Lekan Fatodu, a self-acclaimed journalist named by SaharaReporters as an associate of corrupt politicians who embezzled security funds budgeted meant for fighting Islamist insurgency in Nigeria’s northeast, today brought a few protesters to block off the entrance to SaharaReporters’ Civic Media Lab in Lagos preventing users of the lab from entering or leaving the facility.
Mr. Fatodu arrived this morning with a retinue of apparently paid protesters outside the premises of Civic Media Lab. The “protesters” included commercial motorbike riders, known as “Okada Riders.” Mr. Fatodu also came with a few reporters and bloggers who later syndicated reports of his “protest.”
In January this year, Mr. Fatodu had led some thugs to assault the publisher of SaharaReporters, Omoyele Sowore. In that attack, Mr. Fatodu colluded with the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, claiming that this website defamed him when it linked him to illicit financial deals by Femi Fani-Kayode, a former Minister of Aviation who also served as a senior adviser to the campaign of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. Mr. Fani-Kayode is now undergoing trial for corrupt enrichment in a multi-billion-naira case.
In the face of intense public criticism for providing cover for Mr. Fatodu’s assault on Mr. Sowore, the police authorities in Lagos, finding the assailant’s claims baseless, appealed to the publisher and administrator of SaharaReporters to “settle the matter.” Mr. Sowore rejected the police offer to act as mediators, insisting instead that law enforcement agents should prosecute Mr. Fatodu for assault. In the face of the publisher’s renunciation of their offer, the police in February threatened to try him for engaging in a fray, alleging that he and Mr. Fatodu were engaged in a fight.
The publisher of SaharaReporters insisted that, far from engaging in a fight, Mr. Fatodu had carried out an attack on him and his colleagues.
Police commissioner Owoseni also claimed that his officers were investigating a petition he alleged that Mr. Fatodu had submitted to his office a day before the self-styled journalist and one Damilare Olaniyan led an assault on Mr. Sowore.
The police have not filed any charges against Mr. Sowore but today they agreed in an internal memo to provide support to Fatodu for his protest.
In March 2017, Mr. Fatodu wrote to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State and some residents who live or work near the Civic Media Lab on Isaac John Street alerting them that SaharaReporters was opening an office in Lagos. His letter was copied to the Commissioner of Police. According to a police source, the Commissioner again pressured officers of the State Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to rearrest Mr. Sowore. However, the source told our correspondent that a report by Premium Times detailing what had transpired earlier might have stopped the Commissioner of Police from following through on a plan to harass the publisher of this website.
Mr. Fatodu’s latest antics followed a poorly written article circulated yesterday by handlers of Senate President Bukola Saraki alleging that the publisher of SaharaReporters had demanded $1million from the senator over the website’s expose of Mr. Saraki’s questionable financial deals as former Kwara State governor.
Two days ago, the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) acquitted Mr. Saraki after a two-year trial on charges that included falsification of asset declarations. Following the controversial verdict, SaharaReporters revealed that the Senate President had paid $2m to the judge, Danladi Umar, to procure the judgment.
Infuriated by this website’s report on the bribe that led to his acquittal, Mr. Saraki and his media handlers cooked up a statement alleging that Mr. Sowore had demanded money from the Senate President in order not to publish negative stories about the former governor.
To demonstrate the falsity of their claim, Mr. Sowore released a screen shot of a WhatsApp conversation between him and the Senate President’s media aide, Bamikole Omishore. In the exchanges, the senator’s aide urged Mr. Sowore to reconsider his tough reporting on the Senator saying there was already realignment at the top, he then offered to have “talks” with Sowore on behalf of the Senator. In his response, Mr. Sowore rejected the plea, insisting that he would continue doing what his conscience dictated to be right.
After preventing users of the Civic Lab from entering or leaving the premises, Mr. Fatodu led his pack of rented protesters away but threatened to embark on a series of actions.
Saharareporters lawyers had written to the Inspector Genera of Police to investigate the assault of Mr. Sowore but the letter which was submitted directly to the office of the IG had not been acted upon.