Our attention has been drawn to various reports in the print, online and social media suggesting that MR. OMOYELE SOWORE a Nigerian citizen and the Founder and Publisher of the popular and globally celebrated online news media SaharaReporters domiciled in New York City, United States of America (USA) was arrested and is being investigated by the Nigeria Police Force on allegations bothering on ‘’criminal defamation’’ and ‘’blackmail’’.
These misleading reports are variously credited to the trio of Mr. Lekan Fatodu; the Commissioner of Police Lagos State, CP. Fatai Owoseni and the Lagos State Police Public Relations Officer, SP. Dolapo Badmos.
While we do not wish to respond to every insinuation connected with the subject under consideration, we are impelled to issue this press release to set the records straight for the sake of credulous and unsuspecting members of the public who may be misled by the outright falsehood and half-truths being fed the public by the trio.
The verifiable facts and truth of the matter are as follows:
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 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 of 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 Police later claimed that they received a distressed call from a member of the public.
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 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 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.
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 PM. 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 offence 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.); Fatodu and his accomplice; Comrade Olanrewaju Suraju; 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 the 12th day of January, 2017 by 2:00 PM 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 offence 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.
Throughout his stay at the Area ‘’F’’ Police Station and the SCID, Panti Sowore was NEVER at any time informed that he was being investigated for alleged ‘’criminal defamation’’ or ‘’blackmail’’ neither was he questioned or confronted with evidence in respect of the malicious, unfounded and spurious allegations. Though the Lagos CP had brandished a piece of paper which he claimed contained a petition supposedly written by Fatodu against Sowore 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. The CP was actually incensed by Sowore’s demand to be given the petition and allowed to respond. For daring to exercise his fundamental rights, the CP explosively asked Sowore, inter alia: ‘’who do you think you are’’?
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 accompice 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 11th January, 2017.
Given the biased and premeditated comments made by the Lagos CP during his press conference and the further incendiary remarks made by Fatodu, 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. We believe in the primacy of justice and the rule of law over ‘peace of the graveyard’.
Unknown to the Lagos State Police Command and Fatodu, the so-called offence 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 8th day of August 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.
We wish to remind the Nigeria Police Force of the trite principle of our criminal jurisprudence that a person can only be punished for an act or omission that is expressly defined to be an offence under a written law as at the time the act or omission took place. The maxim is nulla poena sine lege (No punishment except in accordance with the law). We reference Section 36 (8) & (12) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and the celebrated decision of the Supreme Court in Aoko v. Fagbemi (1961) All NLR 400.
In conclusion, we are particularly pained that the very person who assaulted and attempted to kill Sowore is now doling out tissues of lies and half-truths to the public despite the questionable peace moves initiated by the Police for his benefit. The fact that Fatodu disingenuously went to the 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 preposterous, defamatory, irresponsible and utterly ludicrous.
We know, and Fatodu also knows that he is not acting alone. The treacherous attempts by Fatodu to dishonestly denigrate Sowore, his long time benefactor for immediate and insatiable gains is most unfortunate. Sowore who has resisted compromising offers from different governments at all levels and politically exposed persons in Nigeria right from his days as a fearless student leader cannot condescend to the level of seeking pecuniary benefits from the very person he has assisted financially and otherwise for several years.
Those who think that they can use Fatodu or any other mischievous element to cow or blackmail Sowore and SaharaReporters into submission should 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.
INIBEHE EFFIONG, ESQ.
Solicitor and Counsel to Omoyele Sowore.