Supporters of Senate President Bukola Saraki yesterday unleashed violence on reporters as well as activists who arrived at a Kwara State high court to observe the continuation of a lawsuit contesting a questionable judgment obtained by the senator against Saharareporters and its publisher, Omoyele Sowore.
Supporters and loyalists of Senator Saraki and the All Progressive Congress (APC) again crowded the court premises yesterday in an apparent bid to intimidate court observers who did not identify with them. The crowd, most of them suspected to be hirelings, overflowed the court premises with both young and old. The old women periodically chanted, “Leave our state alone,” “Leave Saraki alone, he owns Kwara State.”
The challenge of the obviously fraudulent judgment first came to mention on August 30, 2017, and was characterized by violence as supporters of the Senate President invaded the court premises to disrupt proceedings and prevent some observers from gaining into the court premises.
During that hearing, Mr. Saraki’s supporters kidnapped and tortured Olanrewaju Ahmed Buhari, forcing him at gunpoint to make a confessional statement that the publisher of Saharareporters had recruited him to cause mayhem in court.
At that rowdy first hearing, Justice Sikiru Oyinlola adjourned the hearing till yesterday, September 14 to enable the court to hear the applications and for Mr. Saraki’s lead counsel, Paul Erokoro, to file a counter affidavit. However, the proceedings were again stalled yesterday as Mr. Erokoro had failed to serve the counter affidavit on Saharareporters as legally required. The lawyer’s delinquency was seen as a possible strategy to stall the progress of the case. When lawyers to SaharaReporters eventually got a copy of the counter motion they found embedded a motion seeking to commit Saharareporters publisher, Sowore to prison for relentlessly reporting on the shady court proceeding on social media.
Mr. Erokoro claimed in court that he could not serve the counter affidavit on the counsel for Saharareporters because there was no address for service within the court’s jurisdiction. He argued that he had no obligation to serve counsel directly unless the court ordered him to do so or if he sought the court’s leave to serve counsel directly.
Stanley Imhanruor, a lawyer from Falana & Falana’s chambers joined by Lagos-based human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong who represented Saharareporters, contested the reasons given by Mr. Saraki’s lawyer. He said his chambers had sent one Mr. Adams Adebara to the chambers of Tunde Olomu & Co to pick up the counter affidavit, to no avail. Mr. Imhanruor told the court that, rather than give the document to Mr. Adebara, the chambers rudely dismissed him.
Besides, Mr. Erokoro shipped a notification letter to Falana & Falana’s chambers in Lagos to notify Saharareporters’ counsel on the reason he could not serve his counter affidavit but failed to attach the copy of the affidavit. Mr. Imhanruor described the action as a display of bad faith.
Saharareporters’ lawyer also informed the court that Mr. Erokoro had asked.
Mr. Adebara, who was to collect the counter affidavit, to meet with him in the premises of the court so that the bailiff could serve him, adding that Mr. Erokoro failed to deliver on his promise. He told the court that Mr. Erokoro subsequently ignored phone calls to his number.
A letter from Saharareporters’ counsel to Tunde Olomu & Co accused the senator’s counsel of failing “to disclose [in his letter that] one Adams Adebara acting on our instructions visited your office at Ilorin and sought to collect your counter affidavit on our behalf for onward delivery to us in Lagos but he was told point blank by your secretary and colleagues in chambers that your firm was not ready to serve the said processes on the defendants’ counsel and that whenever you chose to serve same you would reach out to us directly via the telephone number on our application.”
Justice Oyinlola, who earlier awarded N4 billion to the Senate President as damages in a controversial judgment, advised Saharareporters’ counsel to provide an address within the court’s immediate jurisdiction and urged parties to act in good faith towards one another, stating that clients would come and go but they would remain colleagues at the bar. He also adjourned the case to October 26 for hearing of the substantive suit.
At yesterday’s tense hearing, some reporters, as well as supporters of Saharareporters, were beaten, their phones snatched and their gadgets damaged while a detachment of policemen stood outside watching the mayhem.
Reporters from CoreTV, AIT News, and ChannelsTV who were in court to cover the proceedings were harassed, their cameras seized. They were also forced to erase footage of the court proceedings and the assaults that took place in the premises of the court. Curiously, the affected TV stations never reported on the attacks that also targeted their own reporters.
Supporters of Mr. Saraki assaulted a middle-aged woman named Funmi Jolayemi Ajayi, stripped her naked and beat her. Ms. Ajayi, a civic society activist, had traveled from Lagos to observe the court proceedings in Ilorin.
Also, a bus conveying activists and reporters to the court hearing had its windshield smashed. Senator Saraki’s supporters also stole bags of students who came from LAUTECH in Ogbomosho in solidarity with SaharaReporters. Afterwards, Mr. Saraki’s social media team openly displayed pictures of items stolen from activists on their twitter handle claiming the activists came to disrupt the court proceedings.
Our correspondent reported that officers of the Nigerian police were also used to harass people identified by Mr. Saraki’s supporters as sympathetic to Saharareporters. A young woman who said she was in the court premises to wait for her fiancé was detained for more than eight hours because she does not speak Yoruba.
The police also detained some observers and journalists identified as Saharareporters’ supporters without asking questions. The detainees were held in police custody. Even when the detainees made distress calls to their colleagues and family members to come and bail them, those colleagues and family members who showed up were forced to write statements when they visited the police headquarters in Ilorin.
Our correspondent reported that some of Mr. Saraki’s supporters were seen at the Kwara State Criminal Investigation Department (CID) walking around and cracking jokes with some police officers they had used to arrest passersby.
Detained journalists and court observers were later released about 8 p.m. on Thursday following the intervention of the Kwara State-based human rights attorney, Sambo Sholar Muritala, who assembled at five lawyers to obtain bail for the victims.
Some of Mr. Saraki’s supporters loitered around the police headquarters till late, threatening to attack those detained as soon as they were freed from police detention.