of Police where Mr. Owoseni claiming that it was Sowore who first alerted the police. According to Mr. Effiong, “When police arrived with Fatodu, they claimed it was the public that alerted them to a robbery incident via a distress call.”
Mr. Sowore’s lawyer stated that Mr. Fatodu was not acting alone. “The treacherous attempts by Fatodu to dishonestly denigrate Sowore, for immediate and insatiable gains is most unfortunate.” Mr. Effiong said that Mr. Sowore had “resisted compromising offers from different governments at all levels and politically exposed persons in Nigeria right from his days as a fearless student leader,” adding that his client could not “condescend to the level of seeking pecuniary benefits from the very person he has assisted financially and otherwise for several years.”
He warned those who think “they can use Mr. Fatodu or any other mischievous element to cow or blackmail Sowore and SaharaReporters into submission” to “wake-up from their self-induced slumber because it is easier for the camel to pass through the needle than for Sowore or SaharaReporters to be silenced.”