The first day of SaharaReporters’ appearance to contest a bizarre judgment obtained in a Kwara State High Court by Nigeria’s Senate President Bukola Saraki quickly turned bloody as armed thugs invaded the court premises to abduct activists who showed up in court in solidarity with SaharaReporters.
As early as 7:30 a.m., the Kwara State government began busing women and men, ostensibly “supporters” of Mr. Saraki, to the court premises. A lawyer in court told our correspondent that the ploy to bus in hired supporters for the Senate president was designed to intimidate SaharaReporters’ legal team, who are from the Femi Falana chambers.
As soon as SaharaReporters’ legal team arrived in Ilorin, the state capital, more than twenty other lawyers from Kwara State joined them. Murtala Sambo led the legal team.
As soon as the court session began, SaharaReporters’ legal team began to demonstrate that a so-called verdict obtained by Mr. Saraki against SaharaReporters was highly irregular and improper. Mr. Saraki’s lawyers, led by Paul Erokoro, seemed flustered by the argument by Saharareporters’ motion, argued by Stanley Imhanruor, showing that the N4-billion judgment in favor of the Senate president was a dubious award that disregarded legal procedures.
The Senate president’s lead lawyer, Mr. Erokoro, tried unsuccessfully to shut up Mr. Imhanruor’s powerful argument. At one point, he demanded that the case be stood down to give his team time respond to the motion. But
SaharaReporters’ legal team opposed his motion, asking the presiding judge, Sikiru Oyinoye to let their motion be moved so that the judgment could be set aside.
The legal fireworks were still on when a team of state government officials, led by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Abduwahab Oba, arrived in court with a retinue of thugs. The thugs immediately began to seize and break phones and cameras belonging to activists who were in court in solidarity with SaharaReporters. Mr. Oba, a former president of the Lagos chapter of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), was once kidnapped near Aba, in Imo State, along with two other reporters who were traveling after receiving three million naira from then Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State.
Several free-speech activists, led by a journalist, Edafe Oghenebrume, were in court to observe the proceedings. Two of the activists told our correspondent that, as soon as Mr. Oba arrived at the court premises, he gestured to the thugs, apparently signaling to them to start harassing and assaulting the activists who were just outside the courtroom.
Some of the activists ran into the courtroom and began sending out distress messages as the thugs became more menacing. While some activists managed to leave the court premises unhurt, one Crown Olanrewaju Ahmed, who was wearing a protest T-shirt, “Cabal Must Go,” was seized by Mr. Saraki’s aides and driven away to the Government Reservation Area (GRA) of Ilorin. SaharaReporters learned that Mr. Ahmed was tortured and forced to confess under duress that he had been sent by SaharaReporters publisher Omoyele Sowore and a London-based blogger Kayode Ogundamisi to disrupt the court proceedings.
Mr. Saraki’s aides later uploaded the video of his torture on twitter and Facebook claiming SaharaReporters had sent him to disrupting the proceedings. Before he was kidnapped Ahmed sent Facebook messages stating that the Senate president’s aides stole his phones, adding that the police in Kwara were aware of the assault he suffered and those behind it. Ahmed remains in hiding, afraid he might be killed.
Meanwhile, after a terrible outing in court, Mr. Saraki’s lawyer, Paul Erokoro, came out of court complaining that SaharaReporters had used derogatory terms against the judge and the judgment handed down by the court. He had used the same strategy in court, reminding the judge that the operators and lawyers of SaharaReporters had been addressing the media on the controversial judgment.
Mr. Saraki had sued SaharaReporters without serving the court summons on the website or its publisher. In June, he obtained a judgment that many lawyers described as fraudulent and scandalous. Even so, a few weeks later, he got the same court to enter another ruling garnishing funds belonging to SaharaReporters Media Foundation, a different legal entity separate from the New York-based SaharaReporters Media Group Inc.
The case was adjourned until September 14 for further hearing after Justice eventually agreed with Saraki's lawyers that the motion to vacate the judgment was "immature".